Warner Bros. // 1984 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 28th, 2005
Ice, ice baby.
Robert Urich (TV's Spenser: For Hire) stars with Angelica Huston (The Royal Tenenbaums) in this early '80s intergalactic spoof on space operas. The Ice Pirates is certainly an arctic blast from the past, but how does it hold up after two decades?
In the distant future where, surprisingly, computer technology hasn't advanced much past that of Earth circa 1984, the most valuable substance in the universe is water. Wars have taken their toll on the environment, and the galaxy's water supply has all but dried up. Ice is the treasure of the future.
And where you have treasure, you have pirates. The evil Templar government controls the water distribution, and the only entities that keep their nefarious schemes in check are random bands of marauding "ice pirates."
One such group is led by the charismatic Jason (Urich), a concoction of Errol Flynn and Han Solo. Jason and his oddball crew -- a hard-ass dominatrix type (Huston), the trusty sidekick Roscoe (Michael Roberts), the overzealous strongman Zeno (Ron Perlman, Hellboy), plus an assortment of quirky robots -- zip around the universe looking to hijack unsuspecting Templar ships and free them of their ice booty.
But the booty that Jason stumbles upon on his most recent job proves to be the most lucrative: it belongs to the lovely Princess Karina (Mary Crosby), who is desperately searching for her father, an explorer who disappeared while looking for a fabled planet of water.
When Jason is captured by the Templars, and on his way to an assembly-line castration and a life as a servant/eunuch, he makes a deal with Karina: he'll help her find her father. And so Jason is about to lead his band of rapscallions on their greatest adventure ever.
This is a movie I hadn't seen for a long, long time. I saw it so long ago, I only retained fleeting memories of what transpired on the screen. I remember the big time-warp finale where the ice pirates aged like crazy, because that was sort of funny. I remember the make-out scene between Jason and Princess Karina, set against a computer-generated thunderstorm backdrop, because Mary Crosby was hot and I was a horny little kid. And I remember that whole assembly-line castration scene with the mechanical pincers because, well, I'm of the male persuasion.
What I didn't remember, though, was that The Ice Pirates, while fun in some parts, is a dated, overproduced movie with too few laughs to be considered an actual spoof, and too much cheesiness to be considered serious sci-fi fare.
The Ice Pirates is a riotous romp. Everyone runs around, overacting, swinging swords (people do have laser pistols, right? Then what's with the swords?), slapping goofy expressions on their faces, and battling malevolent little space herpes (an ugly worm that runs amok in the starship), and so on and so forth.
Unfortunately, the comedy part of this space comedy is lacking. Sure, there are some funny bits -- the kung-fu robots and the aforementioned finale are enjoyable -- but as a whole The Ice Pirates just isn't that amusing.
Another big problem in the movie is that it appears to have been directed by someone with an acute form of ADHD. The narrative is all over the place, and important elements of the story are either excised completely or abbreviated. Take, for example, the big escape from the Templars, where Jason must rendezvous with the Princess and get off of the planet. There's a chase scene, and suddenly we see Jason's ship taking off, everyone on board pleased as a peach. How did they secure the ship? Why was it so easy to take off? The whole sequence seemed to be missing a scene.
And then you have the ending, which is slapped on so abruptly, mere seconds after the big showdown between the pirates and the Templars, the appearance of the credits is jarring (and, frankly, a bit relieving).
The production designer for the film must have eaten several bowls of Lucky Charms laced with PCP just before hitting the set, since The Ice Pirates has so much going on in it makes the excess of Batman and Robin look like a minimalist one-man play. The Templars are adorned in some seriously ornate, anachronistic garb, the robots are really guys in bulky suits that take up space more than being actually functional, and the interior shots are full of blinking lights, ancient computer screens, and clumps of leftover spaceship props. And the visual effects are supremely dated. Spaceships and lasers and the like are unimpressive, even by 1984 standards.
Look, I appreciate the effort and all -- who doesn't think space herpes is funny?! -- but for this movie, the execution is too batty for its own good.
Warner Brothers gave the movie a matted 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, which holds up okay. The picture isn't as sharp as it could be, and the colors are often too dull for such a spectacle of a movie, but overall it's a worthwhile job. In the audio department, it's shallow, disappointing mono sound. Blah.
Even more blah: a trailer is it for bonus features.
Apart from some mild innuendo and the love scene at the end, The Ice Pirates is a harmless little flick, suitable for most ages. Kids will get a kick out of the robots, well, kicking each other.
A not-really-funny, nonsensical exercise in overproduction, The Ice Pirates is one of those nostalgic experiences better left in the foggy confines of memory.
Guilty of perceived hallucinogenic drug use. The accused is sent to intergalactic detox.
Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG