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Set-Report Pirates of the Caribbean Widescreen (Germany), August 2003
by Armin Lenz
translated by Marny

A theme-park attraction is made into a movie. Widescreen was allowed behind the scenes of a promising pirate adventure.

Half of the shooting of Disney's great summer spectacle is finished and a noticeable smell of chlorine is waving across the parking lot of the studios in Burbank, Ca. Inside, millions of litres of greenish water swash through an artificial lagoon 1.5 metres deep and disappear into a labyrinth of dreary, stalactite covered caves.

Geoffrey Rush is sitting on top of a mound of overflowing treasure chests which are in danger of collapse. Gold coins and pearl necklaces glimmer and sparkle next to other valuable booty which Captain Barbossa - the name of his movie character - must have accumulated in his long lawless life.

"What's your plan, Jack?", he demands to know and pushes his cutlass in the direction of acting colleague Johnny Depp. "You cannot kill me and I cannot kill you!"

The shooting in St. Vincent is still impending, but Pirates of the Caribbean has already a prominent anchorage in Disney's summerly movie fleet. Analysts believe they smell a hit. Johnny Depp and the young English actress Keira Knightley star together with Geoffrey Rush and Orlando Bloom. The latter is remembered by moviefans as Legolas in Lord of the Rings. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer promises a classic high seas adventure fitted for today's viewing habits. The script is from the same team which received an Oscar-nomination for Shrek. In addition there are multiple galleons in full-scale, stunning special effects by ILM and -as we could see for ourselves - some of the most impressive settings ever made by a movie studio.

"It has a bit of everything", Bruckheimer enthuses, " a great story about good and bad, great action, romance and these incredible special effects!"

[First part of the sentence is a saying I can't translate, sorry] Jerry Bruckheimer is presumably the most successful producer commercially and has a long list of box-office hits with movies like Flashdance or Pear Harbor. One can assume he has a grasp for potential hits.

He's also the guy who mostly invented modern action movies. Whether it's Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, The Rock, Crimson Tide or Armageddon - the list is endless - Bruckheimer stands for milestones. Special effects, bigger and better explosions, soundtracks which let cinema seats quake and mostly very healthy box-office results are his trademark. Pirates of the Caribbean seems to follow this tradition.

But even Bruckheimer confesses that he had doubts when Disney presented him with the idea. A movie based on the Disneyland ride "Pirates of the Caribbean"? That smelled more like corporate group marketing than a creative inspiration. But the script by Shrek-authors Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio aroused his interest. The two of them had unsuccessfully tried to convince Disney about the idea ten years ago.

But Bruckheimer was pleased with their ability to combine the intelligent humour of Shrek with the mysterious story of a roving gang of undead pirates who turn into skeletons in the moonlight.

The conception of the authours attracted director Gore Verbinski. He had just finished filming Ring and knew how to enthuse an audience.

"The movie has sword fights, ships, high sea battles, everything you expect of a good pirate movie", Bruckheimer says, "add to this this special element which might be a bit darker than usual. This is a movie kids will love, but is has something for the whole family."

Lord of the Rings rising star Orlando Bloom plays what he calls the "earnest young man" of the movie. He seems to embody the unbridled enthusiasm of the cast when he tells of his casting: "All I said was 'Where do I sign?'", he laughs. "I mean, isn't it the dream of every little boy to be a pirate? Then I got the script and I could see that it was a great character and that the movie would be a full-blown action adventure. The producer should be Jerry Bruckheimer who produced movies like Top Gun so it was clear to me that there wouldn't be any expenses spared to make it spectacular, authentic and funny. And then there was Johnny Depp, " Bloom says, "to work with him was very tempting." Depp himself says that it was an easy decision to do Pirates of the Caribbean.

"I always liked pirate movies", he says, "and I thought this could be funny and entertaining without selling myself. I imagined it would be great to make a movie my kids could watch and enjoy. You know, I like Disney movies and when you have a three-and-a-half year old daughter, you watch a lot of Disney stuff."

Depp, who plays audacious captain Jack Sparrow, looks very much like a pirate. His shirt is unbuttoned, his hair falls into his eyes and he has pearls in his beard. He never looked so dangerously good, he even has a couple of gold teeth. Obviously he thought a lot about his movie character.

"He's a guy who's probably sailed around the world two or three times and swiped some souvenirs everywhere", he explains. "He ties his hair with a hair-band, he braids pearls in his beard and puts another ring on his finger. I decided that pirates were the rockstars of their time. They stand for total freedom, uninhibitedness, chaos, fun, destruction and whatever happens, happens."

To prepare for their characters Depp, Bloom and other members of the cast had to go to "pirate school" for a few weeks before production started. They were trained by the same fencing coach who trained Errol Flynn in the Golden Age of Hollywood and who in the meantime is over 80 years old.

Bloom, who on this day celebrated his 26th birthday, watched some Errol-Flynn-movies in preparation. He even took the time to learn the basics of sailing for a scene in which he and Depp steal a galleon. But he worried the most about fencing.

"There is one situation in the movie where I fight with Johnny Depp's character", he explains, "and he says 'Oh, you are really good with the blade' and I say 'Well, I train for three hours a day'. So I had no choice. I had to become really good to be believable."

"I want a sword, too, but I'm not getting one", complains Keira Knightley, the young English actress who plays the female lead in the movie. Her friends at home always called during the shooting to find out if Johnny Depp is in fact as wonderful as they assumed. "In truth, all of my girlfriends are hopelessly in love with him", Knightley says. She then explains that although the character she plays is not allowed to have a sword, she's nevertheless not one of the usual girls who desperately wait to be rescued.

"She's some kind of modern girl stuck in the world of the 18th century", says Knightely and adds that she spent the biggest part of the day with "throwing pirates overboard". She has the bruises to proof it. Together with Depp and other cast members Knightley contributes to fight Geoffrey Rush and his cursed pirate gang on the screen. The scenes, in which real human beings turn into computer generated skeletons whenever they are touched by moonlight, made great demands on everyone involved.

"The other day", Knightley recounts, "we shot a scene in which I fight some pirates with a big stick. After some takes they told me I had to do it without the pirates. After a while I had to do it without the stick, so I fight no-one with nothing and I have to react accordingly. And I thought the whole time: Why didn't you pay attention in pantomime class?"

At the time of the visit to the set, six weeks of shooting remained. The work on the final cut and the insertion of the special effects will certainly keep the moviemakers busy until shortly before the movie release. But with the exception of a little fire in the first week of shooting producer Jerry Bruckheimer can't remember a production which went smoother.

"I think what really makes the job of a producer is: to take the audience to a place where it has never been before", Bruckheimer says, "Pirates of the Caribbean will be something you have never seen before like this."

It will definitely be spectacular, Knightley adds. She admits that she as a newcomer to big studio productions is still amazed by the great effort the moviemakers make. "I guess that's Hollywood", she shrugs, " you can blow up a ship if you have to."

Johnny Depp says that even his three-and-a-half-year old daughter Lily, who has been "a little bit shocked" when she saw her dad for the first time in his pirate costume,  now has a positive opinion. "She likes the dreadlocks."

Speaking of Depp, he admits he rarely had so much fun like he had as a pirate. "It is something I have been preparing for my whole life", he grins.