Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Ice Pirates

They're not made of ice, they steal it

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Ice Pirates" (MGM, 1984). The galaxy is in peril: Water has become scarce everywhere, making traveling through space difficult and making water the most valuable element. What's worse, the evil Templars control the largest sources on the planet Mithra and use that influence to hold the population in the grip of fear. During these difficult times, space pirates raid Templar ships in order to steal blocks of ice being transported to the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

The ship designs aren't great, but fortunately you won't see the very often.

We follow the exploits of one of these pirate crews as they raid a Templar ship in order to resupply and gain fortune. While swashbuckling the guards, the leader, Jason (Robert Urich)

More roguish than Han? More lord of the stars than Peter? Nah.

stumbles upon a cabin containing the princess Karina (Mary Crosby)
Princess space expert.

and her handmaiden Nanny (Natalie Core).
Urich plays it straight. Not really, I don't know why I said that.

The pirates are routed and Jason and his first mate, robot master Roscoe (Michael D. Roberts) are captured. Sentenced to be "redesigned" (castrated and lobotomized for slavery),
They try really hard to make him the token black character for literally no reason.

the two prisoners meet and befriend the hulking thief Killjoy (John Matuszak), who manages to escape by robbing a captured monk of his vestments.
Somehow the most likable, least trustworthy, and best disguised character in the film.

Jason and Roscoe are saved from processing by Karina, who wants to use them to track down another pirate who knows the location of her missing father, who went missing while looking for the fabled "Seventh Planet," a world covered in liquid water.
Yay, castration humor, I guess.

After reuniting with Killjoy, the pirates make their escape and meet up with their remaining crew, computer genius Zeno (Ron Perlman) and sword expert Maida (Angelica Houston) to find a way to the Seventh Planet before the Templar Commander (John Carradine) and his right-hand man Zorn (Jeremy West) get there first!
Wow, THE John Carradine!

Some background

Wow, this movie is kind of a lot. From what I can piece together, this was originally meant to be a big-budget twenty-million-dollar film (serious) science fiction film, until the financing company slashed the film's budget to eight million. The decision was made to transition it to a sci-fi comedy to help smooth some of the cuts in production. To make matters worse, this all happened during a management transition at MGM, where the new head of the studio (Frank Yablans) began interfering with the project, and it really shows.

The bad (there's a lot of it)

Let's get the bad out of the way. This movie has a lot working against it. It looks like a typical late-70s quick-and-dirty "Star Wars" rip-off, except this made it to theaters a full year after that series has wrapped up with "Return of the Jedi." You can tell that they were hard-pressed to fill sets, as many are apparently re-used from "Logan's Run," and some are just large industrial buildings that are supposed to be spaceships. The music score by veteran composer Bruce Broughton is cheesy and sounds more like disco music (long dead by 1984) than anything else, and really hurts the little moments. The story, while interesting in concept, makes very little sense scientifically, as water is actually not all that uncommon in the universe. If you can ignore that little factoid, you're still suffering through some groan-worthy humor (castration played for laughs and "space herpes" for example).

Yes, space herpes. You did not misread that.

To top it off, we're not given anything resembling a satisfying ending: Once our crew finds the Seventh Planet on their viewscreen the credits roll.
Wait... Freeze frame? Credits? WHERE'S THE DAMN ENDING TO MY MOVIE?!

Not all bad

Now for the good: They do quite a lot with the limited budget, with some swashbuckling action and beefy robots beating the heck out of each other. The cast is a delight, but mostly because of their "before they were famous" status. Ron Perlman was an unknown,

"Take a good look at this face, because it's going to be hidden under prosthetics for the next two decades!"

Angelica Houston is at her sexiest here, svelte and deadly,
She can stab me anytime. Rawr!

the lovable giant John Matuszak is great as Killjoy, as he tends to pop up in unexpected places.
This scene caught me by surprise and made me laugh.

Comedy writer Bruce Vilanch (who many may remember from "Hollywood Squares") shows up as the villainous "Wendon," an unexplained disembodied head who eventually gets reformed (a robot body).

Leads Urich and Crosby have pretty good chemistry, and the whole thing is delightfully tongue-in-cheek and schlocky.
This scene takes longer than you'd think...

... And progresses quite suddenly.

Fuzzy memories

I remember being entranced by this movie when I was around 10-11 years old, and it was playing on HBO at my grandparents' house. Of course, at the time I didn't understand many of the dirtier jokes and couldn't see that it was a production train wreck, but I liked the pace and the swashbuckling adventure.

Watch with caution

This film is rated PG, but this is a 1980s PG so it's more like a PG-13. There isn't any swearing or outright nudity, but there is sexual humor, sensual situations, a bit of graphic (albeit badly done) violence, a disgusting amount of racial humor including one really out-of-left-field use of the "N-word" which caught me by surprise and left a bad taste in my mouth. Probably don't watch it with impressionable children or adults of similar intellect.

Where can you find it?

"The Ice Pirates" is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Prime Video and is streaming for free as part of YouTube Premium.

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