- “I hardly believe in ghost stories anymore, Captain Barbossa."
"Aye. That's exactly what I thought when we were first told the tale. Buried on an island of dead what cannot be found, except for those who know where it is. Find it, we did. There be the chest. Inside be the gold. And we took 'em all.”
- ―Elizabeth Swann and Hector Barbossa[src]
Isla de Muerta is an island featured in the 2003 Disney live-action film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. An island that could not be found, except for those who knew where it was, it was where Captain Barbossa's cursed crew of the Black Pearl hid their looted treasure after falling under the Aztec curse. Sometime after the curse was lifted, Isla de Muerta was swallowed into the sea, vanishing from the face of the earth.
Isla de Muerta was associated with the legend of the cursed cursed treasure of Cortés. The Aztecs delivered a stone chest with 882 pieces of Aztec gold to Cortés as blood money to stem the slaughter, but Cortés' greed was insatiable. So the heathen gods placed a curse upon the gold, so that any mortal who removed a single piece from the stone chest would be punished for eternity. Ultimately, the treasure ended up in the caves of Isla de Muerta.
The location is specified as "an island of death" in the film's first screenplay draft, in which its history is expanded: a ship carrying Cortés' treasure ran aground on the island, all but one of its crew dead. The lone survivor hid the treasure ashore before dying. Over time, the dark magic of the treasure cursed the island itself over time.
From the air, the island resembles a human skull. It appears to be largely unexplored, save for interconnecting caves where Captain Barbossa's crew hoard their looted treasure. But not everything in the cave was valuable, as Pintel and Ragetti mistakenly bring a trunk of women's clothing. Mysteriously shrouded in an everlasting fog, the isle is surrounded by a graveyard of shipwrecks; its waters swarm with sharks and shoaling fish. According to Jack Sparrow, Isla de Muerta is an island that cannot be found, except by those who already know where it is hidden. To locate it, Captain Sparrow uses his unique compass—rather than pointing north, it points to what its holder wants most.
A reference to the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride was the 'crabs on the beach' vignette with a stabbed skeleton, which landed as an iconic representation of betrayal. In the first film, Will Turner anticipated that Jack may betray him, and simply clobbered Jack with an oar at a key moment, and even left Jack to his death as he saved Elizabeth Swann.
Through the first part of the film, the island was only mentioned several scenes. When questioned by Will Turner, an imprisoned Jack Sparrow reveals that the Black Pearl sail from Isla de Muerta, an island that cannot be found, except by those who already know where it is. Jack only agrees to help Will rescue Elizabeth Swann after learning Will's name. The Pearl's captain, Hector Barbossa, also told Elizabeth of the island briefly while telling the "ghost story" of the cursed treasure of Cortés. By the time Jack and Will arrive to Isla de Muerta, Will learns that Jack was captain of the Black Pearl ten years earlier until his first mate, Barbossa, coherced the treasure's location. Barbossa and the crew mutinied and marooned Jack on an island, leaving him with a pistol and a single shot, intended for suicide. Jack escaped three days later, keeping the pistol and bullet to kill Barbossa. However, unbeknownst to Will, Barbossa's crew found and spent the treasure but learned too late that it was cursed, leaving them unable to satisfy their desires, and turning them into immortal skeletal beings whose true forms are revealed under moonlight. The curse can be lifted if the gold is returned, with a sacrifice of each pirate's blood. William "Bootstrap Bill" Turner, Jack's only supporter during the mutiny, sent a coin to his son, Will, believing the crew should remain cursed. Barbossa had Bootstrap tied to a cannon and thrown overboard, before realizing that his blood was needed to break the curse.
At Isla de Muerta, Jack Sparrow and Will Turner entered the dark caves via longboat. From their hiding place, they watched as Barbossa, believing Elizabeth is Bootstraps' child, anoints the last coin with her blood. Will suspects Jack may betray him and knocks him out. Barbossa and his crew then realize that Elizabeth was not the child of Bootstrap Bill. As the cursed pirates argued among themselves, Will rescues Elizabeth and they escape to the Interceptor, leaving Jack behind. Ultimately, the Black Pearl was able to defeated the Interceptor and imprison its crew, and Will Turner handed himself over to Barbossa's crew. Barbossa agrees, but before returning to Isla de Muerta, he maroons Elizabeth and Jack on the same island Jack had been left on ten years earlier. However the two escaped the island by signaling the HMS Dauntless, and were able to convince Commodore Norrington to help rescue Will.
Returning to Isla de Muerta, Barbossa's crew prepared to perform the blood ritual once again. But before they could spill Will's blood, Barbossa's crew were in shock upon seeing Captain Jack Sparrow himself entering the cavern. Commodore Norrington sets an ambush while Jack persuades Barbossa to form an alliance, telling him to delay breaking the curse until they have taken the Dauntless, now moored off the coast of the island. Jack's plan goes amiss when Barbossa orders his undead crew to infiltrate the Dauntless from underwater. However, while Norrington discovered the Dauntless under attack, Jack frees Will before dueling with Barbossa, while Will fights Barbossa's remaining crewmen. Barbossa stabs Jack in the chest, but discovers that Jack is also immortal; he had stolen one of the cursed gold pieces while talking to Barbossa. Meanwhile, Elizabeth escapes and sneaks aboard the Black Pearl to free Jack's crew. They leave with the Pearl while Elizabeth heads to the island alone to save Will. Near the end of the battle, Norrington's men gained the upper hand while fighting the cursed pirates aboard the Dauntless. When Barbossa attempts to kill Elizabeth, Jack shoots Barbossa in the heart as Will drops the last two medallions, stained with his and Jack's blood, into the chest. Now mortal, Barbossa says, "I feel...cold," before he dies.
Back aboard the Dauntless, realizing the curse had been lifted, the remaining members of Barbossa's crew surrendered to Norrington's men. Meanwhile, Jack goes through the treasure in the cave as Will and Elizabeth decided to return aboard the Dauntless. Jack then requested to accompany Will and Elizabeth with the intention to be dropped of to the Black Pearl. However, as they rowed away from the island, Jack realized his crew had taken the Pearl. Though he was deceived, Jack was glad that his crew kept to the Pirate's Code. He was forced to sail aboard the Dauntless, where he was condemned to death, though later escaped from Port Royal.
The post credits scene takes place at Isla de Muerta, where Barbossa's dead body can be seen. Barbossa's pet monkey, Jack swims into the treasure cave and steals a gold coin from the chest, thus cursing itself once again.
By the events of Dead Man's Chest, it's learned that the island was reclaimed by the sea, taking with it both the cursed treasure and the hidden swag collected by Barbossa's crew. Only Barbossa's pet monkey Jack (now undead) survived this ordeal and found itself aboard the Black Pearl. The corpse of Hector Barbossa himself was only retrieved due to the intervention of the mystic Tia Dalma, who also restored him to life by the end of the film.
Like with Dead Man's Chest, the island is only mentioned in At World's End, by a resurrected Hector Barbossa who was reminding Jack of their last confrontation.
Isla de Muerta appears in the game in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe.
Isla de Muerta appears in the game.
Captain Mary Oceaneer has a crate aboard the RV Oceaneer Lab identifying her as having excavated Isla de Muerta. This crate mentions containing the cursed treasure and that Mary uses prongs when handling its medallions.
- For filming The Curse of the Black Pearl, scenes on Isla de Muerta were filmed in the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, in Stage #2 on the Disney lot. It was the same space that was redesigned in 1997 to accommodate an enormous asteroid set for another Jerry Bruckheimer film, Armageddon.
- Production designer Brian Morris was given total freedom to create the perfect pirate hideout, where a lavishly adorned cavern would be built complete with winding waterways, a moat, little grottos and treacherous rocky terrain. It took 100 craftsmen five months to build the cave set, where it would be filled with 300,000 gallons of water, a process that took three to four days, and dressed over a period of three weeks.
- The caves in Isla de Muerta were based on "Dead Man's Cove" from the original Disneyland ride. A scene with a waterfall was originally going to be in The Curse fo the Black Pearl (in which Jack Sparrow and Will Turner go down a flume into the caves), but was cut due to budget. The idea was later put into At World's End.
- "Isla de Muerta" translates as "Island of Death", "muerta" being in the feminine gender to agree with and describe the feminine "isla."
- The treasure cave is used as the background for the bonus features menu in the At World's End video game. It is also used as the setting for the boss battle with Barbossa in Kingdom Hearts II.
Notes and references
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