Big Picture Big Sound

Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy on Blu-ray Disc Review

By Chris Boylan

The Films

In my recent review of the Starship Troopers Trilogy, I said sequels could be a tricky business. And it's true. But when you begin a project based on a 10 minute long theme park ride, throw in some memorable characters played by strong actors and turn that into not one but three feature films (so far), you actually might accomplish something. As is the case with the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy, now available together in a complete boxed set of all three films on Blu-ray Disc.

The films feature Oscar-winner Johnny Depp who embodies the role of the irreverent (and seemingly always drunk) Captain Jack Sparrow, Orlando Bloom as Will Turner and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann, the woman whose affection the two men seek. The trio maintains a sometimes uneasy alliance while staving off various mythical creatures, other pirates (some of them ghostly) and the evil East India Trading Company, a government-sponsored paramilitary corporation bent on eliminating all pirates so they may rule the seas unchecked. A talented supporting cast includes Geoffrey Rush, Jonathan Pryce, Chow Yun Fat, Bill Nighy (though he's mostly clothed in his CGI-generated character) and Keith Richards (yes, that Keith Richards).

The first film finds Captain Jack Sparrow in a quest to reclaim his ship, the Black Pearl. Along the way, he discovers that a cursed treasure has doomed the current ship's captain (Geoffrey Rush) and crew to "life" as undead zombies. The stolen treasure, it seems, must be returned - intact - to its rightful place in order to break the curse. Enter Elizabeth Swann, who has gained possession of a small part of that treasure, hence becomes a person of interest to the zombie pirate crew. Will Turner is the sword-maker's apprentice who has vowed to wed Miss Swann, and who will follow her to the ends of the earth if need be, to keep her safe.

The ride continues in the second film with Captain Jack Sparrow and his entourage battling against the legendary Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) himself, and against the Kraken - a huge sea monster able to tear ships apart in a single multi-tentacled attack. Finally, in the third film, the nine Pirate Lords from around the globe are summoned together in an attempt to defeat the seemingly invulnerable Davy Jones, now under the command of an unsavory and unscrupulous Lord working for the East India Trading Company. The films each feature startling visual effects, sweeping scores, strong acting performances and, if not always a completely coherent storyline, at least an entertaining ride.  As with many trilogies, it starts and ends strong with a slightly weaker middle section, but each of the films can be enjoyed on its own if you are willing to completely suspend your natural disbelief. 

For more detailed reviews see film guru Joe Lozito's take on POTC: Curse of the Black Pearl, POTC: Dead Man's Chest and POTC: At World's End.

I'll admit, when I first hear that Disney was releasing all three "Pirates" films together on Blu-ray Disc one September 16th, I thought "double dip!" But it turns out that this is not the case. In fact, the new trilogy boxed set is simply a way for those who have not yet bought into the Pirate films on Blu-ray to do so at a discount. The discs included in the boxed set are identical feature for feature with the earlier released Blu-ray Discs. But instead of paying $34.99 (list) each, now you can pick up the set for $82.99 (list).

The Picture

The set features the same high quality 1080p video transfers in 2.35:1 aspect ratio that we saw in their individual Blu-ray releases. And (of course), the first film in the trilogy is absent the framing problems that caused quite a stir last year on the avsforum, prompting Disney to offer replacement discs and to recall a significant portion of the first run of POTC Blu-ray Discs. Colors are well saturated (when meant to be) and detail is sharp as a tack. As a darkly comedic adventure there are quite a bit of dark shadowy scenes, at night aboard ships, inside caves and prison cells and in drab ship's interiors. In these scenes shadow detail is well-preserved.

The Sound

Also carried over from the previous releases are the uncompressed multi-channel (5.1) PCM soundtracks which have garnered much praise from consumers and reviewers alike. The scores by Klaus Badelt (first film) and Hans Zimmer (second and third) add perfect complements to the action with sweeping, grandiose gestures that accentuate the spectacular on-screen action and subtly eerie passages that underscore the suspense. In the third film particularly, Zimmer's exciting score recalls one of his earlier film soundtracks (Gladiator), with its purposeful sense of grandeur that almost, but not quite, borders on pompousness.   

Surround channels are used effectively to create an immersive sonic experience, particularly in the third film where Captain Jack's rescuers enter a surreal purgatory between worlds after falling off the edge of the world. Voices and echoes come from all around you, making you wonder if they're alive or dead, in this world or the next, or somewhere in between. The LFE track is also given a workout with the many cannon attacks, gunshots and the monstrous rumblings of the Kraken as it devours any hapless ship in its path.

The Extras

The POTC Blu-ray Discs are no slouch when it comes to extras with several Blu-ray specific interactive features. These include "Scoundrels of the Sea" - a viewing option which pops up movie facts and historical tidbits (first film), "Liar's Dice" a BD-Java game (second film), and "Enter the Maelstrom" - an interactive featurette of sorts in which producer Jerry Bruckheimer reveals the massive undertaking involved in filming the third film's climatic battle in a giant whirlpool (third film). I admit, that one almost put me to sleep, but other more interested in the technical aspects of film-making may find it more entertaining. 

Plus you'll get the usual assortment of deleted scenes, blooper reels, making-of features and featurettes that you'd expect with blockbuster titles such as these.  If you like Blu-ray titles that provide high replay value, you'll enjoy this set.

Details on Bonus Features by Film:

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

  • Scoundrels of the Sea: Piecing Together the Treasured Past of Pirates (In-movie Feature exclusive to Blu-ray Disc)
  • 3 Audio Commentaries - Gore Verbinsky and Johnny Depp; Jerry Bruckheimer, Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport
  • An Epic At Sea: The Making of Pirates
  • Bloopers of the Caribbean
  • Below Deck: An Interactive History Of Pirates
  • Deleted and Alternate Scenes

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

  • Audio Commentary: Screenwriters Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
  • Liars Dice (exclusive Blu-ray Disc game)
  • Bloopers of the Caribbean
  • Charting The Return Pre-production documentary
  • According To Plan The Harrowing and True Story of Dead Man's Chest
  • Captain Jack: From Head To Toe
  • Mastering The Blade
  • Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy Of A Legend
  • Creating The Kraken
  • Dead Men Tell No Tales: Re-Imagineering The Attraction
  • Fly On The Set: The Bone Cage
  • Jerry Bruckheimer: A Producer's Photo Diary
  • Pirates On Main Street: The Dead Man's Chest Premiere

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

  • Enter the Maelstrom (Blu-ray Disc exclusive) – An immersive, eye-popping tour like never before!
  • Bloopers of the Caribbean
  • Keith & The Captain: On Set With Johnny Depp and The Rock Legend - Like father, like son. A revealing look at the dynamic relationship between rock'n roll legend Keith Richards and Academy Award® nominee Johnny Depp
  • Anatomy Of A Scene: The Maelstrom - A detailed breakdown of one of the most complex and impressive action set pieces in cinema history
  • The Tale Of Many Jacks - An in-depth look at the mind-blowing FX that went into creating multiple Captain Jacks
  • Hoist The Colors - The inspiration for the movie's original composition "Hoist the Colors"
  • Masters Of Design - Five documentaries highlighting the talented design teams behind this immense production
  • Inside the Brethren Court - The secrets of at the legendary Pirate Lords, including their costume designs, origins and unique personalities
  • The World of Chow Yun-Fat - A look at the man behind devious Captain Sao Feng, international sensation Chow Yun Fat, and his meteoric rise to fame
  • The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer - Meet the renowned composer of the film's rousing score.

Final Thoughts

Although there is nothing new here that wasn't in the earlier Blu-ray releases, the Pirates of the Caribbean 3-Movie Hi-Def Collection provides an easy and more affordable way to purchase all three of the Pirates films, for yourself or a loved one on Blu-ray Disc. The high quality audio and video transfers are sure to satisfy and the extras will keep you entertained for hours.

Where to  Buy:

Product Details:
  • Actors: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Elizabeth Swann, Geoffrey Rush, Jonathan Pryce, Chow Yun Fat, Bill Nighy, Keith Richards
  • Director: Gore Verbinski
  • Audio/Languages: English Uncompressed 5.1-channel PCM (24 bit/48 KHz); English, Spanish, French: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Subtitles:English SDH, French, Spanish
  • Region: A
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 6
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Blu-ray Disc Release Date: September 16, 2008
  • Run Time: POTC1: 143 minutes, POTC2: 150 minutes, POTC3: 169 minutes
  • List Price: $82.99
  • Extras: (listed above)

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View all articles by Chris Boylan
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