Growing up, I had an aversion to amusement park rides. They were noisy and expensive, and I had a feeling they'd make me sick to my stomach. After college, a friend talked me into riding a roller coaster for the first time. Lo and behold, I loved it.

Similarly, I have been dreading this idea of films "based on" amusement park rides. Disney has been hunting for ways to keep their vision fresh and engaging, and this idea smacks of desperation. But when I saw the cast lined up for Pirates of the Caribbean—Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Jonathan Pryce, and Orlando "Legolas" Bloom—I consented to sit through a screening.

There was good reason for trepidation: there hasn't been a decent pirate movie in decades. But five minutes into the film, my apprehension walked the plank. Shiver me timbers, Pirates of the Caribbean is fun and funny. Echoing the ambition, mischief, boyish glee, and whimsical wit of '80s adventure films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Gremlins, The Goonies, and The Princess Bride, Gore Verbinski has concocted a film that is as promising for Disney's future as it is nostalgic for the great films of the genre. Pirates boasts an Oscar-worthy performance by Johnny Depp (his funniest, in fact), some impressive special effects (truly astonishing in the film's frenzied finale), and one of the funniest and most unpredictable adventure scripts to come along in a good while.

In a small harbor town, the governor (Pryce) is trying to match his beautiful and spirited daughter Elizabeth (Keira Knightly) with a decorated military officer (Jack Davenport). But Elizabeth's heart belongs to Will Turner, a young blacksmith (Bloom) whose past is lost in a fog of shipwrecks and pirates. Elizabeth and Will find their future threatened when ...

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