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Monday, October 29, 2018

'Black Sails' CS Blu-ray: Michael Bay Tales of 'Treasure Island' Pirates of the Caribbean

The Lionsgate October 16, 2018 complete-series Blu-ray release of the lush and lavish 2014-17 Starz series "Black Sails" is the perfect way to get in the mood for lush and lavish Oscar contenders that are sure to hit the big screen in December. A related note is that the beauty and the well-orchestrated complexity of the 38 episodes in this four-season series require savoring it as much as "binging" on a gourmet meal ruins the experience and makes you feel unwell after the experience. 

The two Sound Editing and one Special and Visual Effects Emmys that "Sails" wins illustrates that executive producer Michael Bay puts his talents for grandeur and explosions to good use. Shooting the series on location further enhances the episodes. 

The first bit of shameful commerce is that the incredible audio and video of the Blu-rays and the copious truly special features (more below) make choosing this set over watching it on Starz or streaming it a no-brainer. A related note is that these attributes make this roughly $50 set a perfect gift for anyone who likes period pieces, pirates, and/or the Caribbean. Although stealing it from a brick-and-mortar store honors the theme of "Sails," such behavior is completely unacceptable in 2018.

The first confession is admitting to never having read the source material of this prequel to the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island. The only recognized name in "Sails" is that of a pre-Long John Silver, whose fame extends to having a descendant  with a successful film career. The second confession is that "Sails" not being conducive to binging limits the scope of this review to the first two seasons; the final two will be watched in the next several weeks.

Our tale of the courage of the fearless crew that pirate captain leads begins in 1715, which is roughly 20 years before the time period of Island. The "civilized" world allows pirates to rule New Providence Island and the capital of Nassau. There is prosperity and more peace than can be expected in a place that operates in this manner.

The pilot episode perfectly sets the tone and hooks the audience; Silver soon shows himself to be the Dr. Smith of the merchant ship on which he is a crew member. Rather than help his fellow seamen fend off an attack by dread pirate Captain Flint and his pirates of the Caribbean, Silver hides in a locked room. While there, Silver obtains paper with the information that Flint is seeking.

Silver subsequently further keeps up with the Smiths in falsely asserting to the pirates that he is the cook, which is a valued position on any ship. This leads to Silver literally jumping ship to join the crew of Flint. A later incident shows why Jewish people label pork as trayf. 

The pilot also educates viewers about the rules of law that govern pirates; Flint soon learns the harsh reality of any pirate captain being like a prime minster in that he serves at the pleasure of the crew and can be voted out anytime. A related aspect of this is that pirates are compensated in the form of a percentage of the booty that they plunder. Raids such as the one in which Silver is the catch-of-the-day that do not net any treasure result in Flint facing a challenge to his leadership.

This law of the sea is fascinating because it illustrates both that not much has changed in 300 years and that the means by which formal governments operate is not much different than the rules that pirate ships follow. The response to the new candidate for captain include below-decks politics that are equivalent to back-room deals. The more entertaining part is the false accusations and a confrontation that many politicians clearly would relish.

After surviving the challenge to his leadership, Flint once again devotes most of his attention to pursuing his personal white whale. The object of his obsession is the Urca de Lima, which is a ship that Flint believes is heavily laden with gold. The contribution that Silver can make regarding that quest is the only thing that has him avoid walking the plank.

Meanwhile back in Nassau, 18th-century Ivanka Trump Eleanor Guthrie is operating the brokerage business of her absent father, The basic system is that Eleanor buys the cargoes that the pirates liberate from their former owners; Guthrie then sells the goods. The risks to her continued good fortune include the sins of her father and a push to terminate the rule of the pirates. 

A whorehouse with relatively liberated employees is the third side of the commerce triangle in Nassau; the first season shows how all three elements inter-relate and make strange bedfellows.

Speaking of prostitution, one of the best S1 scenes involves a negotiation for a recreational facility during the 18th-century equivalent of dry dock. One spoiler is that this discussion prompts the fun of chanting "Fuck Tent! Fuck Tent! Fuck Tent!" This also involves a cute scene in which an invitation for a "quick fuck" clearly involves pup tents but does not necessarily include the filthy whore.

We additionally get flashbacks to the aforementioned civilized world; these provide context that include showing how becoming a pirate makes Flint an entirely new person in more ways than one; this insight includes other members of the "Sails" crew. 

The pursuit of the Urca is central to much of the S1 action; we also see how the related issues of maintaining peace and conducting commerce in Nassau create strange and shifting bedfellows; a notable aspect of this is a pirate crew learning the true meaning of the expression "don't fuck with me, boys." Another scoundrel who cannot produce a strong and sturdy mast discovers that Hell hath no fury like a prostitute left unsatisfied. 

S1 ends on a terrific note that demonstrates the true meaning of the expression "so close, yet so far away."

As other reviewers note, "Sails" fully finds its sea legs in S2; it seems like deja vu all over again when we see pirate captain Charles Vane raid a merchant ship. The defeated crew peacefully surrendering creates an expectation that Vane is going to do things the easy way. We soon learn that Homie the pirate don't play that. This leads to Vane even more aggressively seeking dominance over the pirate community. 

S2 additionally provides the second chapter in the pursuit of the Urca treasure, which aptly becomes a bargaining chip in pursuits of happiness. The S2 finale aspect of that aptly is pure gold and heightens excitement regarding S3. 

The new girl in town also becomes a bargaining chip on a few levels, She is being held hostage for ransom but also is a valuable peace offering in events that determine the future of Nassau. This prompts a sort of a homecoming in which more secrets are revealed and regarding which it seems that thieves are the only one with any honor. All of this (and several other developments) offer Bay a chance to stage the epic battles for which he is so well known. Other mayhem comes in the form of slit throats and orchestrated "accidents."

Students of history and folks who use a Google search as a half-assed form of cheating know the outcome of the power struggle for New Providence Island; "Sails" shows that getting there is all the fun.

The bigger picture this time is Bay putting a more realistic spin on "The Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise and "The Pirates of Penzance" operetta sparks interest in early 18th-century world history. Everything is even more connected in that era than it is now, and we see how things evolve. We further learn that there are at least 50 shades of gray between the titular canvases under which the pirates sail and the white sails of the "good" guys.

The Blu-ray for each season has copious spectacular special features that demonstrate the love of the cast and crew. The S1 bonuses focus on creating the series and the oft-mentioned historical context. This culminates in several S4 roundtable features on topics that include "The Legends of Treasure Island" and "Fearless Fans."

This incomplete discussion of "Sails" proves that there is more than enough reason to get on board regarding the series; it truly is a unique series with feature-film quality acting and cinematography.

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