The word “Game changer” gets thrown around so often that it no longer carries a lot of weight, but the term certainly applies to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Released in 2003, the film brought Disney its highest-grossing film franchise (pre-acquisition of other brands), made stars of Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom, and reinvigorated Johnny Depp’s career. Two years shy of the film’s 20th anniversary, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has given the blockbuster film a 4K Ultra-HD release. But whether or not it’s worth the premium price for the extra pixels is another story.

Based on the classic Disneyland attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl follows forbidden lovers Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightly) who get caught up in a swashbuckling adventure when Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) reaches their shore. In a quest to get his ship back, titled The Black Pearl, the trio must find Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) and his crew and undo a mysterious curse.

There’s no doubt that this film is deserving of a 4K release. Most studios with a franchise of this scale typically release all of the films on 4K at once, usually in box sets. Disney is releasing the series this way internationally, with a 5-film 4K box set scheduled for release in Japan this month. In the U.S., however, it’s just the first film hitting physical media in 4K. The package noticeably lacks Disney’s typical “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” branding, likely because it’s missing a majority of previously released bonus features.

The main issue with this release isn’t so much the missing supplements, but the 4K transfer itself. What you expect from a 4K remaster is improved clarity of picture and a bolder color spectrum. When it comes to the colors, the film already had a stylistically dimmed palette. But the clarity of detail isn’t as big of an improvement as it was on the recent release of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, calling the whole release into question. For more information, read the video section of this review.

Bonus Features

The included Blu-Ray disc contains the following bonus features:

  • Scoundrels of the Sea – Watch the movie with pop-up facts about real pirates.
  • Movie Showcase – Jump to 3 scenes from the movie, perfect for quickly demonstrating the improved visual quality of the then-new Blu-Ray format.
  • Audio Commentaries
    • Director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp
    • Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Keira Knightly, and Jack Davenport
    • Screenwriters Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, and Jay Wolpert

Disc 2 of the Blu-Ray release is not included with this set, but many of the bonus features are available on Movies Anywhere through the included digital copy.

Video

The 4K remaster of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl suffers from the after-effects of digital noise reduction in an effort to eliminate film grain. The film didn’t have an excessive amount to begin with and some scenes do reveal greater detail than the Blu-Ray, but not by as wide of a margin as you expect from the 4K format. Another big issue is the color spectrum, which feels muted in comparison to the 4K release. Looking at the same shot in both versions, the sky is a more vivid blue on Blu-Ray, becoming much software on 4K, a medium that should handle it better.

Audio

A new 7.1 English Dolby Atmos mix is the real highlight of the 4K Ultra-HD release, but it does play at a quieter volume than the Blu-Ray’s 5.1 mix. Hans Zimmer’s score gets split up, with instruments floating between rear speakers and ambient sounds filling the rear channels. Dialogue primarily comes from the front channels. The subwoofer, surprisingly, is used sparingly, but it also makes it more impactful when you feel the rumble during the biggest action sequences.

Other audio options include an English 2.0 Descriptive Audio track, 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus mixes in French, Spanish, Dutch, and Japanese, and a 5.1 Quebec French mix.

Packaging & Design

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl comes in a standard black 4K Blu-Ray case featuring the film’s original poster artwork. A non-embossed slipcover is included with the initial pressing. The 4K disc is black with a skull and crossbones on the bottom. The Blu-Ray disc has the poster artwork on the right side, with Disney’s uniform blue color on the opposite, as was the norm when it was originally pressed in 2007. Inserts include a digital copy code through Movies Anywhere and a flier for Disney Movie Club.

The 4K disc opens with a language selection menu, with a still skull and crossbones behind it. The main menu features the poster artwork set to score, with a few animated effects mapped onto it. The included Blu-Ray is Disc 1 of the 2007 2-disc release. It opens with a general ad for Disney Blu-Ray, followed by previews for Invincible, The Guardian, The Prestige, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and an anti-piracy PSA. The menu features an animated skull and crossbones that talks to you as you make choices. One of Disney’s first Blu-Ray releases, it’s an over-the-top presentation that annoys more than it delights.

Final Thoughts

Disney missed the mark with the 4K Ultra-HD release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Sadly, the included Blu-Ray disc feels like a more faithful representation of the film’s original colors and the digital noise reduction process didn’t do it any favors, either. This film deserved a better 4K release than this.

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Pirates Of The Caribbean