In just two weeks, the world will prepare to meet the latest cinematic creation from Gore Verbinski, director of the “The Ring,” and be deluged with the world of the pirate. “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” has been a bubbling rumor for just over a year and a half now, with tales of wild budgets, an A-list cast (Johnny Depp, *sigh*) and special effects capable of bringing Captain Kidd back from the bottom of the ocean. What was once a mildly chilling but whole-heartedly charming ride at Disneyland prepares to grace screens nationwide and prove to America that 2003 is truly the year of the pirate.

Before unraveling the mysteries of Mr. Depp’s pirate eyeliner, it becomes necessary to take a step back and document the rise of swashbucklers to the spotlight. Pirates have retained their longstanding, pop culture niche thanks to the trademark skull and crossbones that appear on everything from flags to T-shirts to ACME cartoon poison jugs. A symbol of coy rebelliousness, the skull and crossbones have been inked into millions of tattoos and graced at least a biker bar or two. For those unwilling to commit to a permanent pirate oath, there’s the ever-present pirate Halloween costume, complete with striped headscarf, eye patch and billowy white shirt. And who could forget the Seinfeld pirate shirt episode? Though peg-legged pirates haven’t walked the planks in a few centuries, pirate mythology lives on and only continues to thrive.

This has been a landmark year for Blackbeard and his grog-swilling cohorts. In January, two pirate-themed sports teams managed to elbow their way to the Super Bowl. Though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers edged out the Oakland Raiders in a somewhat yawn-worthy duel, pirate aficionados couldn’t have been more proud.

New York Times best-selling writer Dave Eggers invested a hefty chunk of dough into a children’s tutoring center, located on Valencia Street in San Francisco, that doubles as a full-fledged pirate store. Designed as if inside an eight-year-old’s imagination, the store is complete with ship rigging hanging from the ceiling, pirate flags strewn about and walls of curious drawers that contain pirate-related goodies. One can even purchase eye patches, messages in bottles, rusty keys and a hefty supply of lard that sits in an enormous tub. The store is unquestionably delightful in all its pirate glory and donates every penny of booty back to 826 Valencia, the tutoring organization that sits in the back of the shop.

Recent media darlings the White Stripes have made pirate colors the hipster threads of the moment and even enlist a marching skeleton army in their current music video “Seven Nation Army.” They represent only the tip of the iceberg as far as the crossing of music and pirate adoration is concerned. It takes only a few minutes of tiddling around online to find a breadth of bands eager to proclaim their love of the pirate life.

Heavy-hitting youth retailers of the moment like Paul Frank feature their own black-, red- and white-striped pirate attire, complete with skull and crossbones. Yet, it wasn’t until a recent trip down to Sunset Strip in L.A. that the full effect of pirate mania began to take form. There, tucked among the Armani and Cynthia Rowley boutiques, prominently displayed in a flower-lined shop window lay the ultimate: pirate couture. Thar she blows, matey! Gisele and Tyra will have to take backseat while Jolly Roger sashays down the runway and grins his scurvy-infected mouth for the L.A. glitterati.

Also while in L.A., one couldn’t help but notice the full-building wall advertisements showing nothing more than a toothy skull, complete with red bandana and two weathered swords crossed behind. The only text read: “July 9.” Much like “Gump Happens” from years ago or more recently with “The Matrix: Reloaded,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is being treated with the same combination of mysterious yet suffocating promotion that ensured record breaking box office success. A reported budget of $188 million promises state of the art computer animation capable of transforming the animitronic skeletons in Disneyland’s ancient ride into menacing, three-dimensional swashbucklers.

As far as the live-action cast, well there’s no shortage of gorgeous cheekbones thanks to Depp, Orlando Bloom (fresh off the success of “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”) , Geoffrey Rush and newcomer Keira Knightley (also successful in the UK comedy “Bend It Like Beckham”). Sure, it’s likely to stack up next to previous blockbuster action flicks like “The Mummy,” but promises plenty of treasure troves and eye-boggling booty (again, *sigh* Mr. Depp). In an age where indie films and unknown actors define what hip filmmaking is all about, Artsweek sees no shame in slipping on yer eye patch, rounding up a few beer wenches and making “Pirates of the Caribbean” the peak of a pirate perfect year.