“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was one of the most successful movies of the year (and with “Finding Nemo” helped Disney win the box office race in 2003). Now, it’s finally come out on DVD with a packed 2-disc set that is both fun and informative.

The movie itself follows Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), a young blacksmith that is smitten with Elizabeth (Keira Knightly), the daughter of Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce). One night, pirates invade their small village and kidnap Elizabeth. They are after an enchanted piece of gold she has had since she was a child because this gold can lift a terrible curse that has been on the pirates for years. In an attempt to prove his love for her, Turner joins forces with the bumbling pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to rescue her.

The film itself is a lot of fun. It’s a great movie for kids and adults, although take the PG-13 rating more seriously and don’t just think it’s appropriate for all ages because it’s a Disney film. There’s quite a bit of violence in it. It’s a pirate movie, after all.

Many of the special features are standard – commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and outtakes. However, the “Pirates” double disc set takes the standard features and multiplies them exponentially. One of the last DVDs I’ve seen with such comprehensive background featurettes was the “Star Wars” Episode I and II DVDs.

This double-disc set has more than ten hours of extra features on it. Many of these hours are lumped into the multiple commentaries featuring director Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp, Jerry Bruckheimer, Keira Knightly, Jack Davenport, and screenwriters Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert. This is a nice spread of commentaries, giving us videophiles a look at the film from the perspective of directors, actors, producers and writers. (And, these aren’t as pretentious as a David Fincher DVD in which he has to appear in all commentaries. The spotlight is warmly shared here.)

The second disc is loaded with mostly behind-the-scenes featurettes. There are in-depth looks into the making of the film, the special effects and other lesser known aspects of movie making. One of the more interesting featurettes follows the course of the Interceptor, which portrayed the Lady Washington in the film. It’s a much needed spotlight on the background crew that does the work that is seen but rarely appreciated.

Most of the content on the second disc is general featurettes. There’s a pretty informative and interesting section called “Below Deck” that covers a history of pirates. With more punch than the standard History Channel documentaries, these historical perspective explains everything from eye patches to walking the plank. In the interest of making the DVD as interactive as possible, one way to watch these documentaries is to navigate through the pirate ship and click on different icons around the decks. While I found this navigation method to be annoying, it might be fun for some. For those like me, there is a neat scene selection feature on this section to allow viewers to see them in a more traditional fashion.

One gem buried in the disc is an old Disneyland archival television program that spotlights the opening of the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride. For those out there like me who grew up in the Midwest and didn’t even cross the Mississippi until I out of college, this is a nice way to see the influence the ride had on the film. Plus, it gives everyone a fun perspective on how things have changed over the years – not just the ride and the Disneyland amusement part, but they structure of documentaries themselves. Watching Walt Disney touring his own facility with a very pretty but very wooden co-host is hilarious.

It is a little depressing to see such a heavy emphasis on Jerry Bruckheimer in the special features. There seems to be struggle behind the scenes. Was this a Disney film? Or was it a Jerry Bruckheimer film? After all, Jerry Bruckheimer’s high-octane action films are about as un-Disney as they get (although some of them have come out under a Disney banner). With slumped shoulders and much regret, I have to admit that much of what makes “Pirates of the Caribbean” a great action film is the Jerry Bruckheimer influence.

This is an excellent DVD set for the features alone. It doesn’t hurt to be a really good movie. It’s a good buy rather than a rent – unless you’ve got ten hours to kill before the disc is due back at the video store.

Specifications: DTS 5.1 Digital Surround Sound. THX-Certified, including THX Optimizer. Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (2.35:1), enhanced for 16×9 televisions. French Language Track and Subtitles.

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