Judge Eric Profancik sez: Remember, kids, watching movies about pirates is okay, but pirating movies online is not okay!
Buckle your swash and jolly your roger.
"The body is an eight; the brain is a ten!"
Here I am again, revisiting a movie I fondly recall from my youth. Being in my early teens when I saw this, The Pirate Movie is not the movie I remember. Actually, it is the movie I remember, but I also seem to have forgotten quite a bit of it. A complete layer of the film completely flew by me as a youth, so it was interesting to experience something new as I watched it.
I don't know why exactly, but I was literally jumping with anticipation to see this one again. Whether or not I had the opportunity to review this disc, I was going to own the movie. I wanted to enjoy the charming cheesiness of this romantic comedy from the early '80s. As soon as it arrived in my mailbox, I ripped open the plastic and watched it, and then I watched some scenes over again…and again…and again…and again the next morning. Now I have some of the songs running through my head today, and I'm quite content with that. I can't wait to get home and watch it again. Why is that?
Facts of the Case
Mabel (Kristy McNichol, Empty Nest) is with a bunch of her friends visiting a pirate extravaganza out on the docks. While the rest of her friends are leggy, sexy babes in bikinis, Mabel is a homely young girl who prefers to wear flannel shirts and eat ice cream. As Mabel is trying to eat that ice cream, her friends volunteer her for a fencing demonstration with one of the pirate lads (Christopher Atkins, The Blue Lagoon). Mabel is tremendously embarrassed, but the lad takes a liking to her and invites her to go skinny-dipping on his boat. Oh, and why not bring a friend or two? Mabel agrees. While all her bikini-clad friends immediately make a dash for the boy's boat, Mabel is sent to pick up McDonalds. When she arrives at the dock, the girls quickly set sail without poor Mabel. The valiant lad had nothing to do with it, and he tries to stop the girls, but they easily pin him down. Not to be deterred, Mabel rents a boat and gives chase; the seas get rough, though, and Mabel is thrown off the boat. She washes up on shore, unconscious.
As she lies there, Mabel begins a wonderful dream. In this dream, she is the youngest and most rebellious daughter of a Major-General (Bill Kerr, Peter Pan). She longs to be free of the confining rules of the 1870s. Meanwhile, out to sea, it is Frederic's (Atkins) 21st birthday, and his apprenticeship to the Pirate King (Ted Hamilton) is at an end. But Frederic does not want to be a pirate; in fact, he hates pirates since they slew his family and left him an orphan. The King admires the boy's pluckiness, but he expels him from the boat and makes him walk the plank.
Soon, Frederic comes to shore, coincidentally on the estate of the Major-General. It just so happens the sultry Mabel is walking on the beach, and it's love at first sight. The two are instantly enamored. But there are many, many hurdles on their way to true love. On Mabel's side, she is the youngest daughter and so can only marry after the rest of her sisters are betrothed. On Frederic's side, he is torn between his desire to destroy the Pirate King and his sense of duty to those same pirates who raised him.
Can Mabel and Frederic find a way to be together? Will Mabel have her happy ending? Will Mabel ever want to wake up?
"Keep pumpin'. Blowin'."
For those of you who have never seen nor heard of this film, the description does not fully detail everything that's going on. It leaves out a large part of the equation, namely that The Pirate Movie is a tweaking of Gilbert and Sullivan's classic tale "The Pirates of Penzance" and that the dream sequence retells that story using most of the general themes. Additionally, several of Gilbert and Sullivan's songs are also brought over—such as "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" and "When the Foeman Bares His Steel" (a.k.a. the "tarantara" song)—making this film part musical. But, to forever cement its place in time, many original songs were written for the movie. Once you hear one you'll never wonder in which decade this movie was filmed. (We'll talk more about the music a bit later.)
With a libretto as timeless as "The Pirates of Penzance," how can this film go wrong? It doesn't. The Pirate Movie is a wonderfully charming and fun film that, in all truth, is better than it should be, because not only does the movie tweak the source material, it also makes fun of it. The Pirate Movie is a spoof of that classic tale of young love. Further than that, the movie even pokes fun at itself with asides that in other films all too often knock you back to reality; luckily, that doesn't happen here. In fact, that the film works is really quite astonishing. Comedy is subjective, but this movie has gone on to be a cult classic due to its infamous twist on Gilbert and Sullivan. It worked two decades ago, it stands the test of time, and it's still amusing today. The Pirate Movie is a decidedly witty film.
I mentioned previously that, as a young teenager, I missed an entire layer to the film. That would be sex. As I watched the film, I did remember many of the lines of sexual innuendo and the numerous double entendres, but I was mildly shocked at how pervasive the talk about sex was throughout. You've got Frederic simply saying he is young and horny, the Pirate King walking around with a huge, squeaking codpiece, Mabel lustily calling herself a nymphomaniac, Ruth (Maggie Kirkpatrick) trying to bed anybody, the music telling you to "keep pumpin' and blowin'," and then the barrage of gay humor. Today's teenagers would think this all chaste, nonsensical, and stupid; back in my day, it didn't even dawn on me. (What a sad sign of the times.) Watching it now, I found these sexual escapades to be tastefully done and amusing. Some of the material is old and cliché by now, but it adds to the quaint, innocent charm of the film.
It probably would behoove me to admit that something else flew past me years ago as well: the Gilbert and Sullivan. I'd always heard how The Pirate Movie was a spoof of "The Pirates of Penzance," but I never really knew what "The Pirates of Penzance" was. Now I know and can better appreciate the story, the music, and the humor coming into play.
Now, let's further discuss the music in the film. I will have to admit that I really like the corny '80s music in this film; I wish the CD was still available or at least one used copy was for sale on EBay. The songs are really sappy, tacky, and goofy, yet they're also well done. Each has a catchy melody, is performed well, and advances the plot. And even more sinister than that, the songs will stick with you and you'll hear them in your head all day. That's the sign of good song writing! Remember those scenes I mentioned watching a few times already? They're all musical numbers; I'm especially hooked on the big finale piece, "Happy Ending." As for Gilbert and Sullivan's music, I'm not an expert on "The Pirates of Penzance," so I am making some broad assumptions about which music is from that show—the symphonic works without the synthesizer track. (I did reference the score for the musical, but the full titles of the songs don't make it easy to figure out which were used in the movie.) These were all well performed except for the most-renowned of them all, the "Modern Major-General" piece. While there's great energy and enthusiasm in the song, I don't think Bill Kerr was up to the part and his singing is a little flat. And, while I'm talking about Bill, I'm going to go ahead and say he's my least favorite part of the film. His character is not fleshed out at all, and his one quirk of throwing chicken bones at his butler is not funny.
I adore so many aspects of this film. Perhaps I should have started with something besides the music…say, the lovely Kristy McNichol. Her transformation from frumpy Lucas-flannelled girl to sultry young lass is remarkable. I'm amazed by what some makeup, a new hairstyle, and a revealing white dress can do for a young woman. Wow! (Granted she's only 19 in the film, and it's creepy for me to ogle, but she is hot and legal.) For those of you who care, Christopher Atkins is perfectly adorable in the film and at the peak of his boyish hunkiness; also, he's topless for more than half the film. I did get a tad disturbed when he spent a chunk of the film in a weird diaper/loincloth concoction. The Pirate King, as portrayed by Aussie star Ted Hamilton (I wonder if you could win a date with him or if you'd want to), is magnificent in his role. Commanding and conniving, horny and humorous, Hamilton is fun to watch as the twisted father figure. And I cannot forget Gary McDonald (Moulin Rouge!), who portrays the police sergeant. His facial expressions are incredible and really elevate his minor role. Of great note are the sets and the costumes in The Pirate Movie. Not once did I question that I was in the 1800s in a big swashbuckling film. Each set, actually locale, is beautiful, well used, and smartly photographed. But topping that are the costumes, which are stunning (except for that disconcerting diaper/loincloth thing). When I saw Mabel and Frederic in their "virgin-white" attire on their way to the big finale, I was duly impressed. When the Pirate King and Ruth joined them, I was doubly impressed.
On top of this, The Pirate Movie is a multi-faceted movie that will keep you constantly entertained. Part-time musical, part-time comedy, part-time action-adventure, and part-time romance, the movie has a little bit of everything in it. If you love great music, you'll find it here. If you love to laugh, you'll find it here. If you like nice swordfights and ship-to-ship battles, you'll find it here. If you like to see love blossom and overcome the odds, then you'll find it here.
The disc that I've been waiting for is better than I could have hoped. I was desperately afraid it would have a crappy full-frame transfer with a pathetic mono soundtrack. Am I glad to be wrong! Anchor Bay did a fine job with The Pirate Movie and gave it the attention that we fans believe it deserves. The video transfer is an impressive 1.85:1 anamorphic print that belies the age of the source material. I didn't notice any errors or problems throughout, and the only slight detraction is that the colors are a bit muted and the stock footage used is a lesser quality (e.g., grainy and dirty) than the real footage of the movie. I was very happy with the overall quality. For the audio, there are two choices: a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. I always prefer a 5.1 mix, but this one was odd to my ears. As I started the film, the mix sounded "off," maybe a bit fake and forced. I couldn't quite pin it down: Sometimes the dialogue felt too quiet while the surrounds seemed occasionally too aggressive; at other times, everything sounded a bit tinny. About twenty minutes into the film, I flipped over to the 2.0 mix and was content with the clean and solid sound. If you don't have a surround system, you'll be pleased with this mix. Still, by the time I got to the next musical number, I had the urge to flip back to the 5.1 mix, so I did. This time, I didn't have that odd nagging sensation, and I finished the film with the transfer. By the end, I was enjoying the music coming at me from all sides.
Just two bonus features are included on the disc. The big one is an audio commentary track by director Ken Annakin (Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines) and DVD producer Perry Martin. Martin prompts the 342-year-old Annakin with a question, and Annakin answers that question, more or less. He sometimes veers off topic, sometimes doesn't answer the question, and rarely just talks on his own. I was somewhat disappointed with the final result, but I still did learn a few interesting facts along the way. It's just a shame there are so many gaps, and that Annakin talks about his other films instead of this one. The other bonus item is the theatrical trailer, which practically ruins the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"Are you a virgin?"
Comedy is subjective, and The Pirate Movie is a wretched failure. It took the classic tale of "The Pirates of Penzance" and turned it into some juvenile sex farce! It's an insult to Gilbert and Sullivan. How can one sanely mix their fantastically crafted songs with trite '80s pop ballads? And to add injury to the mix, lightsabers and Indiana Jones have no place in a period pirate piece. This movie is thoroughly horrid. If you want to enjoy "The Pirates of Penzance," stay with the source material.
"Give me a happy ending, every time."
As much sex-laced dialogue as there is, this film received a PG back in 1982. PG-13 didn't exist back then, and it certainly wasn't R material. However, in today's land of conservative ideals, this film would definitely earn a PG-13, not only for its sexual content but also for its liberal use of vulgarities throughout the film—not to mention one highly questionable hand and arm gesture during the big finale. Ah, that glorious finale. It perfectly encapsulates the fun, carefree, and whimsical spirit of the film. The Pirate Movie is a wonderful twist on the tale of "The Pirates of Penzance." In the last twenty-odd years, it hasn't lost any of its allure, and I am going to highly recommend this movie to you all. Go out and purchase it and see McNichol and Atkins work together with perfect chemistry. If you don't end up humming at least one of the tunes at the end of the day, then you must have the scurvy.
The Pirate Movie is found not guilty of pillaging. Tarantara!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary by Director Ken Annakin and DVD Producer Perry Martin
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