Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Jeremy Kirk puts on his rubbers and heads out to sea where scalawags, rapscallions, and supernatural shenanigans await. Oh, and he also listened to Gore Verbinski’s and Johnny Depp’s commentary on Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
Yeah, I know that’s a lame way to start. Especially when you consider this week’s Commentary Commentary, our third, goes from essential classics like The Thing and Die Hard to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. We’re not scraping the bottom of the barrel just yet, and even though Curse of the Black Pearl is by no means a bad movie, it just hasn’t reached a level of beloved nostalgia like our first two.
Okay. Enough preamble. This DVD offers three separate commentaries featuring various members of the cast and crew, but rather than hear the insight Jack Davenport had to offer – we love you, Jack – it’s probably best to hear from the film’s director and star. So here, without any further waggery or warm-up, is what was learned from their commentary.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Commentators: Gore Verbinski (director), Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow), utterance of the word “fantastic”
- The first shot of the movie, the shot of the ship coming out of the fog, is really five shots cut together to appear seamless. It was all shot early in the the shooting schedule, but it wasn’t finished until two days before the film’s release date.
- Keira Knightley was 17 when filming Curse of the Black Pearl. Her mother traveled with her to all of the shooting locations.
- Early in the film, Orlando Bloom kept trying to play his character cooler than he actually is. He wanted to play the character more like Depp’s Jack Sparrow, but Verbinski had to keep reiterating to him how uncool Will Turner is. “You’re still a dork,” Verbinski would say to him.
- Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were on set every day of filming, a rarity for film shoots, especially those this size and a first for these particular screenwriters. This allowed for the cast to constantly throw out ideas and improvisations for their characters that could end up being written into the script. Verbinski recalls how at certain times, if there was something mentioned the screenwriters didn’t like, the actors would go ahead and do it anyway. Depp recalls wanting to include a line of dialogue where Sparrow speculates Will Turner to be a eunuch. It didn’t end up making it in.
- Verbinski explains how 15 different composers worked on the music for Curse of the Black Pearl. They were all influenced and mentored by Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt who came up with the basic themes used throughout.
- To keep on schedule, Verbinski and crew had to constantly be shooting. This caused much of the backgrounds and certain ships to be fully created in post-production using CGI. Verbinski believes the constant shooting aided in the intimate feeling on set. It was doubly important to keep Curse of the Black Pearl on schedule, as water movies notoriously fall behind schedule.
- Trevor Loomis, the focus puller, used to have a job landing airplanes on an aircraft carrier. Verbinski and Depp recall how precise his distance judgement was. Trevor Loomis did not work on Top Gun. He was, however, a film loader on Color of Night, so there.
- Geoffrey Rush was adamant about choreographing and practicing the sword-fighting scenes to the point that the stunt team would become sick of dealing with him. Likewise, Depp believes Sparrow to have a Muhammed Ali approach to sword-fighting, keeping his arms down and letting his opponent come to him. Least amount of energy used for the maximum level of results is the character’s general thought on most things.
- For obvious reasons, the direct references to the ride – the prisoners trying to get the dog to come to them – work much better with American audiences than audiences in foreign territories. Evidently, they are huge moments in Anaheim.
- The casting of Sparrow’s fellow prisoners and pirate extras involved bringing in bikers and out of work actors into a basement at Disney. They were first given real weapons, but this quickly changed to rubber weapons when people began getting hurt. Out of 600 people, 10 were chosen. No word on if the other 590 were killed in pre-production.
- Verbinski wrote Geoffrey Rush a letter saying Rush was his third choice for the role of Barbossa, because he couldn’t get Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers.
- When Verbinski and Depp met for the first time, the director wondered how far Depp would take his approach to the character. Initially, Depp had an idea for Sparrow that the pirate had lost his nose in a sword-fight but it had been sewn back on. His idea was for Sparrow to have a blue nose since the circulation would be bad, and that his real fears wouldn’t be death but the common cold and pepper. As soon as Depp said it, he knew it wouldn’t be an idea that could be followed through on. Meanwhile, during the pitch, Verbinski was trying to work out how to sell the nose idea to Disney.
- During the scene of Sparrow and Will stealing the Interceptor, not all of the rope lines between the two ships had been cut. When the Interceptor began moving, the ropes began snapping before anyone on set was ready. In fact, the lines and belaying pins snapping sent pieces of wood flying through the set. One caught Depp right in the knee and knocked him completely out of frame. This was filmed but has not been released.
- The Pirates of the Caribbean ride freaked Verbinski out as a kid. He liked how the ride scared him and made him laugh at the same time, and this was a sensibility he wanted to bring to the film.
- It was important to differentiate the Black Pearl crew members from one another even when they were in their skeleton form. The eyes used for the characters are actually the actors’ eyes, just one of the decisions made between Verbinski and ILM to give the skeletal versions of the characters a personality. Likewise, in the end scene, Johnny Depp’s real eyes are used for skeleton Jack Sparrow.
- Verbinski notes that Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa is the only character in the film who delivers the typical, pirate, hard R. “And you’re doing Pepe Le Pew,” he says to Depp.
- While filming the scene where Sparrow is captured in the treasure cave, Verbinski kept the scene going while Depp and Lee Arenberg ad libbed dialogue about parlay, the French, mayonnaise, and even more talk about eunuchs. Much of this was cut. The dialogue, I mean. The eunuchs were evidently already cut, AMIRITE?
- Verbinski talks about two terms that were created on set, “visual effects ad lib” and “stunt ad lib.” Verbinski would come up with stunts and action beats on set that he would pitch to stunt coordinator George Ruge, and the coordinator would devise how to perform the action right then and there. Sometimes this would come after months of rehearsing one action only to throw in a different stunt to replace it on the spot. One such stunt was the one at the end of the film where Sparrow launches up out of the water and lands on the deck of his ship.
- The idea of film flubs comes up at one point. Verbinski mentions there are so many flubs in the film that people don’t even notice. He says there are shots that have crew members in frame that no one, to his knowledge, has pointed out before. So you can play a nice game of Where’s Waldo the next time you watch the film. Maybe win a prize? I’ll throw in a cookie.
- The instance of Jack the monkey smiling while sitting on Geoffrey Rush’s shoulder was complete luck.
- At one point during filming, a group of locals warned the crew of reefs just under the surface of the water. The marine units on set assured Verbinski they had GPS and knew exactly where every reef in the area was. This eventually led to Keira Knightley and her mother being stuck on an uncharted reef in the middle of the night. “They don’t sail around there at night,” says Verbinski referring to the locals. “No. They’re smart,” replies Depp.
- The scene with Elizabeth and Sparrow stuck on a deserted island is a pivotal moment according to Verbinski. He feels that, at this point, the viewer has all the information they need in order to end the film, but there’s still a complete act yet to occur. This is his biggest criticism with the script, that something should happen in this scene that changes how the third act plays out. I’d say Godzilla showing up, but that would just be silly.
- Originally, Jack Sparrow was never shown actually taking one of the coins. It was left ambiguous, but early test audiences were confused as to whether or not he had had a coin from the beginning or if he had always been a ghost. Instead of going back for reshoots, a shot was found that could be reversed and slowed to make the palming of the coin clearer. Also hearing Verbinski explain to Depp how the curse and the coins work is a clear indicator how convoluted these Pirates movies can get. I’m sure Godzilla wouldn’t have helped matters.
- Producer Jerry Bruckheimer was unsure about characters Pintell and Rigetti wearing dresses near the end of the film. When Verbinski went to pick them up from costume designer Penny Rose, she told him she had been told not to make them. Nonetheless, she assured Verbinski she had made them anyway.
- Verbinski and Depp both refer to Sparrow running away from danger as the “lizard running on water,” possibly a foreshadowing to their re-teaming on Rango. Hey, Godzilla was a lizard. I’m not letting this go, people.
- The treasure cave set had been ransacked of its props by the cast and crew before production wrapped. Depp mentions he and his daughter walked away with a lot of treasure, and Verbinski mentions none of the cursed coins were left when everyone was done.
- There were moments where Verbinski would purposefully frame Depp out, since his performance as Jack Sparrow was so strong. You might say distracting. No on would disagree.
- It’s 2h10m into the commentary before Keith Richards’s name is even mentioned. And that’s just in passing, not even in reference to influence on Depp’s performance. Just something odd to note.
Best in Commentary
“When I saw the trailer for the first time, there’s this giant, epic thing to the trailer, and when we were doing the film, it felt really intimate.” – Johnny Depp
“The curse is an incredible set of blue balls.” – Gore Verbinski on the film’s titular curse
“The film itself brings back kind of an old Hollywood feel. As you said before, there’s something in it for everyone as films used to be.” – Johnny Depp
“Jack’s breath is just a donkey’s ass.” – Verbinski
Even though much is learned from this commentary, much of it comes of as fluff between Verbinski and Depp. A lot of this fluff for their production and the cast and crew comes without much insight. At certain times, they throw out names and call them geniuses with little back story into who they’re actually talking about. Also, occurrences on set are brushed on but never explained. “Remember when my wig came off?” cracks Depp at one point. That’s it. No more explanation on something that you would think would have been a daily occurrence on this particular set. The two also hint at a fight on set between Verbinski and the special effects team during the deserted island scene. Again, no back story or discourse is given on the subject.
Still, the love for the project and the admiration the two have for each other comes through. Like I said. Fluff. There’s a decent amount of insight thrown in to make the commentary worthwhile, but you can’t help but wonder if there’s a more in-depth commentary track that could have been recorded. Maybe Davenport does have something to say.