Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) | 4K Blu-ray Review


It’s the first film in a well known and well loved franchise finally making its way onto the 4K format. Disney has not always had the best track record, so let’s see if they finally put in the effort to bring a top quality release for fans of the film and the format. (Spoiler: They didn’t).


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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 4K Blu-ray cover art

Tech Specs:

Format(s):UltraHD/4K Blu-ray (BD-66)
Blu-ray (BD-50)
Digital code
Released By:Disney
Release Date:January 2nd, 2021
Video Format / Codec:4K: H.265 (HEVC)
BR: MPEG-4 (AVC)
Resolution:4K: Upscaled 4K, 2160/24p
BR: Full HD, 1080/24p
Digital Intermediate (DI):2K (captured on 35mm film)
High-Dynamic Range (HDR):HDR10
Aspect Ratio:2.39:1
Audio Format(s):English (4K): Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)

English (BR): LPCM 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)

Additional track available in French, Spanish, German, and Japanese
Subtitles:English SDH, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Packaging:Dual disc snapcase with slipcover*

*Slipcover may only be available on initial pressing
Region Coding:4K: Region-free
BR: Region A (locked)

Video Review:

If you have seen or read any other reviews on this release, you probably know where this is going. This was such a huge missed opportunity for Disney, and gigantic disappointment for both fans of the film and of the 4K format. This was originally shot on film, and it does have a lot of CGI, so I was not overly surprised they did not go back and re-scan the original negatives as we don’t exactly know the state of affairs when it comes to what is available (were negatives cut or altered, etc), and the amount of work it would have taken to do a ground up remaster. So on that front, I’ll give them a pass. But I’m really only being gentle on that front because of what they did give us…which was really not good. There have been a few “stinkers” out there when it comes to 4K transfers, but this one definitely is making a case for being mentioned in the same breath.

Honestly if they had just taken the exact same picture we received on the standard Blu-ray, encoded in 10-bit HEVC, threw it on a 4K disc, and told us it was “now in 4K”, I probably would have been upset, but it still would have looked better because it would have at least been intact. Instead what we received contains a whole bunch of over-processing, from sharpening to obvious use of digital noise reduction, edge enhancement and a subpar use of HDR. They took what was well done on the now fairly old Blu-ray, “tried” to make it better, and just made everything just…worse. Establishing wide shots and even mid-length shots all just look a bit soft. Close-ups do see a bit of a boost in fine detail in costumes, skin and hair here and there especially when the camera action is fairly static, but it’s neither groundbreaking nor consistent. Anything with heavy CGI, or contains a camera motion, just gets processed to death making it all look soft and “smeary”. This impacts both the fine detail, but especially the grain, which is still present, but looks almost smeared out of existence with motion. On the positive side, it does not look as overtly plasticky as many films due that abuse processing but that’s a fairly low bar especially when you are looking for how the movie improved when moving to 4K, and not how it wasn’t made worse.

So, they clearly missed by applying way too much processing to this particular release, and unfortunately the color grade and application of HDR, did not help save it. On their own I would not say the color is a major offender meaning that it’s not like they applied some new radical color grade that takes everything in a different direction. Moreso  it just lacks the boost in contrast, color richness and uniformity that the format usually offers. Before even noticing the lack of fullness to the color, the first aspect that becomes immediately apparent is the film itself is just that much darker, almost like someone turned down the intensity of the sun on obvious daytime scenes, or provided a more overcast look. Scenes that should pop with color and bright highlights and contrary shadows, just look darker. The black levels are decent and that was a positive, but the highlights just don’t push up where they could and should throughout the duration of the runtime. The colors throughout the movie are certainly not muted, but they just don’t seem to gain much in the way of fullness, punch or even improved consistency. Skin tones appear a bit flatter with a loss of warmth, but other areas appear a bit enhanced such as those darker blues. But by contrast, some of the green tones and lighter blues don’t feel as rich. It’s all a bit head-scratching, both in how they could think this was an improvement, and even the individual choices made throughout.

Video Score (4K): 1.8 / 5 (Not Good)

The included Blu-ray is the same as the 2007 release and will not receive a score as part of this review.

Comparisons:

Audio Review:

This disc does come with a Dolby Atmos mix, but it’s underwhelming. I will clarify given just how much I disliked the image, the audio is nowhere near as offensive. But it suffers from a lot of the same issues we typically see in Disney releases. Dynamics are compressed, the overall gain is a bit low, and the usage of the format itself is lackluster. Dialogue does remain clear and intelligible, but deep bass is absent and even the percussive punch of cannon fire just lacks any impact. The use of the bed surrounds is on par with the older 5.1, but leveraging the object based format’s discrete objects was extremely limited, and the overall height channels are relatively quiet throughout save for filling in the musical score. That doesn’t mean this is just a 5.1 mix re-badged as Atmos. It just means the mix itself is not engaging and does not bring the viewer more into the experience.

Between this new Atmos mix and the uncompressed 5.1 mix on the older Blu-ray, the latter is definitely my choice. And if you upmix that, it actually comes out ahead of the native Atmos given it’s much greater dynamic range and more intention and purpose to placement of effects. With all that said, it does tick the base level of quality in terms of clarity and cleanliness, but that will only muster an average score from this reviewer.

Audio Score (4K): 2.5 / 5 (Average)

The included Blu-ray is the same as the 2007 release and will not receive a score as part of this review.

Special Features and Packaging:

Now I did not expect a whole bunch of new features on this release, but the fact that we lost features from the Blu-ray release was a bit of a shock. And the worst part is it just seems lazy and cheap. They added nothing to the 4K disc (not a huge surprise) but the only features that do exist are on the repackaged 2007 Blu-ray Disc 1. Yup, that’s right, they did not even bother to slap a new graphic on the disc. It literally still says “Disc 1” right on it. But what that also means is all of the extras that were on Disc 2 of the 2007 release, are now absent in this set. I feel like the cost of just throwing in Disc 2 along with this would have been pretty darn inexpensive and would have still not been exciting, but also would not have been as disappointing especially for those who may have considered selling their old Blu-ray release to pick this one up instead.

But I think I figured out why this happened! Those extras clearly are being reserved for the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” of this release (clearly tongue-in-cheek). That’s right this is the first Disney release in a while to forgo the red bar along the bottom of the package touting it’s Ultimate-ness, but other than that it’s cookie cutter Disney all around. Boring artwork on a slipcover, limited image art on the 4K, and a standard Blu-ray (the 2007 look on this particular one).

It’s just lazy and cheap and they are really not trying to hide their intentions.

Features Score: 1.5 / 5 (Bad)

Buy/Upgrade-worthiness:

No, just don’t. The 2007 Blu-ray is better in several ways than this release and so I cannot recommend spending money on this release. If someone gives it to you for free, sure then have it in your collection, but it’s really just not worth spending any of your budget for physical media on this release.  Even if you have a big budget, rewarding Disney for this incredibly disappointing offering just sends the wrong message. Unfortunately my thinking is that Disney will just take poor sales numbers not as a sign of them not meeting expectations, but rather that they should not both with physical media….but guess what, this looks equally disappointing on Disney+.


Buy/Upgrade Recommendation: NOPE!

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Summary and Overall Scores:

What a disappointment. I feel honestly frustrated and angry (don’t worry it will pass soon). I had clearly misplaced hopes that Disney might take one of their biggest franchises and give us at least something semi-decent. I didn’t even expect a reference quality release, but maybe something as good as a mid-tier release from one of the other studios. Instead, we got whatever this was. Perhaps I was overly harsh in this review (Editing note: I wasn’t). There definitely were some areas that were fine, maybe even good, but too much of it was subpar. And given the pattern of repeat behavior from the largest movie studio in the world with an amazing back catalog ripe for collector’s to buy up, I just don’t have the slack to give them.

Experience Score**: 1.9 / 5  (Not Good)

** Experience score does not take into account the quality of the film itself, just the technical presentation, packaging and included features.

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