PictureThis, the first Pirates of the Caribbean instalment, comes glistening to Blu-ray with a glossy 1080p High Definition video presentation that really is top notch. Detail is fantastic throughout, right from the opening ship sequences, to the facial close-ups, the explosive battles and the small-scale swordfights. There is absolutely no sign of edge enhancement and very little noticeable grain, only apparent in the most extreme low-lighting scenes. The colour scheme is remarkably broad, with the glorious open blue sea providing a gorgeous backdrop to many of the scenes. Skin tones remain accurate throughout, and some of the darker scenes have a nice greeny-blue tinge that gives the movie that classic period feel. Blacks are deep and rich, allowing for decent shadowing and overall this is arguably one of the few benchmark video renditions that can truly be used to show off the visual excellence of the High Definition Blu-ray format. It should be noted that the Blu-ray release of Pirates has become somewhat infamous of late due to reports that it was not given the correct aspect ratio (or at least the one it does get has been framed wrong and has the top and bottom of the picture trimmed). I have seen direct comparison shots to prove this effect, and obviously it is a problem, but honestly it does not generally affect your enjoyment of the movie. Collectors and perfectionists are going to be pretty annoyed with this fact nevertheless, and it is only right that they should be, but without having your finger primed on the pause button, you're generally not going to notice any issues.
SoundWe get a powerful Uncompressed PCM 5.1 track provided as an aural accompaniment on this Blu-ray release. Dialogue comes across crisply, clearly and coherently, largely from across the fronts and centre channels. The movies is an effects maelstrom, so aside from a well-represented ambient atmosphere, there are plenty of keen observations of the larger cannon-fire and rifle bursts (also making for some decent LFE action). Metal against metal clangs sharply during the swordfights and the ship sequences always carry the convincing sounds of waves, ushering you into embracing the aquatic feel of the affair. The score is a little too Disney for me, but it still generally suits the material and certainly allows the surrounds, and even the bass to pick up. Overall, this Uncompressed track is easily one of the best that I have come across on Blu-ray, and arguably one of the best on either High Definition format.
ExtrasConsidering that the original releases of Curse of the Black Pearl on SD DVD were pretty feature-packed (in both two- and three-disc sets) it was quite nice that the studios bothered to make the Blu-ray release an equally feature-laden 2-disc set. First up, disc one. Now, although BD-Java was (and is still) a work in progress at the time of this release, we do kick off with a moderately fun Blu-ray-exclusive, “Scoundrels at Sea”. This ostensible gimmick supposedly allows you to 'build your own view of Pirate history', which is a nonsense statement really as basically it is a feature that allows you to collect gold coins that pop up during key scenes throughout the movie. After you've finished, you can play back the mini-featurettes that relate to the specific gold coins you've selected. Of course, instead, you can just select the gold coins (in a follow-the-white-rabbit kind of way) and view the featurettes contemporaneously. The much more interesting aspect of the feature is the trivia track that runs throughout, which offers you some moderately engaging written facts about Pirate lore. It's pretty feeble in comparison with the sort of High Definition-exclusive extras found on HD DVD releases (and not a great step up from SD DVD extras) but it's better than nothing.
On to the material ported straight over from the DVD releases, we get all three Audio Commentaries. The first one sees the Director Gore 'The Ring' Verbinski team up with star actor Johnny Depp - which audiences would assume to be a match made in heaven. Unfortunately the result is not even half as entertaining as it sounds, with Depp seeming really stoned and lacking energy, the Director having to cattle-prod him into discussing some admittedly moderately interesting production tales. The second track has the Producer Jerry Bruckheimer pair up with Brit actors Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport, and is a rather odd affair. Whilst Knightley and Davenport were clearly watching the movie whilst providing the commentary, they were not in the same room as Bruckheimer, whose additions have just been interspliced to fill in the quieter moments. So although the two Brits are quite sarcastically witty and entertaining, their offerings occasionally jar when matched up with the Producer's injected comments, although the latter does have some interesting stuff to say about what the studios initially thought about Depp's performance. Finally we get a track made by the four screenwriters (That's got to be a bad sign doesn't it? Since when does any decent movie truly require four writers?) who understandably provide the most interesting offerings, talking about the original Theme park ride that the movie was loosely based on, revealing some nice background into the characters and how they were originally conceived and discuss their intentions for them further down the line. It's a lot of tracks for listeners to choose from, and I recommend the latter two over the Depp track, which most fans will be initially tempted to go for. Finally on the first disc we get a bunch of trailers, including one for the second Pirates sequel.
Disc two kicks off with “An Epic at Sea: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean”, a near-forty minute Documentary that offers interviews segments from all the main cast and crew for the production (including most of those present for the Commentaries) and is split into nine easily accessible segments, which look at everything from the CGI Special Effects used to create the undead pirates to the massive ship battle sequences. Three on-set Video Diaries - Diary Of A Ship, Diary Of A Pirate and the Producer's Photo Diary With Jerry Bruckheimer offer more yet more insight via the crew of the ship and one of the pirate actors respectively, as well as giving us a still-based photo diary from the Producer. Whilst the first two are about 8 minutes each, the photo diary runs at nearly twenty minutes in length.
Fly on the Set gives you a breakdown of five key sequences from the movie: The Town Attack, Tortuga, The Blacksmith Shop, The Cave and Jack's Hanging. Totalling some twenty minutes of behind the scenes information, it is quite a nice addition to the proceedings. The Moonlight Serenade Progression takes a look at the scene that introduces the undead pirates, deconstructing the shots into what they looked like before and after the effects layers were added. It works as a nice companion piece alongside the other scene-dissecting Featurettes.
There are nineteen Deleted Scenes, offering nearly twenty minutes of extra footage. None of them are particularly interesting, and they mostly comprise unnecessary line extensions to existing scenes, and you can clearly see why they were cut out (particularly since the movie was pretty long anyway). It's a shame that we don't even get some action scenes with unfinished effects or the like, as nothing here is worth your time. More amusing is the Gag Reel, which is 3 minutes long and has the cast fluffing lines and generally having a good time. The Image Gallery contains some 200 images, and is not quite as engaging as Bruckheimer's own still-based production diary.
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour takes a 17-minute historical look at the origins of the Pirates of the Caribbean, discussing its origins as a theme park ride and coming across as more informative and documentary-style than promotional, which is nice. There are also a few interesting Easter Eggs, all accessible through the skull's eyes on the second 'page' of Extras, including a 3D Ship-to-Ship Animatic, a Japanese Television Commercial, a Keith Richards interview regarding Johnny Depp's involvement in the movie and a Pirates Cave Construction Timelapse.
VerdictPirates of the Caribbean is a silly but fun swashbuckling period romp, a comedy-adventure complete with Pirates, explosive ship battles and undead baddies. What really brings the piece to life is the master character actor Johnny Depp. Presented on Blu-ray we get superior video and audio, as well as a whole treasure trove of Extras that are sure to have fans drooling. Definitively worthy of an upgrade, it comes recommended to fans of Depp or this kind of production, and a recommended rental to those who are more cautious. Far superior to its sequels.
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