Pirates of the Caribbean – Script Review
It’s funny that in all the screenwriting classes I’ve taken or been a part of, this movie is always referenced.
I say that it’s funny, because never once was the script offered to read during the discussion. Only after we started this site did I find out how hard it was to find.
The idea of the movie is what was taught, and although I think it was done well, can the script convey that message, or will dead scripts tell bad tales?
Don’t forget to check out the script here.
1.) Marketability of the Idea
This question is great to have for this particular movie.
It’s a movie based on a theme park attraction.
Let that sink in for a moment.
A six minute ride will be stretched out to a ninety minute movie.
To say I was skeptical before seeing it in the theaters is an understatement. I was even more so when I heard Johnny Depp was the lead actor. I mean Edward Scissorhands playing a pirate? This is going to be silly.
What I was expecting was more of a movie like Haunted House ended up. Luckily what we got is one of the most successful movie franchises of all time. (And Mr. Depp got what he always HATED, a reoccurring, high concept role being backed by a profit-driven corporation.)
But the script came before the movie, so forgetting hindsight, what were its chances?
It’s a pirate movie, and that will catch people’s interest. Plus the logline leads to a deeper story than the Disney park ride deals with, so I’m sure people were willing to at least take a look.
2.) Plot Stability
Overall the plot’s good.
I’ll talk more about what makes the plot unique in the “The More You Know” portion of the review, but the main point here is that we had little, if any, downtime.
I’d argue that some parts were borderline episodic, but the writers always seemed to include just enough plot to pull us back in.
There were a few differences from the script to final movie though.
The first one was good, in that Elizabeth catches a glimpse of the Black Pearl as a child in the beginning. This let us know who attacked Will’s ship from the get go, and gave us a taste of the mystery to come.
The others were all bad.
Jack’s boat doesn’t sink before he gets to the dock, it just takes on water. (We lose an element of the “do you think he plans it all out or just makes it up as he goes along” part that is his character.)
A lot of the mystery is lost from Captain Jack as we get too much of a back story about him, including the fact that he was a cartographer from England and too honest to be a pirate.
On page 81, Will and Elizabeth have too mushy an encounter that just goes on too long and takes focus away from the characters we really care about.
Norrington gives up on Elizabeth before the movie’s over, and “his love for her” is what prompts him to go save Will, even though he “releases” her from his marriage proposal PRIOR to going to fetch the fella she’ll end up with. Problem here is it doesn’t feel true to his character, and is better left for the end of a story anyway.
Lastly, and a big problem with the whole “blood for gold” thing is Jack NEVER returns the coin he stole to the chest BEFORE Will drops his in. He still shoots and kills Barbossa, but doesn’t return the coin until after he dies. I was left scratching my head wondering how that worked. (Or at least why they needed Will in the first place.)
There is one small fact I’ll mention before we leave this section. Out of nowhere came this Christian/Holy Bible message near the end. Barbossa crossing himself, the good Lord providing things for Jack, it didn’t fit, and took away from the story. I’m not saying religion has no place in movies or storytelling, but we need to know when and where it’s appropriate. Here it felt forced, especially since it showed up so late in the ballgame.
All of the characters are drawn well, both in the script and the movie.
Perhaps seeing the movie first lent some of the life to the characters in the script, but I didn’t hate anyone’s presence, and enjoyed them as I read.
The biggest problem I had was setting Jack up in this “honest man stuck being a pirate” role. Gibbs and Will both refer to it, and that’s why he was marooned on island and bad at pirating.
It felt too forced. The beautiful thing about Jack Sparrow is we DON’T KNOW if he’s going to do the noble thing. The makes for a stronger character who’s unpredictability makes for a more interesting plot.
This part, I didn’t like.
4.) Dialogue and Description
If I were scoring both of these with points, they’d be high marks.
Description was well done, especially given some of the more intricate action scenes. Also, character descriptions were kept short, but true to who characters were.
JOSHAMEE GIBBS, who was born old, skin a dark leather…
Elizabeth slams the double doors shut, throws the bolts. The
interior shutters are closed over the windows. Above the
fireplace are two crossed swords.
Elizabeth climbs on the firebox; she grabs one of the swords
by the hilt and pulls — but it won’t come free. Both swords
are securely attached to the wall. Damn!
Not only did I see what I was supposed to see, but I FELT what the characters were feeling. That sort of empathy is a great boost to our writing when we can make it happen.
Then there were times where the dialogue and description worked flawlessly together.
You need to find yourself a girl.
(Will sets his jaw)
Or maybe the reason you practice
three hours a day is you’ve found
one — but can’t get her?
A direct hit — and Will coils even more tightly with anger.
Making the “direct hit” an expression on Will’s face works better than any line of dialogue can as a reaction. (As shown perhaps by the line that follows and takes away from the above line of description.)
Most of the dialogue was good. Both catchy at times and filled with subtext during others.
Think again, Miss Swann. Vile and
dissolute creatures, the lot of
them. I intend to see to it that
any man who sails under a pirate
flag, or wears a pirate brand, gets
what he deserves: a short drop and
a sudden stop.
Elizabeth doesn’t know what a ‘short drop and a sudden stop’
means. Gibbs helpfully mimes: a man being hung.
There’s no *real* ship as can match
The Black Pearl is a real ship.
No, it’s not.
Yes it is. I’ve seen it.
You’ve seen it?
You’ve seen the Black Pearl?
You haven’t seen it.
Yes, I have.
You’ve seen a ship with black sails
that’s crewed by the damned and
captained by a man so evil that
hell itself spat him back out?
But I’ve seen a ship with black
Oh, and no ship that’s not crewed
by the damned and captained by a
man so evil that hell itself spat
him back out could possibly have
black sails and therefore couldn’t
possibly be any ship other than
the Black Pearl. Is that what
(turns back to Jack)
Like I said, there’s no real ship
as can match — Hey!
Although I think we should avoid overusing a back and forth of this nature, in the proper circumstance, the comedic relief it offers is worth the risk.
Taking stock: you’ve got a pistol
with only one shot, a compass that
doesn’t point north … and no
ship. You are without a doubt the
worst pirate I have ever heard of.
Ah, but you have heard of me.
Subtext was very much alive in this script also, but it may have had some help. Most of it is found when talking about the societal class structure and how Elizabeth is in direct opposition to it.
Captain Norrington… I appreciate
your fervor, but I am concerned
about the effect this subject will
have on my daughter.
My apologies, Governor.
Actually, I find it all fascinating.
And that’s what concerns me.
Elizabeth, we will be landing in
Port Royal soon, and beginning our
new lives. Wouldn’t it be wonderful
if we comport ourselves as befits
our class and station?
I could never forget it, Miss Swann.
Will, how many times must I ask you
to call me ‘Elizabeth’?
At least once more, Miss Swann.
That last line being a particular favorite of mine because it speaks volumes of their relationship.
There were the occasional bad parts. On page 52, Norrington says the same line back to back. Also around page 93, Elizabeth launches into this story about the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song and why she likes it. (Here’s a fun fact, Miss Swann, we don’t care.)
Overall though, this portion particularly shows why screenwriting classes are quick to discuss this story.
The format was good. That’s even considering that I received the script in some formatted text file that I didn’t understand. My thanks to Joe, as he fixed it up and help bring it to this site for your viewing pleasure. (Thanks Joe!)
Sure, there’s a lot we can learn.
The main part I’m going to focus on here though, is having fun with a story.
Captain Jack especially lights up the page when he shows up. We want to know what he’s doing, saying, all of it. When he gets into predicaments, it’s fun to watch him get out.
As cheesy as it sounds, the writers captured the fun we have on the ride and had it translate into the movie. Is it the same fun? Not exactly, but it’s still a childlike wonder we can’t help but smile at.
Whether it’s making a joke about a dog never moving in a jail cell, or taking a small drop on a waterfall, it’s action done the “Disney way” where we’re laughing even as people are getting shot at or ducking sword slashes.
That’s what we need to strive for in our scripts, and a simple lesson to come away with.
Have fun with your story.
If you’re enjoying it as you write it, you’ve just upped the chances that a reader will enjoy it too.
7.) What, if anything, should we avoid emulating?
Leave a bit to mystery, especially when you establish such a great character like Captain Jack Sparrow. Leave a little bad with the good, so we’re guessing if he’ll choose to be the hero or be self serving.
I wanted to puke as Gibbs was talking to Will about who Jack was and how he lost the Pearl, because he was ruining the story for me.
Characters being unpredictable can be a writer’s ally, so we need to make use of it, especially when creating strong, memorable characters.
Rating: Definite read if you’re just learning the How to’s of screenwriting.
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