The Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Stunt That Challenged Orlando Bloom

When I first watched "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" when it premiered in theaters, I remember shuddering when I saw the moonlit monsters stalking the seas around Port Royal. Yet when my brother and I would reenact scenes from the movie, we never pretended to be skeletal pirates marching underwater. We mimicked daring sword fights and balanced on any precarious place in our house, trying our best Captain Jack Sparrow impression.

The success of Disney's "Pirates" franchise doesn't hinge on its CGI monsters. Its joy comes from practical effects and real-life stunts that harken back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when Errol Flynn would swing from ropes and perform dashing duels with élan. With Johnny Depp's madcap performance as Sparrow (equally inspired by Keith Richards and Pepé Le Pew) and director Gore Verbinski's surrealist eye, the movies exude an almost Looney Tunes quality that surpasses the swashbuckling blockbusters of old.

After "The Curse of the Black Pearl," the film's cast assumed it would be all but impossible to top the death-defying stunts and dizzying choreography featured in the first film. With the sequel, "Dead Man's Chest," Verbinski found a way to up the ante when he concocted a sword fight atop a giant, spinning wheel. The stunt would become one of the most iconic scenes in the franchise and an ambitious feat for the cast.

Wheel of misfortune

Verbinski's work on the remake of the Japanese horror movie "The Ring" and his Rube Goldberg-filled film "Mouse Hunt" gave him a unique skill set for his work on "Pirates." That combination of supernatural and slapstick created exploding skeletons, swinging Sparrows, and of course, the wheel fight in "Dead Man's Chest." In the scene, James Norrington (Jack Davenport) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) clash swords while balancing on an unhinged mill wheel, which traps the hapless Sparrow (Johnny Depp).

Bloom shot another scene with his pirate crew inside a large, bone cage that swung like a pendulum between two green screens. In the film, it looks far more dangerous as the pirates dangle between two cliffs. But by contrast, the wheel fight isn't a work of CGI. In an interview with MovieWeb, Bloom recalled the scene as the most challenging he had to shoot for the film.

"I think the wheel — going upside down and stuff and sword fighting in there, I was all harnessed so I couldn't fall out, obviously. But it's like you're really reaching and at one point, the gravity takes you and you're still reaching, but it's pulling you the other way — that was really difficult. The birdcage was merely uncomfortable; it was like running with that thing between your legs — you're watching for the crown jewels the whole time....Danger isn't the right word because it's a set; it's a controlled environment, it's fun, it's hard. Running backwards on top of a wheel was really difficult as it's rolling down a hill, but no danger."

Baptism by fire

The practical effects of the wheel stunt meant shooting in an impractical environment. Davenport recalled over 100-degree heat in the Bahamas that day (via Hollywood Reporter).

"Actually I did keep fainting at one point ... I think I had the most clothing on, that's for sure. Orlando of course doesn't really sweat, he merely glows. ... We were all struggling a bit at times though. It was intense."

Bloom's stunt double, Zach Hudson, completed the wire work on top of the wheel. Describing Verbinski's method as "baptism by fire," he had only a week to prepare (via Metro). Hudson's intense work paid off. The scene garnered the 2007 Taurus World Stunt Award for best fight, the second time the "Pirates" movies nabbed the best fight award. (The franchise's first win was for Turner and Sparrow's blacksmith duel in "Curse of the Black Pearl.")

Still, the wheel fight doesn't top Hudson's personal list of most memorable stunts in the franchise. That honor goes to the Kraken attack sequence in "Dead Man's Chest."

"Later we did the whole Kraken attack sequence, which I'll probably remember on my deathbed! I'm on top of the sail mast about 150-feet up in the air as it's breaking ... I jump with a single safety wire into the sail across the way. It ended up being about a 300, 400-foot drop and jump across. It was the first shot that day, we were docked in this bay ... it was one of those very surreal moments."

Knowing that Hudson dropped over 300 feet is more terrifying than the CGI Kraken itself. What's so transportive about the "Pirates" films is that you can see the sweat and sinew at work. You can tell that the wheel fight challenged Bloom because the evidence is in his face, even if his fellow cast members counter that he "merely glows." Harnesses or not, the stunts throughout these films still keep me dangling on the edge of my seat.