When Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was first assembling this time last year, it seemed as though Johnny Depp was being brought back to the franchise somewhat unwillingly, and even Disney wasn't promising he'd be back for any more films after that. Now that the film has wrapped shooting, and with Disney once again eyeing a possible future without Jack Sparrow, things are apparently looking a lot more certain. Hitfix has learned that the studio is planning a gigantic shoot for both Pirates 5 and Pirates 6 back-to-back, an effort that could potentially take up the better part of 2012, and would almost definitely include Depp.

It's the same thing they did to make Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, two movies that were giant hits despite being less critically well-received than the first one, and clearly a way for the studio to save money even while producing films they expect to make a billion dollars each. Cast and crew on On Stranger Tides are reportedly being asked to set aside a large chunk of time to make the two films back to back, though it's unclear how Depp will make the film work given his commitments to The Lone Ranger (at Disney) and Dark Shadows with Tim Burton (not to mention the half-dozen other projects he's got in development at any given time).

Maybe it's naive, but I was sincerely hoping that On Stranger Tides might really be the last Pirates film, setting Depp free to play other characters and move on from the franchise that, yes, has made him very wealthy, but can't offer him that much more inventive stuff to do, even within the bandy-legged and always surprising Jack Sparrow. Even if On Stranger Tides turns out to be terrific, I would have been happy to see it wrap up the franchise and leave us with good memories (instead of the bitter resentment that At World's End generally inspired). Instead, Disney is going to keep dipping back into the well rather than come up with something new, completely ignoring the fact that the reason Curse of the Black Pearl was a hit was because it felt so new.

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