With the Pirates of the Caribbean movies more accessible than ever, and a summer season void of blockbusters, this month we’re diving deep into Disney’s swashbuckling series. Grab your cutlass and hoist the colors: here be Polygon’s take on all things PotC.
Movie premiere red carpets may seem like a frivolous part of cultural life, an ephemeral fanning of the celebrity flame, but they’re actually some of humankind’s greatest time capsules. You will not see the work of Getty Image contractors hanging in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography or the halls of the Library of Congress, but their work is our best documentation of fashion trends, pop idols, and weird things we spent obsessing over at random moments in our lives. I’m not saying the photojournalists who crowd in gated pens and scream “Tom! Tom! Mr. Cruise!” in order to get the perfect shot are doing the work of Diane Arbus, but I’m not not saying that.
All of this brings me to Jonathan Lipnicki and the 2003 premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. After making his debut in the 1996 drama Jerry Maguire (“Jerry, did you know the human head weighs eight pounds?”), Lipnicki rose to prominence in kid-centric films like Dr. Dolittle, Stuart Little, and Like Mike. He rolled into the Pirates premiere as a golden child, and also a 13-year-old navigating the social constructs of 2003.
The pictures tell a 1,000 stories. The pose. The initial necklace. The half-smile revealing the braces. Here is a kid figuring out the next stage of life through style, as so many do, but doing it with a hundred cameras in his face. I’m anxious thinking about it. I hope he was having fun. I’m sure it awesome. A movie premiere full of famous people! Signing autographs! The good news is that Lipnicki overcame frosted tips to carve out an acting career in lower-profile projects over the years. (His new horror movie just got picked up at Cannes.)
This is not the only Pirates premiere treasure buried in the red carpet archives. You have to remember: The Curse of the Black Pearl was not a guaranteed hit for Disney, and in turn, the premiere was sparsely attended by major stars who might turn out for a what would not be a tentpole event, like the latest Marvel movie premiere. The premiere, which took place at Disneyland Park, saw the film’s three big stars — Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp — in attendance, a bunch of people who wanted to take their families to the park for the day (John Stamos and Corbin Bernsen???), and other notable names who had the time to drive all the way down to Anaheim in afternoon traffic.
It looks weird now, but at that time, it all made perfect sense. So please join me in beholding the Extreme 2003 Energy of these highlights.
Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom
I have a lot of questions. Was Keira Knightley’s outfit directly inspired by Padmé Amidala’s Geonosis look (complete with cape)? What did Orlando Bloom’s set of neck keys unlock?
Jon Voight and Daryl Hannah
I’m not stuck on Splash and Kill Bill star Darryl Hannah dressing in pirate cosplay while everyone else is in cocktail attire — she’s actually making it work. More curious is why Jon Voight and Hannah appeared in all their carpet photos together. My understanding is that they were never romantically linked, but they did costar together in The Henson Company’s 2001 CBS miniseries Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story, so maybe that was an enriching experience, who knows?
Blink 182’s Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus
Tom DeLonge is a known scholar of UFOs, but does not care for pirates, I guess.
Pitch your Baywatch reboot.
Virginia Madsen and Yoshiki
Again, the one downside of old red carpet photos is they don’t come with explanations of how two random people wound up paired off for photo ops. Why is Virginia Madsen, who was in a bit of a career dip after The Rainmaker (1997) and The Haunting (1999), walking arm and arm with Yoshiki, the Japanese rock star, despite neither having any obvious career connections? Or better yet, why isn’t there a 10-part Netflix documentary series investigating this? People want to know.
Cuba Gooding Jr.
Jonathan Lipnicki’s Oscar-winning Jerry Maguire costar stuck with Mickey most of the night. I can’t blame him, as his previous two films up to this point were Snow Dogs and Boat Trip.
Tom Smothers with a yo-yo
One half of the revered Smothers Brothers comedy act showed up to the Pirates premiere and did yo-yo tricks. Where was Dick Smothers? Shh, he’s yo-yo-ing.
Raven-Symoné, who was also in Dr. Dolittle with Jonathan Lipnicki (who I guess booked this premiere?), may have been the most famous person at the Pirates premiere. We can debate this, but here’s the math: She broke out in The Cosby Show in the early ‘90s, jumped to Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper the next year, then piggybacked a role in Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century into her own show, That’s So Raven, in 2003. The Cheetah Girls would arrive just a few months after the Pirates premiere. Maybe Orlando Bloom has a leg up thanks to Lord of the Rings, but Pirates rejuvenated Depp’s career and Knightley was a nonentity in America. Think about it!!
Bow to your queen, Cloris Leachman.
The most 2003 thing to happen at the Pirates premiere was this photo of Gary Busey, which feels like a prerequisite. Throwing any sort of event in Los Angeles? Make sure Gary Busey is there to do a big-ass wacky smile. This delightful IRL trope ended when he appeared in Entourage later in the 2000s, and everyone caught on.