- by Jeff Beck
Black Sails: Season One: A Disappointing and Uneventful Historical Drama (Blu-ray)
No area seems riper for the picking for a television show than the fascinating world of pirates. Think of all the amazing adventures such a show could take you on as a crew of buccaneers sail the open seas, plundering ships, hunting for treasure, and always trying to stay one step ahead of those that would bring their pirating way of life to an end. That is, that’s one way such a show could go. “Black Sails” opts for one completely different, taking a view of piracy that most aren’t used to seeing.
Set in 1715 (“The Golden Age of Piracy”), we follow Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) and his crew as they go about their regular pirating business, but little do the crew know that the Captain and the Quartermaster (Mark Ryan) are actually on the trail of a treasure bigger than any of them have ever dreamed of. On their latest raid, it was hoped that they would be able to obtain a schedule from the Captain’s Log that would help them locate it, but the page has been ripped out and has come into the secret possession of John Silver (Luke Arnold), a cowardly man who is quick to join up with Flint and his crew. Just as they reach the lawless land of New
Providence Island, it is discovered that John has the page, but quick thinking has him commit it to memory and destroy it, forcing Flint to keep him alive. Before they can even get underway on their journey, there are multiple preparations that must be taken care of, including procuring another ship, allying with Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New), daughter to the local kingpin, and, of course, arming their ship properly for the coming battle. However, all of this is easier said than done as intrigue piles upon intrigue in this dangerous land of cutthroats.
With the plethora of pirate-related material for show creators Robert Levine and Jonathan E. Steinberg to choose from, it seems hardly possible for a show like “Black Sails” to go wrong, which makes it all the more disappointing, and surprising, that the final product didn’t turn out better than it did. For starters, anyone looking for a “Pirates of the Caribbean”-type adventure is in the completely wrong place. Levine and Steinberg have opted to go for what they claim to be a more realistic interpretation of what piracy was actually like in 1715, but if this is truly what the show represents, then that would appear to have been their biggest mistake. If feels as though they were going for something along the lines of “Game of Thrones” in that it contains a large cast of characters that are all involved in intrigue, but the difference here is that the story is so utterly dry and the characters completely flat, which does little to generate interesting in what is happening and to whom.
We keep thinking that they’re going to get around to trying to find this ship that contains $5 million in Spanish gold, but what we get is merely a lot of talk about it instead, leaving the audience to sit about and wait as these dull characters go about doing nothing of interest. They do eventually get underway, but by then it’s far too late for the show to try and find its footing. “Black Sails” ends up being one of the most disappointing shows that I’ve come across in a while because there’s no reason that it should’ve turned out like this. The setting and the material have such amazing potential, which makes it a terrible shame that the creators merely chose to squander it completely.
“Black Sails: Season One” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The picture is perfectly clear and sharp, which helps highlight the show’s incredible production and costume design. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio is a little on the soft side, but it’s nothing that turning it up a little louder than usual won’t fix. Once adjusted, you are treated to a flawless soundtrack that gives you all elements at great levels. Overall, the show has been given top-notch treatment, giving you a fantastic experience in both areas.
Black Sails: An Inside Look
Dressed to Kill
Folklore is Finished
A Place in History
Building the Behemoth
The first, and longest, featurette on this list is a nine-minute look behind the scenes of the show that’s split into several areas, including the history and characters. Unfortunately, it ends up being very superficial about all of them what with trying to squeeze so much into these nine minutes, including what amounts to nothing but quick sound bites from cast and crew. The remaining featurettes suffer from the same problems, offering nothing more than quick looks at certain areas that don’t really tell you much of anything. Sadly there’s just not a whole lot to these extras.
“Black Sails” is a major disappointment, squandering endless potential for a show that features an incredibly dry story and flat characters. It may be a “more realistic” depiction of what piracy was like in 1715, but if this was truly the case, then the show’s creators needed to take a little more creative license with the material to deliver something that wouldn’t have the audience nodding off as they wait for the plot to move forward. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to make a dull TV show about pirates, but Robert Levine and Jonathan E. Steinberg have shown us that if you don’t attend to the vital elements that make it up, then disaster is sure to follow.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting Tuesday.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.