Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a mix of minor but avoidable concerns, Pirates mainly presented an attractive picture.
For the most part, sharpness seemed satisfying. Some wide shots demonstrated moderate softness and looked a bit less defined than I’d like. Otherwise, the movie remained detailed and distinctive. Some mild jagged edges and shimmering showed up on a couple of occasions, and I noticed slightly prominent edge enhancement at times; these haloes weren’t extreme but they seemed heavier than usual. Happily, print flaws appeared totally absent, as I noticed no specks, grit or other defects.
I wouldn’t expect a pirate film to come bursting with dynamic hues, and the tones of Pirates looked appropriately subdued. The movie displayed colors that fit within its setting well, though, and they came across as clean and well developed. Given the atmosphere of the movie, blacks became more important, and the DVD presented nicely rich and dense dark tones. A few instances of low light images were a bit thick, but most shadows seemed clear and accurately defined. Ultimately, Pirates of the Caribbean wasn’t a great transfer, but it seemed generally positive.
By contrast, I found virtually nothing about which to complain in regard to the soundtracks of Pirates of the Caribbean. The DVD offered both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. As so often is the case, I thought the pair sounded virtually identical. When I compared the two, I noticed nothing significant to distinguish between them.
Given the high quality of the tracks, though, I regarded that as perfectly acceptable. The soundfield was wonderfully dynamic and involving. The various channels presented a surfeit of information that blended together with great clarity and smoothness. All elements seemed placed accurately within the environment, and these components moved neatly across and between the speakers. This helped create a good sense of place and made the action all the more engrossing.
Since Pirates included quite a few fight sequences, we got many opportunities for lively material. Cannonballs zoomed past us, gunfire blasted around us, and swords clanged from all sides. The surrounds played a very vivid role in the proceedings and helped make this a decidedly immersive and impressive piece of work.
I also found the audio quality to live up to high standards. Speech came across as firm and natural, and I noticed no edginess. Some lines became tough to understand, but that resulted from “pirate diction”, not due to poor recording. Music occasionally risked getting submerged beneath all the action, but the score remained bright and dynamic nonetheless, as the mix depicted these components vividly. Of course, the effects remained the stars of the show, and they appeared well displayed. The different elements sounded distinctive and clean, with no distortion or other issues. Dynamic range was excellent, and low-end seemed superb. Bass response always stayed tight and rich. Overall, I felt quite pleased with the audio of Pirates.
Disney packs gobs of extras across the two DVDs of Pirates. DVD One includes two full audio commentaries. The first features director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp, both of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. The pair prove chatty and reasonably engaging, though the commentary never rises to greatness.
Most of the time they cover elements related to the rushed nature of the production. We hear of the relatively short period from inception to completion along with concerns connected to the work-in-progress script, technical elements, budgetary limitations, and other issues. We also get notes about the various actors and the challenges inherent in sea-based movies. Along the way, we find a fair amount of praise and backslapping, which becomes somewhat tedious. Depp doesn’t talk much about his performance, which seems like a disappointment; he discusses some other aspects of making the film like his nearly catastrophic injury but steers clear from subjects more closely connected to his work. Oddly, when the name “Keith Richards” appears toward the end of the film, it’s in a context essentially unrelated to Depp’s acting. The commentary doesn’t seem terrifically revealing, but it moves at a good pace and offers a generally useful examination of the flick.
Next we hear from screenwriters Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Jay Wolpert. Elliott and Rossio sit together for their parts, but the other two clearly appear solo. Wolpert barely says anything at all, as he plays a very minor role in the commentary. Beattie seems substantially more active. He gets into some aspects of the script, but he spends much of his time on a discussion of pirate facts and fiction.
Though Beattie offers a fair amount of material, Elliott and Rossio clearly dominate the track. They go over the various drafts of the script, who did what, and variations between them. They also delves into stories from the set, as they continued to work on constant revisions to the text even during shooting. They provide some nice tales from that realm and offer a lot of interesting tidbits. Overall, the writers commentary proves to be entertaining and informative.
In addition to these two full-length tracks, we get a pair of “Selected Scene Commentaries”. One comes from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. A brief piece, this track lasts a mere 13 minutes or so. I’ve heard many Bruckheimer interviews, and this one fits well with prior discussions. He provides some bland general remarks about the film and its participants, but you’ll learn little of value.
The second “Selected Scene Commentary” presents remarks from actors Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport. While not full-length, this piece fills much more time than Bruckheimer’s chat, as it occupies about 77 minutes. This track seems much livelier than the producer’s, and it proves to be a lot of fun. The pair interact with gusto as they run through topics that mostly relate to their experiences on the set. Davenport gets in more than a few remarks, but at times he finds it tough to overcome Knightley’s enthusiasm. She’s a regular force of nature as she rattles through different elements. She talks about her on-and-off tan and hair woes plus many other cute bits. At times the pair do little more than narrate the on-screen action, but they manage to give us a fun and amusing examination of their work, so this piece merits a listen.
The disc includes the usual complement of ads at the start of the disc. When you pop the platter in your player, you’ll find promos for Hidalgo, Freaky FridayThe Lion King 1 1/2, and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over. In addition, the Sneak Peeks domain features all of those trailers as well as additional ads for the Disney Cruise Line, Walt Disney World’s Mission Space, and the Alias TV series.
We also get the THX Optimizer. This purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.
Both DVDs feature different enhanced computer features. On the first platter, we find a mix of weblinks plus two options for movie viewing: the “Script Scanner” and the “Storyboard Viewer”. Both work the same way, as they place the movie itself on the left side of the screen in a small box and the particular material on the right. For the “Scanner”, the screenplay shows up in that spot, while for the “Viewer”, blocks of three storyboards at a time appear in the space. Both offer an interesting way to watch the film and work well.
Now we head to Disc Two, where we open with a 37-minute and 55-second documentary called An Epic At Sea: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Actually, as often occurs these days, “Epic” connects eight different pieces into one via the “Play All” option; the elements can be viewed individually, but they seem intended to come as a whole. The program mixes movie snippets, many behind the scenes shots and elements, and interviews. We hear from director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, executive producer Bruce Hendricks, set decorator Larry Dias, construction coordinator Robert A. Blackburn, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, supervising art director Derek R. Hill, historical advisor Peter Twist, property master Charles M. Stewart, Lady Washington crewmember Brad Sousa, ILM physical model supervisor Charlie Bailey, costume designer Penny Rose, chief hairstylist Martin Samuel, makeup supervisor Ve Neill, sword master Bob Anderson, stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge, visual effects supervisor John Knoll, stage production manager Mark Anderson, VFX director of photography Carl Miller, VFX art director Aaron McBride, CG model supervisor Geoff Campbell, cloth simulation supervisor James Tooley, ILM viewpaint lead, ILM animator Andrew Doucette, and actors Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Pryce, Treva Etienne, and Jack Davenport.
”Epic” speeds through a number of general topics. We find information about the actors, locations and adaptations of those places, sets, integrating historical details, props, designing and utilizing different ships, costumes and makeup, sword fights and stunts, various special effects elements, and the movie’s premiere at Disneyland. Though none of these areas gets a lot of time, we receive a lot of useful notes about them and receive a nice overview of the subjects. I most enjoyed the look at makeup, especially in regard to the various uses of contact lenses. It also seems fun to see the Disneyland premiere, as I imagine that must have been a cool occasion. Overall, “Epic” provides a reasonably solid glimpse of the filmmaking process.
Next we move to a series of Fly On the Set featurettes. These cover five different movie scenes: “Town Attack”, “Tortuga”, “Blacksmith Shop”, “The Cave” and “Jack’s Hanging” and fill a total of 20 minutes and 49 seconds via the “Play All” option. The featurettes present exactly what one might expect of them: video footage from the set free from interviews, movie clips, or narration. It’s straight material from the shoot as we watch rehearsals, collaborations and the actual filming. I love this sort of stuff, and “Fly” gives us a fun look behind the scenes.
Three different elements appear in the “Diaries” domain. Producer’s Photo Diary fills four minutes, 18 seconds as we see Jerry Bruckheimer’s personal pictures from the set. He discusses his interest in photography and various elements of the production as we watch a montage of his snaps. Bruckheimer remains one of the dullest commentators ever known, but his photos provide some very good images from the set. He’s a talented photographer, so this section presents many fine pictures.
In the nine-minute and 40-second Diary of a Pirate, we focus on the experiences of actor Lee Arenberg. He totes a video camera around the set, and this featurette includes the results along with some narration from Arenberg. We watch various aspects of his experience, from makeup to shooting different scenes to down time on the set. The commentary becomes a little cutesy at times, but “Pirate” nonetheless provides a fun glimpse of the production, especially since it comes from the perspective of one of the lower-billed actors.
Finally, the 11-minute and three-second Diary of a Ship concentrates on the experiences of the Lady Washington, the ship used as the Interceptor. We follow it on its journey from California around western Mexico through the Panama Canal to its eventual arrival in the Caribbean. Mostly the program features video footage of this trip, but we also hear some comments from ship’s captain Brad Sousa. This provides a surprisingly compelling travelogue.
For information on real pirates, we go Below Deck. This gives us mini-featurettes about many pirate-related topics. You can examine these either of two ways: through a tour of a ship, or as one continuous sequence. The latter seems much more user-friendly, so I went with it.
Taken all together, these pieces run a total of 22 minutes and eight seconds. We get various archival materials, movie clips and shots from the Pirates set plus interviews with maritime historian David Cordingly. We learn of the staff structure of pirate ships, battle procedures, notes about famous pirates, what the pirates stole and why, pirate symbols and ships, instances of buried treasure, and systems of punishment. This provides a quick but informative and entertaining examination of the facts behind the fiction.
Note that the continuous version doesn’t provide all the available material. To see all of the short featurettes, you’ll need to either go through the ship tour or use the “Scene Index”. The latter seems to be the easiest way to examine the various topics. All of the extra bits function the same as those I mentioned earlier, as they provide comments from Cordingly and prove to be informative.
Getting back to Pirates itself, we next find a short blooper reel. Mostly this three-minute and 10-second roll includes the usual assortment of goof-ups and silliness. However, some amusing improvs pop up as well, and those make it a slightly above average entry in the genre.
A whopping 19 Deleted and Extended Scenes come up next. This extensive collection fills 19 minutes and 14 seconds. These mainly embellish existing bits and flesh out some elements. None of them seem terribly important, and I don’t see any that should have stayed in the movie. Some entertaining snippets appear, however.
After this we go to the ”Moonlight Serenade” Scene Progression. In this six-minute and 34-second clip, we watch as that sequence develops. It demonstrates various stages of the piece as we hear explanations from lead technical director Tom Fejes, CG sequence supervisors Russell Earl and Neil Herzinger, animation supervisor Hal Hickel, lead CG viewpainter Steve Walton, and cloth simulation supervisor James Tooley. The progression doesn’t follow a tremendously logical path, and it seems a bit disjointed. Despite that, it includes a lot of good information and helps educate us about the various elements that went into the scene’s creation.
Within the Image Gallery, we find six subdomains. “Inspiration” presents 13 pieces of pirate images used to stimulate ideas. “Concept Art” includes 47 elements, most of which depict skeletal pirates. Four scenes of “Storyboards” appear with “Blacksmith Shop” (48 drawings), “Black Pearl vs. Interceptor” (33), “Dauntless Capture” (58), and “Captain Jack Sparrow” (41). “Costumes” features 14 shots that mix sketches and photos of actors in finished wardrobe. “Production” includes 30 pictures from the set and the flick. Lastly, “Publicity” shows five posters. These come via “slideshows” which make them a little more awkward to access than the usual stillframe access or the preferred method of thumbnails. Nonetheless, some nice material appears here.
In addition to a 32-second preview for a DVD-ROM feature I’ll discuss later, “Pirates in the Parks” includes one significant element: Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. This 18-minute and 18-second segment from a January 21, 1968 broadcast of that series concentrates on the creation of the Disneyland “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction. This includes some clips from the Disneyland 10th anniversary episode featured in the Disneyland USA package. It then goes into detail about the technology behind Pirates as well as images from the attraction’s creation and shots of the park and the ride’s opening day. We also take a pretty extensive tour of the completed attraction itself. Since Walt died a little more than a year before this show aired, he goes missed, but “Color” offers a cute glimpse of history nonetheless.
DVD Two concludes with additional enhanced computer features. Of most interest to Disneyland fans is “Dead Men Tell No Tales: The History of the Attraction”. This documentary gives us a look at the creation of the “Pirates” ride via archival materials and interviews with project director Bruce Gordon, Imagineering vice chairman Marty Sklar, senior vice president Tony Baxter, senior show writer Chris Goosman, executive vice president Tom Fitzgerald, and Imagineers Alice Davis, Harriet Burns, Blaine Gibson, Wayne Jackson, Francis X. Atencio, and Roger Broggie. The program goes through the attraction’s genesis and completion and provides an entertaining and enjoyable tour.
We also get an “Image Gallery” for the attraction. This includes 48 stills related to the ride. We see conceptual art, design sculptures, and photos in this nice little collection.
For an unusual viewing experience, head to the “Disneyland Pirates Virtual Reality Viewer”. This lets you check out various parts of the ride via a 360-degree spin feature. This works well to allow you to examine various scenes from the attraction, and it offers a fun extra.
Finally, the “Moonlight Becomes Ye Effects Studio” This allows you to manipulate a photo to make you – or whoever – look like a skeletal pirate. It didn’t do much for me, but it seemed to operate properly.
Probably 2003’s most pleasant cinematic surprise, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl ably overcomes the cheesiness of its origins and provides a deft and lively adventure. It reignites the fun of pirate flicks and still manages to feel fresh and invigorating. The DVD’s picture quality seems good but falls short of expected levels. However, audio sounds excellent, and the package comes stuffed with many interesting and informative supplements. Pirates earns a very high recommendation from me, as it provides one of the year’s most fun movies and best DVDs.