CAPSULE: THE ICE PIRATES (1984)

DIRECTED BY: Stewart Raffill

FEATURING: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, , Bruce Vilanch

PLOT: In a galaxy far far away, where water is in short supply, a band of pirates team up with a princess to investigate her father’s disappearance.

Still from The Ice Pirates (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I think the operative term to describe The Ice Pirates is not “weird,” but rather “goofy.”

COMMENTS: I’m not completely sure Ice Pirates was always meant to be a comedy. The scattershot humor, the jokes inserted in random spots during action sequences, makes me imagine that it started life as a swashbuckling space opera a la Star Wars, then was retooled as a spoof when it was deemed too cookie-cutter even by Hollywood standards. Or maybe it was adapted for space from a sword-and-sorcery Conan the Barbarian ripoff script, since the villains (“Templars”) all wield longswords and wear chainmail. Whatever the case, Ice Pirates takes itself too seriously to be a laugh riot like Spaceballs, but not seriously enough that you actually get involved in the saga or swept up in the cosmic spectacle. The tone is close to a Barbarella: straight faced, but ridiculous. Unfortunately, it’s neither as sexy nor as weird as Jane Fonda’s psychedelic space classic.

Here’s what you do get: defecating aliens, “Space Invaders” battle monitors, a politically-incorrect jive-talking cyborg pimp, an alien infestation of “space herpes” (singular: “space herpey”), robots mingling with farm animals, Amazons riding on attack unicorns, a water-wasting sex scene in a virtual thunderstorm, a time warp battle shot partially in fast-forward, and lots of pirates, but almost no ice. The cast is large but forgettable. Robert Urich is no Harrison Ford, Mary Crosby is no Carrie Fisher (though she is easy on the eyes), Michael D. Roberts is a sidekick without a character hook, Anjelica Huston is supposed to be sexy but looks embarrassed, the robots’ comic relief routines need reprogramming, and the villains are toothless. Also look for a pre-fame and a post-fame John Carradine (who is literally wheeled-in to deliver his lines) in smaller parts. The cast’s lone standout is Bruce Vilanch as a King Herod type who loses his own head, but continues making wisecracks.

The Ice Pirates was made cheaply, and looks it. It wasn’t funny or spectacular enough to be a mainstream hit, and doesn’t go far enough in its absurdity to garner more than a small cult following, but it is busy enough to make it watchable. Fans of 80s camp will want to add it to their bucket list—just not to the top of the list.

Warner Archive put out an extras-free Bu-ray of Ice Pirates in early 2016.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a busy, bewildering, exceedingly jokey science-fiction film that looks like a ‘Star Wars’ spinoff made in an underdeveloped galaxy.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.