Pirates of the Caribbean -- the curse of the black pearl -- was spawned by a unique idea...base a movie on a amusement park theme-ride. Astonishingly, it worked. POTC is an enjoyable action film with a nice mix of myth, fantasy, and comedy that make for a colorful if somewhat light-hearted tale-of-woe. While POTC doesn't inspire me, it does entertain me. I think it entertains most people and does it well. Apparently well enough to garner itself something of a revered status from many critics and a loyal following of fans. My only real criticism of the film is that it errs too much on the comedic side and loses the opportunity to inspire fear (based on my general notion that "pirate" movies should be scary).
On the upside, POTC is brimming with fun-filled action and well-timed (and well-written) dialogue delivered by good actors. The film looks "epic" through manipulation of its visuals. Director Gore Verbinski makes substantive use of the 2.35:1 canvas and fills it with rich imagery and effects. The color pallet is intentionally somber and subdued for most of the film (even outdoor day-light scenes) and using this under saturated color helps convey the illusion that this movie testifies to some long-forgotten mytholgy.
Much of the fun watching this film the first time is discovering how various clues fit together regarding the pirates and the curse of the black pearl (and such a recap is unnecessary for those who *have* seen it)...so I don't really want to say anything about the story particularly. Besides, all you need to know is that it's about pirates, has good action, good acting, good effects, a decent story, and that Johnny Depp helps pull it all together with a skillful comedic flare. Enjoy.
Overall, the picture is beautiful.
Black level, contrast, and color:
I saw this film projected via 35mm and I can attest that the color rendition and contrast on the DVD do the film justice. The general color palette of the film is very subdued, so don't be fooled into thinking that the colors on this DVD are "off" in any way. Greens and reds are appropriately saturated in the few scenes that the director chose to present that way. Black level is strong (better than in the projected film image) and contrast is good with excellent shadow detail. By "shadow detail" I mean the ability to see image detail in the gray-black areas of the scene. This is very important in a film like this where many dramatic/key scenes are dark...if you can't see image detail in the moonlight-pirates-on-the-deck scene you'd miss one of the best moments of the film! In many scenes things seem ominously dark...even several day-light scenes shot outdoors appear somewhat "darker" than they objectively ought too...all part of the "look" that this film intentionally conveys so don't fall into the trap of thinking that the DVD is somehow "too dark" if you didn't get a chance to screen this in the theater.
Please don't consider the final word spoken on detail until Bjoern has had a chance to chime in with his impressions (which set the reference standard as far as I'm concerned), but my impression of viewing this DVD on both my direct-view 16x9 CRT and my friend Matt's Sony 10HT projector (both times being fed a 480P signal from a Panny RP91 DVD player) is that detail on this DVD is very good, though I'm hesitant to say that it could not have been improved by maybe a tad less filtering. However, I can genuinely tell you that from about 1.5 screen widths (projected) away, the image from this DVD looked very smooth, natural, and film-like and didn't leave me wanting for more detail or sharpness (except perhaps a little more facial detail in mid-far-ground images). Actually, thinking back to it, I'm not convinced that the 35mm print I saw looked much more detailed than what this DVD delivers (I should fess up and tell you that rigth after screening POTC on the Sony we popped in the D-VHS (1080 HD) tape of Moulin Rouge...which made it very difficult to "go back" and feel enthusiastic about standard-definition DVD... ) However, even in spite of my HD interlude, the image of the POTC DVD still managed to impress me with its film-like demeanor. There is lots of fine-level film-grain apparent in many scenes (part of the film, not a bad thing) which is always a good sign that the DVD mastering folks resisted the urge to apply liberal DNR or over-enthusiastic filtering to "videoize" the image.
Yes, there is some. Disappointing I know. (Why Disney, WHY??? ) I'd say that it might be a notch or two higher than what I saw on the Chicago DVD...but that's about all. And it doesn't seem to be obvious in every scene...but it does become visible on high-contrast edges if you're viewing angle is wide. I'd say folks watching from closer than 1.75 screen widths might see it, and those of you sitting farther away (or if your display isn't as resolving) won't notice it.
Some scenes near the beginning of the film that I noticed it:
- [*]When the young Elizabeth first spots the parasol twirling in the water and you're looking down from on deck...look at the white halo around the rope lines hanging out over the water. Then, a few moments later when you're spying the parasol from eye-level on the water, some obvious haloing on the left and right side of the umbrella's handle.[*]Another moment I found it to be obvious was when Jack Sparrow is first coming in to dock and is riding a-top his mast. As he drifts into port with the mouth of the harbor behind him with the ships in the background, I was surprised to see ringing around his silhouette.[/list]
Keep in mind I was viewing this film on a large front projection screen from about 1.5 screen-widths away. Other than this one caveat, the DVD image was utterly film-like and very natural. Compression is handled very well despite the plethora of soundtrack options on this disc and had I not seen the slight bit of ringing that I did from time to time, I would have given this image transfer/mastering a full five stars.
Ahhh...the sound. Well, despite all the marketing material omissions, we do indeed have both a 5.1 DD EX *and* a 5.1 DTS ES soundtrack on this disc. Sound is full-bodied and rich and "spreads" nicely across the front soundstage. Surround use is plentiful when called for but for the most part the action stays up front. I assume this reflects the taste of the mixing engineers who worked on this film and I'm satisfied (though I wouldn't have complained had the rear channel been employed a little more prodigiously).
DD & DTS:
The little "EX" and "ES" lights came on my buddy's Lexicon processor so I can attest that these 5.1 soundtracks are 6.1 encoded. So how do they stack up? Honestly, with so much controversy flying around the forum these days on the whole DD/DTS debate I do my best to approach "sound quality" issues as objectively as possible...trying to rid myself of any preconceived notion about what I "ought" to hear. Given my best efforts to make as objective a comparison as possible (without the aid of scientific instrumentation) I can tell you that the DD soundtrack sounds great and the DTS soundtrack sounds even better. Differences differences... Firstly, let's all calm down about the whole "different mix" issue unless we get confirmation that a different mix was indeed utilized. I've gotten confirmation in the past that identical PCM masters *were* used on several DVDs where I still thought the DTS sounded superior (Chicago) so I think we should presume that the mix is innocent until proven guilty.
What I hear:
The DD mix is bold and dynamic. I don't think anyone (myself included) would find fault listening to this soundtrack on its own. It's only when comparing against the DTS that any possible weaknesses are revealed. The DTS soundtrack has a noticeably smoother midrange, and the soundstage is more 3-dimensional with a greater sense of front/back separation. Details are rendered more finely and in general it sounds less fatiguing than the slightly flatter, slightly brighter DD soundtrack. The DTS also has that slightly more resolved sense of "space" and acoustic/ambient decay. Also consistent with most of my other DD/DTS DVDs, the surround channels sound more "coherent" on the DTS track...they seem to blend more seamlessly with the front channels and create a more realistic sense of a unified 360 degree soundfield. For me the most significant or meaningful improvement that DTS brought was the "rounder" more natural sounding dialogue. On both my friend's (Leicon whoop-ti-doo system) and my own (B&K nice but ho-hum) system these same differences were audible. Curiously, the DTS recording level seems lower than the DD (curious because usually it's the other way round) so you'll need to up the level a few notches switching over to the DTS if you want to do an A/B comparison. Bass is solid and bold on both tracks and I didn't notice dramatic differences between them bass wise, though I'd give the edge to the DTS having a slightly tighter more controlled bass presentation.
A 2.0 DD ProLogic encoded French soundtrack is also provided and I was surprised by how good it sounded (listened briefly when switching back and forth from DD to DTS to commentary).
Excellent sound. Good job Movie mixers and good job those who prepped these soundtracks for the DVD. Please keep those DTS tracks a'comin'.
Good Grief there are a lot of extras...and they take some serious time to review!
We have three, well actually *four* running commentaries to choose from (the last two are bundled together in the way that they are listed on the print material but functionally they represent two distinct commentaries). Two of the four can be access via menu or by simply clicking the "audio" button on your remote to toggle through the audio options. Two of them (the two that are listed as a single feature) can only be accessed via the special features menu because they are only specially recorded for various scenes during the film and don't span the entire feature. Oh, and let me be honest and tell you that I did my best to take a wide and varied sampling of commentary for each commentary feature, but as you might suppose I did *not* listen to every word of commentary recorded on this disc. That would have taken far too long and delayed this review even further!
- [*]Director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp (Audio Option 4, 1.0 DD mono) Honestly I was a bit disappointed with this commentary. Before giving each of these features a go I would have assumed that director's and lead actor's commentary would be the most riveting and engaging of the bunch. Nope. There are a few valuable tid-bits of information dropped along the way, but for the most part the banter between these two seems friendly and jovial, but not very revelatory. Director Verbinski does most of the talking (neither good nor bad) and Johnny Depp’s contribution seemed lacking in substance given what a great actor he is. Most of the discussion seemed to drift away from what was happening on screen...and then would occasionally get reigned back in almost like they’d suddenly “remember” they were providing commentary to this film as it was in play. Ok, so it’s not that bad. In fact, you might listen to it and think it’s just fine. And maybe it is. It just didn’t hit me with the “WOW” I was hoping for.
[*]Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert (Audio Option 5, 1.0 DD mono) Ok, this, IMO, is the commentary to spend some time with. Forgive me for not being able to recognize all the participants by the sound of their voice...please allow me to refer to them as “they”. Thanks. Well they do a fine job. This commentary pulls apart the story, the characters, what was planned and what unfolded on the set. They even touch on the occasional technical aspect and comment on filming techniques or issues with the location and effects (pointing that out since I had expected it the conversation to stick more closely to elements pertaining to the screenplay). This commentary also digs deep into themes and continuities in the film that had previously passed by my awareness. I really felt that this commentary provided not only insights, but a greater sense of depth to the film and it left me with a stronger sense of respect for what had previously been a “fun comedy” to my mind.
[*]Stars Keira Knightley (Elizabeth) and Jack Davenport (Audio Option 6, 1.0 DD mono *accessable only via menu) Cute. That’s what I can safely call this. Yes, there is the occasional coveted morsel to be found, but think of this like a day of shopping at a flea-market looking for that prized antique. Ok, to be fair I don’t think this part of the commentary was *supposed* to be more than cute. In fact, I’ll admit that I liked it. Keira and Jack (who plays her fiancée who’s just too good a boy to get noticed...know how that is?) are very playful with each other and have such fun joking around that you can’t *help* but have fun listening to them. This commentary (along with the next) is scene-specfic and you access it via menu. You can click “play all” which will zip you from scene to scene playing back all relevant commentary without having to wrestle again with your remote...or you can skip scene by scene.
[*]Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Audio Option 6, 1.0 DD mono *accessible only via menu) I found this gentleman’s discussion interesting, save for one caveat: he doesn’t talk about what’s happening on-screen. It almost sounds like his “commentary” was recorded sans picture and then included here in “commentary” form so it wouldn’t sound like a boring audio-only feature. Ok, that’s too harsh, and I think once or twice he does say something that let’s you know that he’s at least *aware* that there’s a movie playing while he’s talking. Other than my curiosity at this lack of dialogue-image continuity, Jerry’s discussion is interesting and worth listening to. (that’s now two sentences ending in prepositions that I’ve counted so far)[/list] Disc 2:
- [*]"An Epic At Sea" The Making Of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (4x3 fullframe 2.0 DD): A very nice making-of/behind the scenes documentary that’s subgrouped into various categories: Actors, locations, production design, ships, costumes/make-up, stunts, effects, and the opening premiere. You can jump right to a specific section (each about 5-10 minutes in length) or you can do a “play all” and watch them trough. When you do this you’ll see a title-card announcing when you’re starting up a new topic. This is a good-quality behind-the-scenes featurette that I think most folks will enjoy. Would have preferred this to have been 16x9 1.78:1 similar to the documentaries on the Lord of the Rings discs, but that’s my only real criticism.
[*]Nineteen Deleted Scenes (4x3 lbxed): Some serious deleted-scene action here. Many are actually scenes that are more fleshed-out than in the final film vs the usual of scenes that have been cut altogether (though there are some of those too). One thing I found curious is that while all these scenes are 4x3 encoded letterboxed-WS, the aspect ratio varies from 2.35:1 material to 1.85:1...and in some cases varies during the same scene. My guess is that most of these deleted/extended scenes survive in video-form (probably why they were 4x3 encoded) but I still find it curious that that aspect ratio shifts between 1.85:1 and 2.35 (wondering if the 1.85:1 images were intended to be cropped to 1.85 or if they were already cropped on the L/R). This is a healthy dose of deleted/extended scenes and I think most fans will appreciate this selection of material. Many scenes I felt would have been better left in the film though naturally there are those one is glad found their way to the cutting room floor...
[*]"Fly On The Set" featurette: (4x3 full-frame 2.0 DD) This is similar to the first behind-the-scenes featurette but here rather than content being grouped by topic, it’s grouped by scene and the viewer is walked through each scene from start-to-finish to see multiple views of what goes into making each scene happen. For instance, you get to watch a scene being rehearsed and then you get to watch take after take until the director feels it’s just right. I found it interesting to see sometimes the awkward, and often complex, efforts that go into what looks like a simplistic moment in the film on the surface. If you’re keen on one of the particular scenes discussed or a student of acting I think you’ll find it valuable (the list of scenes is Town Attack, Tortuga, Blacksmith Shop, The Cave, Jack’s Hanging).
[*]"Diaries:" (4x3 full-frame DD 2.0) Contains three “diaries” of behind-the-scenes movie making stuff: Producer Jery Bruckheimer, Diary of a Pirate, and Diary of a Ship. What I found most interesting was seeing the sometimes *astonishing* transformation that these actors (Pirates Diary) underwent from their on set to off set lives. The makeup and costuming crew of this film are to be commended...you would *not* be able to recognize many of the actors off-set had you only seen them in costume in the context of the film.
[*]"Moonlight Serenade" Scene Progression: Excellent feature. This is one of the “statement” scenes from the film... the one where the moonlight first revels all the pirates on board the Black Pearl for the ghost-like corpses they really are. Here we experience a detailed view of everything that went into making that finished scene a reality. The focus here is on the computer generated special effects but also delves into costuming, acting, etc. Do not watch this while eating dinner!
[*]"Below Deck" an interactive History of Pirates: Ok, this was actually my favorite special feature of all. You can view the list of choices one of two ways, either by navigating around a menu and hoping that something lights up (frustrating but more than likely fun for kids) or you can just view them in “list” form which is what I recommend. Here’s where the special feature content starts to let go of the film a bit and start to get into interesting history and mythology about pirates, buried treasure and the like. I really enjoyed this feature and consider that this would be worth revisiting from time to time. I’m sure there are many seventh graders who will be writing reports about pirates and doing most of their research from this area of the DVD.
[*]Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color: This feature is titled "Pirates in the Parks" on the production DVD. It contains all the footage from the TV episode "Disneyland From The Caribbean To The World of Tomorrow" that is related to that particular theme ride. We see Walt showing off sketches and
models of the Disneyland attraction "Pirates of the Caribbean" (did you figure that out on your own? ). Picture quality is about what you’d expect for such vintage material and is acceptable. Watching it, knowing that it was filmed and aired for contemporary eyes many years ago, reminds one of a more innocent, less complicated time. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean. VERY cool and from what I understand the DVD-ROM material gets even more in-depth.
[*]DVD-ROM Material: Sorry folks...no PC with a DVD! However from the spec. sheet it looks like it should actually be of interest (ie. more than just some lameo password-protected web address to look up stuff on the internet like (I have to say it) E.T.). My only complaint is that it looks like there are lots of goodies locked away in the DVD-ROM material that would be nice to view on my TV with my feet comfortably perched on my ottoman![/list]
Disney has delivered an excellent (though not perfect) image transfer with a stellar DD and DTS soundtrack with extras galore.
If you'd enjoy a fun-filled adventure with good action and effects coupled with well-scripted dialogue and quality acting...