When it was announced that Disney was making a movie based on its famous, but not that interesting Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride, I wondered to myself just how awful the movie would be.
When it was announced that Johnny Depp had signed to star in the film, it added to my doubts. Depp was the star of my favorite TV series of all time: 21 Jump Street. However, his film career had been rather anticlimactic.
But what Depp did with the character of Captain Jack Sparrow was nothing short of brilliant. The script was written as a swashbuckler drama, but Depp played Sparrow for comedy, reportedly channeling the spirit of Keith Richards to provide an absolutely mesmerizing performance.
So good was Depp’s performance that he earned an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor. And rightfully so. He was up against a host of accomplished actors including Sean Penn, Jude Law, Ben Kingsley, and Bill Murray.
Alas, comedic acting performances rarely earn the Oscar. As such, Penn walked away with the Academy Award for his appearance in Mystic River. But that wasn’t what should have happened.
Depp’s performance was clearly the best in the field for the 2004 Academy Awards. His characterization made what would have otherwise been a so-so movie, a phenomenal movie.
Disney and Depp have gone on to make four sequels revolving around the character of Captain Jack Sparrow. None of the sequels have been very good. The writers and directors of these sequels tried to focus on being funny. That’s not what made the original 2003 The Curse of the Black Pearl great. What made the original so good is that it was written as a drama, and Depp went against the grain with a comedic interpretation of his character. Trying to make the subsequent films outright comedies didn’t work.
But that first film – it was brilliant. And the brilliance was purely Johnny Depp.
When a film goes on to multiple sequels it is sometimes hard to recall how good the original was. Remember, Sylvester Stallone was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Rocky. You might not realize that he was that respected in the original Rocky movie when you think of how cheesy some of the sequels have been.
The same is true for Pirates of the Caribbean. The first film was magic and Depp deserved the Oscar for his performance. The sequels lack the magic of the first film, but that doesn’t change the fact that Depp was head and shoulders above the competition for Best Actor for The Curse of the Black Pearl. He should have won the Oscar.
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