A Bottle of Rum
While stuffed with (surprisingly) well-aged digital effects, Curse of the Black Pearl now feels like a last-of-its-kind spectacle, where actual, physical ships fire cannons toward one another, causing real explosions and necessitating real stunts. It’s old Hollywood, brought into the new, and preserving that scale for a final generation.
That’s not all Pirates of the Caribbean brought with it, but also the swooning romanticism from two attractive leads, joined to a babbling, drunken anti-hero that fell firmly into a time of unrest. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) stands against the villainous pirate Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush), but Sparrow’s attitude succeeds in dealing with the pompous British authorities. That’s pure Americana, a dribble of history, playful banter, and a smack against the wealthy ruling class. Sparrow is the every man insofar as his destitute garb, alcoholism, and want to merely be free.
Consider too the timing, impeccable really, in a nervous post 9/11 state. Curse of the Black Pearl enjoyed being ridiculous escapism, even embracing the absurdity. In the same manner as Hollywood’s widescreen epics swept through cinemas post-WWII, Curse of the Black Pearl did the same, offering audiences some two hours of brains-turned-off joy.
Wit and sarcasm turn Sparrow into an instant pulp hero, a flawlessly conceived protagonist, and aided by a jaunty score that’s among the decade’s best. Luxuriously photographed, part of the appeal is undoubtedly budgetary – Curse of the Black Pearl wasn’t cheap to produce. However, this isn’t a case where the money spent entertains; the cast and script both matter too. The rebellious streak doesn’t limit itself to Sparrow, but a lowly blacksmith and privileged daughter too. Turning against corruption involves those from every class.
Although firmly PG-13, the Disney banner hangs over this production, never too ferocious, gory, or violent. It’s sedate enough, but not to a degree of lessening the action’s thrills. Between sword fights and ship-to-ship combat, downtime allows the characters room to explore their nuances, building a lore that served the sequels well. Importantly, it’s never dull, because Sparrow and company always provide a buffer against boredom.
Thank you Disney. Not in a good way, but thanks for providing a discourse around this format that can finally exclude the Terminator 2 4K mess. Pirates of the Caribbean is a disaster worthy of fresh scorn. Curse of the Black Pearl takes a hefty shot from DNR, and the resulting smeariness is akin to watching the disc on an early 2000s LCD screen – nostalgic, maybe, but abhorrent for this format.
What film grain remains appears added after the digital tools did their worst. Couple that to what looks like an older, insufficient scan, and Curse of the Black Pearl never stood a chance. Fidelity doesn’t make any notable gains over the decade+ old Blu-ray. This master was done for the early HD era at best, as the numerous halos from edge enhancement serve as a relic.
Even the HDR pass fails. Blacks crush shadows constantly. Brightness doesn’t make an impact aside from an occasional flame. Even then, given the awful crush, there’s no depth to speak of. It’s all rendered in muddy, imprecise gradients, but that follows along the dulled color. Flat flesh tones and dry primaries fail to enliven Curse of the Black Pearl.
Although in Atmos now, Disney performs to their unfortunate norm and restricts dynamic range, leaving cannon fire disappointingly dull. There’s barely any weight in the low-end. Explosions falter, poor enough to question whether the subwoofer is turned on at all.
This is a new mix though since the height channels track gunfire and debris fields well. While not frequent, overheads do make a difference where appropriate. The rest is active, easily on par with what used to be a reference grade DVD and Blu-ray. However, due to the minimized bass, the Blu-ray track is a better choice.
There’s nothing on the UHD itself, and the Blu-ray mirrors Disney’s original two-disc set. A pop-up trivia track offers a unique interactive touch. When the movie is over, a custom documentary will be created based on the facts you found interesting.
The other features are lifted from the two-disc DVD. Three commentaries on disc one start things off. Director Gore Verbinski and Depp reminisce about the shoot on the first and the screenwriters square off in another about the challenges of actually bringing their ideas to the screen. The final one is scene specific. Jerry Bruckheimer goes solo, it’s or Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport together.
The second disc brings Epic at Sea, the obligatory making-of, split into nine sections. It covers everything, though does falter into promotional territory. There are three production diaries afterward.
Fly on the Set is comprised of raw set footage. You can peek in on five scenes. A blooper reel runs for three minutes and not surprisingly, it’s entertaining.
Below Deck uses an annoying interactive menu, and features historians discussing real pirates. Nineteen deleted scenes come next. During the extended scenes, the new footage is indicated by a change of aspect ratio, from the usual 2:35:1 to 1:85:1.
A scene progression for the pirate’s skeleton reveal is deep for a CGI featurette. It runs six and half minutes. Pirates in the Park contains an entire episode of The Wonderful World of Disney describing how the theme park ride came to be; the film stock is in surprisingly good shape considering the age.
Two featurettes focus on the Barbosa and Sparrow characters. Thar She Blows! is a fun piece on the miniature ship and its journey from the building process to popping it with explosives. The Monkey’s Name is Jack is a piece on the monkeys used during filming.
Spirit of the Ride details the casts experiences with the Disney attraction. Dead Men Tell No Tales is a short feature on the Disneyland ride and its history. It’s more detailed and makes the Wonderful World of Disney piece pointless. Numerous still galleries finish things off.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
A movie successful by its raw entertainment value, Curse of the Black Pearl has fun with anti-heroes and history, giving the grand Hollywood spectacle a send-off.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 61 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: