Filmgoer’s Flamethrower #4 – The Ice Pirates

Posted: December 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Now that we’ve paid homage and tithed in the collection plate at the Star Wars temple (shake hands, sing an Ahhhh chorus hitting C7 and add bluish light to our faces), we can get back to one of the real purposes of the Filmgoer’s Flamethrower, cheesy movies. But, not just any cheesy movies…good cheesy movies, like The Ice Pirates.

Made in the same 1980s rush of Me Too Science Fiction Movies that gave us Battle Beyond the Stars, Spaceballs, Krull and, like, six different things named Starhunter, Ice Pirates tells the tale of a far future where humanity nearly committed suicide across the galaxy with large scale wars that destroyed or poisoned most of the freestanding water everywhere in the galaxy. An evil force called Templars has arisen to control and dole out water and by extension rule the galaxy. Small bands of ice pirates form to resist and survive stealing blocks of ice from Templar ships. Legends of a Seventh Planet that survived the wars blasted out of orbit into the Time Warp at the center of the galaxy are repeated as wives’ tales to sing children to sleep.

Jason (Robert Urich) leads his fearless band of pirates from the most successful (longest uncaught) ice pirate ship in the galaxy on a raid of a Templar ice fleet. They board, a music theme intentionally evocative of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler film (lots of rope swings into the icy cargo hold here) wells up. Jason, his crew and the many robots in this story defeat the Templars and their robots. Along the way, he spots the Princess Karina (Mary Crosby) asleep in her freezer bed and falls in love.

The Templars, dressed in chain mail, counterattack forcing Jason and his crew to split up and try to rendezvous back at the pirate moon. Jason and his good friend Roscoe (Michael D. Roberts) are captured and taken to Mithra, headquarters planet of the Templars. Princess Karina pulls our intrepid heroes off the slave-eunuch castration line needing stalwart spacers and rogues to help find her father, who went in search of the Seventh Planet many years ago.

Realistically, anyone seeing this movie after a bad breakfast burrito will hate it. At a technical level, the movie starts slow and with possibly the bad kind of weird and builds to a pace worthy of a pirate movie even a funny space pirate movie, leaving better and the good kind of weird. Pretty much all departments follow this arc.

Acting. You won’t believe some of the names in this movie all of whom had a lark with spaceships, swords (the steel kind) and some groaner jokes that can’t be resisted here in this review (even if I should). Anjelica Huston, Ron Perlman, Robert Urich, Mary Crosby and John Carradine are all in this production mugging through this tale and not giving a damn about whether you’ll like the movie (casts this one squarely into the realm of so bad, it comes around like Magellan on the other side of good). The characters and their actors somehow buy a lot of trust by the end of the movie.

Music. Except for the aforementioned Errol Flynn style horn calls, the score falls flat for me in the beginning mostly in the form of silence that didn’t make sense to me. Somewhere about the middle of the story, we start hearing completely serviceable music that fills in the emotional spaces the way film music should.

Writing. Again this department would most likely be the most susceptible to criticism should various hypothetical bad breakfast burritos choke down our throats. There are a lot of robots on the good guy side that were pretty much interchangeable once Roscoe (the robot expert) got his hands on them. Except for Percy, the Butler-Bot with the bow tie you can’t tell them apart. The human characters spend the early parts of the movie going through the motions, but somewhere along the way finding the Seventh Planet becomes deadly serious business. That and fighting off the vicious space herpe (Yes, you heard me, the ship has herpes) that infests the ship.

Assuming a bad burrito state, the story presented onscreen is too short. At 90 minutes, Ice Pirates feels like a raft of missed opportunities. The filmmakers might have added more scenes between Princess Karina and the Templar attack dog, Zorn (Jeremy West) in the same way that Dark Helmet in Spaceballs was caught playing with action figures including Princess Vespa revealing an attraction to the heroine that could’ve added more conflict to the story. As it is the story was cut down to the bare bones with very little time for character development

All of the above criticism requires a bad breakfast burrito before watching. Now what is it about this movie that says I didn’t actually eat said contaminated foodstuff and enjoyed this movie when I first saw it on cable a million years ago and just now buying the Blue-ray? For starters, it’s fun. Fun to see filmmakers just having fun, especially with the intentional onscreen sight gags to poke fun at and play with many social tropes of the 1980s: a defensive system that operates exactly like the Space Invaders video game, the aforementioned space herpe twisting the knife in the whole Alien chest-burster scene at dinner and the tongue-in-cheek ballsiness pushing several NSFW moments past the censors.

Pushed to the wall, my real reason for liking this movie falls into the realm of a concept that wins at the level of innovative ideas over onscreen execution. A water dry galaxy with overlords that throw fairly hedonistic parties similar to the real world soirees of the time? A castration machine on what looks like a repurposed bottling line that is a pair of vicious metal teeth ready to chomp down?

The really cool part of this story is the time warp leading to the Seventh Planet. Princess Karina finds course information left by her father that says to never deviate from Course 283 or be lost in time forever. Zorn follows directly in the ship’s wake and attacks right after Jason and Karina kiss it up to a music video that highlights how important water is.

The ensuing boarding party action with swords takes place as all characters progressively age filmed on fast-forward. Robert Urich saves the day taking over the fight as the sped up Jason Jr. swinging on a block of ice crushing the remaining Templars – “Mom and Dad, we won!” And then, because the good guys won they fly through the time warp reverting back to their ages they were at the beginning of the fight. The blue Seventh Planet fills the window and the pirates are – “out of business.”

For a fun time that doesn’t actually require worrying about whether the movie is an according to Hoyle good movie, I recommend The Ice Pirates, but only if no one remakes this movie, largely because what’s good here won’t survive $150,000,000 budgets.

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