In popular entertainment, all things are cyclical. Zombies come and go. Superheroes rise and fall. And after a decade of being indelibly linked to movies based on a Disneyland ride, pirates seem poised to make a comeback, minus some of their sillier trappings.
And to that, I say a hearty yarrrrr.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a decent adventure movie, and Johnny Depp as a drunken, lusty scalawag has always seemed like an inspired casting choice. But each successive film in the series was more ridiculous than the last. An octopus-faced Davy Jones? Blackbeard with a magic sword? Giant sea monsters and dimension-straddling whirlpools? And for what? Like there wasn't enough genuine action, intrigue and adventure in the golden age of pirates?
But the direction of the wind seems to be shifting. And from NBC's upcoming TV series Crossbones (starring John Malkovich as Blackbeard) to next year's Michael Bay-produced series Black Sails to even the Ubisoft Montreal video game Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, pirates are sailing out of the Disney maelstrom and back to something that strikes a better balance between entertainment and historical accuracy.
"There are peaks and valleys of interest (in pirates), and we are definitely rising to another summit," says Colin Woodard, journalist and author of The Republic of Pirates, the book that forms the basis of NBC's Crossbones, due to premiere next year.
Because what's not to love about pirates? Not the modern kind that terrorize Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, but the early 18th century's true pirates of the Caribbean: Edward "Blackbeard" Teach, "Black Sam" Bellamy and the other members of their seafaring band of brothers and sisters who fought against the frequently brutal and callous government of the region.
Woodard served as a consultant on Crossbones, as well as a historical script consultant on Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, his first experience working on a video game.
The game "is bringing the world to life as much as you can, in a way even more so than film, because you're inserting yourself into the landscape and interacting with it," says Woodard. "It's tremendously cool to see how that's done and watch some of the results unfold."
Film directors, TV producers and video game developers will all shape their pirate stories for maximum entertainment value, of course. But while pirates burying chests full of gold or forcing people to walk the plank are largely myths originating with Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Pirates of the Caribbean did get some things right. For example, pirates would often dress in fine clothes stolen from their victims -- "a Mad Max hodgepodge of stuff that clearly wasn't their own," says Woodard -- and eyepatches and peg legs weren't uncommon among sailors, given the dangers of the job.
And Jack Sparrow's slurred stumbling? With water often being stagnant on long voyages, the official ration on ships was usually beer and wine. "People were already, by modern standards, completely drunk all the time."
Well, that settles it. It's a pirate's life for me.
Greendale's new semester
NBC has set Jan. 2 as the Season 5 premiere of its beloved yet divisive comedy Community, starring Joel McHale and Alison Brie. It also marks the return of series creator Dan Harmon, thank goodness.
Rejoin the dark side
As Jedi fans wait patiently for Star Wars: Episode VII, word has it Disney and Lucasfilm will be releasing Darth Vader TV specials in 2014. Here's hoping they're better than the Star Wars Holiday Special.
Dino days ahead
Never mind Star Wars VII or The Avengers 2, the 2015 movie we're really getting curious about is Jurassic World, especially with high-calibre talent like Josh Brolin and Idris Elba being sought after as cast.
A mere 28 years in the making, Ender's Game - based on Orson Scott Card's 1985 sci-fi classic - hits theatres this week, with Harrison Ford playing Han So"¦ err, Col. Graff.
Things that go bump
AMC's Fearfest is a TV smorgasbord of horror this week, with everything from A Nightmare on Elm Street to the entire Halloween series to the classic Tremors, starring Kevin Bacon.
70 is the new 40
The four stars of Last Vegas - Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline - have a combined age of 280. The movie opens, gently, this week.
Carrie not scary
Maybe Carrie will get a bit of a (telekinetic) lift at the box office this week, thanks to Halloween falling on Thursday. But audiences have largely rejected the remake, starring Chloe Grace Moretz.
Speaking of unnecessary remakes, NBC's reboot of Ironside, with Blair Underwood taking on the role made famous by Raymond Burr, has been rolled onto the trash heap. To the surprise of no one.
Life over for Vince
Vince Vaughn's upcoming crime drama Term Life, about a man on the run from the mob, has been shelved by Universal Pictures. We'd rather see Vince stick to comedies anyway.