Pirate movies often light on treasure

— Ahoy, me buckos! Be thar a pirate curse on them seeking treasure from movie tales of seafaring thieves?

A look at the scurvy history of many pirate-themed films from recent decades would be enough to shiver the timbers of even the most resolute Hollywood moviemaker, but Disney is taking its second gamble in two years on a big-budget buccaneer story.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" sails into theaters on a strong gust of nostalgia from fans of the longtime Disney amusement park ride. Coupled with its supernatural special-effects battles and satiric take on the genre's conventions, that could be enough to, well, turn the tide in its favor.

The film stars Johnny Depp as the sauntering, dark-eyed rapscallion Capt. Jack Sparrow, bent on reclaiming his vessel from a crew of ghostly, backstabbing ruffians led by Geoffrey Rush as a captain so wicked he transforms into a skeleton in the moonlight.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer described the task of making a pirate film as an act of derring-do: "I always like to tackle film genres that have failed in the past."

Previous projects may have been "too serious" to win over audiences, Bruckheimer speculated. "Pirates of the Caribbean" tries to poke fun at its cliches -- such as a thieving monkey, talking parrot and ever-flexible "pirate code of honor." "We stayed away from the eye patches," he added.

It's been a long time since pirate stories were surefire box-office hits, when Douglas Fairbanks Sr. slid down the sail of a ship on his knife in 1926's "The Black Pirate" or Errol Flynn fenced with glee in "Captain Blood" (1935) and "The Sea Hawk" (1940).

Dozens of imitators followed, but many suffered from a lack of innovation.

"They took these fantasies and then made them very sexual," said historian Jan Rogozinski, author of the book "Pirates!: Brigands, Buccaneers, and Privateers in Fact, Fiction and Legend." "They all had lots of men with naked chests, women with almost-naked chests, and they always had a good flogging scene. Everything was stereotyped and I guess it just bored people."

Mark Ivey, the swordmaster for "Pirates of the Caribbean" who coordinated much of the swashbuckling, said he hoped the movie would tap into the public's rebellious streak.

We still love pirates -- and we still love to hate them.

"Every kid wants to tell his mom that he's not going to do his homework tonight and he's not going to bed. Every adult, when they get pulled over for a traffic violation, wants to rip up the ticket and throw it at the cop," Bruckheimer said. "We all have these frustrations and things we don't want to do, but a pirate goes through life and he does what he wants to do when he wants to do it."


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