Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things. It could be a favorite character or casting choice, a favorite song or score, a favorite scene, line of dialogue, shot or simply a moment. Anything is possible (costumes, sets, etc) and I’d love to hear your suggestions. Note: Just because something appears here does not make it my absolute #1 favorite thing in that category, but it is simply “one of my favorites”.
Few movies spend enough effort on character introductions, in my opinion. Just like in real life, the first impression of a character can have a lasting impact, sometimes setting the standards so high that the rest of the film is a disappointment and other times ruining a perfectly good character from the beginning. The best character intros are the ones that play with expectations, and engage the audience by making the character both memorable and something of a mystery.
There are a few character intros in film history that stand out above the rest, and one of those near the top is the introduction of Captain Jack Sparrow. Jack’s intro comes just a few scenes into Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, after we meet the characters whose story we’re watching, and the initial relationship is set up. The music by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer swells and we finally meet our first pirate, standing at the crosstrees (or top) of his ship, surveying the sea. Between the music, the scenery, and most of all Jack’s demeanor, the first moments give us a the sense of a powerful sailor and pirate.
Of course, this perception is then hilariously dashed as he drops down from the top into a small dory, full of water and rapidly sinking. Jack goes from badass to pathetic in an instant, showing us not to assume we know what’s coming with this character. That sense of doubting what you see is an integral part of Jack’s character, which he intentionally uses to his advantage. His intro continues, as his comic misfortunes are contrasted by a serious moment of respect towards the bodies of pirates hung as a warning. It’s a grim and serious note, lending weight to the pirate situation in the films.
Things don’t stay serious for long as Jack is back at the crosstrees, riding his sinking ship all the way to the dock and stepping across as though it had always been a part of his plan. It’s a moment simultaneously so ludicrous and badass that it is the single most representative image of Jack in the film (it is paralleled in At World’s End of him riding the Black Pearl across the sand in Davy Jones’ Locker).
Once on the dock, Jack bribes the tax collector, as if trying to keep a low profile, only to rob him moments later. Jack’s defining characteristic is that he is the smartest person in the room, and always one step ahead of everyone else, and we see a small glimpse of that here. In the next 10 minutes or so, we get a deeper understanding of Jack’s cleverness, his sense of humor, his interesting honest streak (“Rape, pillage, plunder and otherwise pilfer my weasely black guts out.”), his heroism in saving Elizabeth and his skill both with the sword and general improvisation. It’s those first moments, however, that set the tone for the character, and the character’s popularity (and even the Oscar nomination) owe a lot to this first impression.
What’s your favorite character introduction? Is there any more memorable scene for you from the Pirates movies? Do you think writers and directors should focus more on these early moments?