‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Screenwriter Explains the Secret Behind His Moonlight Ghosts
The moment a Hollywood franchise jumps the shark is kind of a mixed blessing. Take the Pirates of the Caribbean films, for example. While the latest entry in the franchise — Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales — has received a good going-over by the critics, more than a few have taken this as an opportunity to revisit the success of the original film. On paper, absolutely nothing about Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl should’ve worked, and yet, here we are, 14 years and three-point-five billion dollars later, still remembering how it took us all by surprise.
A lot of things had to break right to make the movie work, and to hear one of the writers say it, the curse itself almost looked completely different. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter (via Vanity Fair), screenwriter Terry Rossio shared the story about how the Black Pearl’s curse came to be and the financial considerations that drove his creative decision:
We knew we wanted to have sword-fighting skeletons from the start because those were cool and already part of the ride. But we also wanted to see the actor’s faces, you don’t want to make Geoffrey Rush into a skeleton for an entire film. So, the natural idea would be to do it like in Ladyhawke, pirates by day, skeletons by night.
But the producers shook their heads. With all the nighttime fight scenes, CGI was expensive at the time. We couldn’t afford for the pirates to be skeletons all night long. I was sitting at the table and laughed out loud. Everyone looked at me. “What if the pirates are skeletons at night, but only when the moon comes out? Can we get away with that?” They loved it. “Yes! When the budget gets tight, we just put a cloud in front of the moon!” And that’s what we did.
While this is a great story, it’s also important to note that The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl had a budget of $140 million to work with, so it’s not exactly like Rossio was doing an Ed Wood impression and having Johnny Depp shake the arms of a rubber octopus while lying in a pool of water. We can be impressed by the ingenuity of a film without needing to pretend like $140 million is playing in the shallow end of the Hollywood pool. You had a ton of money and you stretched every dime; ain’t nothing wrong with that.