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Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #26--Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) [July 9, 2012]

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posted by Melissa Connolly alias Melissa's Kitties on Friday 9th of November 2012 07:17:53 AM

"I'm still too dumb to make choices just because it's going to be successful. In terms of this being a giant production, I still chose the same way I choose other films. I really saw something in the character I could do something with." - Johnny Depp on taking the role of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Is there anyone out there who hasn't heard of or seen this movie? For those of you who haven't seen Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, here's the scoop: The drive to make this movie was described as Disney's effort to revitalize a 40-year-old theme park ride called Pirates of the Caribbean. But the film isn't really based on the ride, which doesn't have a story to it. Apparently, the writers somehow incorporated a few of the ride's characteristics and minor characters for familiar audience members to wink at as they watched the movie, but they created an original story that could stand on its own. I believe it because there's no way a theme park ride could have such an intricate backstory. At the end of the audio commentary on the DVD, co-writer Ted Elliott actually lists out the plot points one-by-one, ending with, "See? It makes sense, right?!" It does, I swear! Having several simultaneous stories going on is part of what makes this movie so good! The story begins in the late 1700s or so on a sailing ship with the governing body of England's Port Royal, including Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) and his 8-year-old daughter Elizabeth, aboard. Peering in the distance, Elizabeth discovers a boy drifting in the ocean and rescues him. She learns that his name is Will Turner and steals the medallion around his neck to hide it from the others for fear that it marks him as a pirate. Ten years later, Elizabeth (Kiera Knightly) and Will (Orlando Bloom) are still friends but have a societal gap between them: She's the Governor's daughter being courted by Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), but she's really in love with Will, who is just a working-class blacksmith. (Isn't that always the case!) Elizabeth doesn't realize that the medallion she stole all those years ago set a hunt in motion: Everyone comes looking for it. Led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), pirates sail The Black Pearl and attack Port Royal, looking for the trinket and its owner. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), previous captain of The Pearl before his crew committed mutiny and left him stranded on an island, arrives in search of his ship but soon discovers that Elizabeth possesses the rare medallion. So, things get interesting: Ultimately, Elizabeth is captured by the Barbossa's crew, with the medallion, and Will enlists Jack--who has his own vested interests--to help rescue her. Adventure ensues. Enjoy the ride! Johnny's gone to the other side! When word got out that Johnny had signed on to star in a Disney production focused around one of its faded theme-park rides, everyone said he had sold out: He'd given up his indy roots and infiltrated "the enemy camp" for blockbuster success! This idea never occurred to me and hearing it over and over started to irritate me. Do critics really think that signing Johnny Depp to star in a Disney movie about pirates in a story based on an old theme-park ride is a successful recipe? It really didn't sound like one to me. Johnny has never approached his roles thinking about the money he's going to make from it. In fact, he's done the opposite and worked for free just for the experience or as a favor to his friends. Signing on for a Disney movie was a definite surprise, but surprises are one of the many Joys of Johnny. I chalked this decision up to Johnny having kid movies on his brain since the birth of his daughter in 2001 and left it at that. But Johnny doesn't go into those details to explain these things. Instead, he says things like, "I just had a good feeling about it--a really, really good feeling." He's telling the truth here. He goes on, "It was mentioned that they were considering a movie based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and I said I was in. There was no screenplay, no director, nothing. For some unknown reason, I just said I was in." Trusting Johnny's instincts, I wanted this movie to be really great--mainly just to disprove all the speculation and skepticism around it. Though wild with anticipation, a part of me feared that it could go horribly wrong. This was a new experience and a risk but no more or less exciting to me than any of Johnny's other movies were when they premiered: I didn't see what the big deal or difference was about this one. Good or bad, I knew Johnny would do something different to keep things interesting, which is good enough for me. I have a date with Captain Jack Sparrow! One day, I came home from work, sifted through my mail, and found two free tickets to see an early preview of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl at my local theater in Georgetown. I don't remember asking for these, entering any contests, or giving out my address to strangers. I have no idea how they ended up in an envelope addressed to me in my mailbox. Creepy? Yes, but I squealed and jumped around in my apartment anyway! In reality, these tickets were no big deal because I planned to be first in line to buy tickets to this movie, but I prefer to see these surprise treats--magic tickets to see this movie few days earlier than everyone else--as fateful Johnny Gifts that make my day. Thanks, whoever sent them. (Was it you, Walt Disney?) While my friend and I were among the first to arrive at the theater that night (because I'm neurotic that way), it was eventually packed. (Apparently, I wasn't the only one to get free tickets.) More important, I'm pretty sure we all really enjoyed the movie! I was relieved. The story is rich with side characters and story lines among the stars handling the main plot. Everyone in the cast, straight down to the extras, have distinct personalities, detailed histories, and their own little quirks. It makes for an entertaining soup. To top things off, the script--which really what sold Johnny on the project--is filled with smart humor. During the entire production, scriptwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were on set to make changes, so director Gore Verbinski, Johnny, and the rest of the cast had plenty of freedom to give input and test ideas on the spot. I was also impressed with the special effects. There are things in this movie I'd never seen before, and it's all so detailed! (I love details!) For example, the curse in this story only appears in moonlight, making the night-time scenes and battles extra special. And, instead of your typical treasure hunt, this curse requires that the pirates return rather than keep the goods. I think all these different elements made Pirates of the Caribbean the summer blockbuster it became--I mean, aside from the obvious key ingredient. Johnny's in his element. You have to think back to a time before you ever saw or knew Captain Jack Sparrow. I know it's difficult because he may be in everyone's psyche at this point, whether you're a fan or not. If you think back to before you first saw him, you'll realize what an amazing transformation Johnny made into this one-of-a-kind pirate. He disappeared into this role with the costume, the walk, the voice--every movement and every joke. Granted, I'm biased, but I gasped during Johnny's first scene when he started interacting with people. I really couldn't believe that it was the same person. As always, Johnny did a ton of research for this role. After reading a bunch of books about pirates during that time period, he considered them the rock stars of their day. So, most noticeably, the captain is based on Kieth Richards, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, who Johnny considers the greatest of all rock stars. Johnny also spent a lot of time in saunas thinking about the character and what it'd be like to be on the ocean fighting the elements for hours on end. Captain Jack, he assumed, would be a little off due to the intense heat on the high seas. "With Jack, it was more that I liked the idea of being ambiguous, of taking the character and making everything a little bit....questionable." Also in the mix are bits of Lee Marvin's character from Cat Ballou and the great Pepe Le Pew. (I love it!) When Johnny showed up at the studio in his costume, the rest of the cast was baffled. "That first day, we were all like, 'What's he doing?'" says Kiera Knightly. When the studio heads saw the dailies, they thought Johnny was ruining the movie. "I was sure I was going to be fired, absolutely!" Johnny says. "They had a few questions: Is he gay? Is he drunk? Is he gay and drunk?" Johnny also had to barter for his look. The studio felt that a mouthful of gold teeth was too much for audiences to bear, but Johnny counted on this concern and removed the two extra gold teeth he considered his barginning chips."When you hire Johnny, you want him to do something unique and different," producer Jerry Bruckhiemer says. They got it. "The characterization, the personality of Jack is what we wrote," screenwriter Ted Elliott notes. "The expression of that personality is purely Johnny Depp. It was exactly what we described but nothing like we anticipated." Johnny is pretty genius in this role, no matter how sick of Captain Jack you may be by now. But you have to keep it all in perspective, I suppose. Scriptwriter Terry Rossio expains, "Johnny's performance is amaazing, but it's framed by all the other characters and sustained by the situations he gets put in. Everything goes into a performance like that--the cinematography, editing, but particularly the surrounding characters who have to create the environment for him to play off of." It's true. All the supporting characters perfectly fit their roles. Aside from Jack, everyone loves the beautiful people--Orlando Bloom as Will and Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth--who are fantastic. But no one ever mentions Geoffrey Rush. The more I watch his performance, the more I marvel at his Captain Barbossa, who is your classic "Argh!" kind of pirate up against Johnny's uncategorical Captain Jack. As Terry Rossio notes, "Geoffrey Rush's eyeballs deserve an Academy Award nomination." It's true. Well, they didn't get one, but Johnny did! Did you hear me scream and jump around the moment his nomination was announced? Only Johnny could get nominated for starring in a Disney summer blockbuster as an ambiguously gay, drunk pirate. Granted, he should have at least five Oscars by now, but it's delicious that, after all this time, this is the one that got him nominated. I never would have guessed, yet I wasn't surprised. Johnny probably didn't care as much as I did. Maybe it was the 17-year wait, but I Was Thrilled!!! Alas, he lost to his friend, Sean Penn, who won for Mystic River. Johnny was probably relieved that he didn't have to make a speech. But the only reason I'm just the tiniest bit relieved about his loss is that Johnny didn't go down in history holding an Oscar sporting that night's weird greasy hairstyle. You know I would have had to keep that photo forever, despite what his hair looked like that day. Crisis averted. Up to this point, Johnny performances generally received critical acclaim, but his characters were always labeled "outsiders" or "oddballs." Hiring Johnny was considered a risk because "he can't open a weekend" or "he's too weird." He's always described his career as one built on a bunch of box office failures. Johnny's movies were not mainstream, and many people didn't see them unless they were in the know and made the effort. Imagine the shock of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl becoming a gazillion-dollar blockbuster overnight, Captain Jack and all the characters going down in Disney history, and talk of sequels already buzzing! Did I fully express the inexplicable magnitude of my joy about this? Really, I felt this couldn't have happened to a better person after all the equally stellar work before this crazy pirate movie. Making this movie didn't mean that Johnny sold out: No one could plan for or predict the ridiculous meteoric success of The Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was nominated for four other technical Oscars and at a bunch of different award shows that season. It earned quite a few awards. Most exciting to me was that Johnny won the Best Actor award that year from the Screen Actor's Guild, an honor voted by other actors. Ah, the love gave me a warm fuzzy feeling (even if he couldn't attend to accept it in person). The Kitties have already heard of Captain Jack Sparrow. I've actually submitted a couple Illustration Friday drawings inspired by Captain Jack already. Illustration Friday's word of the week, "skyline," stumped me for a few days in 2006. But, eventually, my brain made its way to the last line of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, in which Johnny mentions the horizon. (It counts, right? They're synonyms, aren't they? Well, even if I tried, I couldn't think of anything else once the seed was planted.) Everyone was stumped on how to end this movie, but Johnny had a eureka moment and ran to the writers like a little kid, yelling, "I've got it! I've got it!" See that drawing here: By 2007, the word "captain" instantly and only made me think of the captain on his ship, The Black Pearl. (It still does.) You can see that drawing here: But drawing a specific tribute to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl for Johnny Kitties was daunting! At first, I thought I'd have to draw several illustrations to cover the entire cast of beloved characters. Then, I figured I'd have a few more chances to capture them later. So, I went with my original idea, which flashed in my head when I first thought up the Johnny Kitties project. It's true that Johnny's character shines best when all those "normal" people are reacting around him, but ultimately the greatest thing this movie does is introduce audiences to Johnny's Captain Jack Sparrow. Not only should his entrance go down in film history as one of the best ever, but--once introduced--there's no turning back. As soon as he sets foot in Port Royal, you know you're in for something special. And, he's here to stay. Savvy? What's Next? And now for something completely different: Johnny represents the CIA in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and I'm guessing they wish he didn't. For more information about Johnny Kitties or images from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, see my original blog post here:

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