Wednesday, September 14, 2016

#2,193. The Ice Pirates (1984)

Directed By: Stewart Raffill

Starring: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts

Tag line: "See A Totally Spaced Adventure!"

Trivia: According to a crew member, this film's entire sound team was fired mid-production and replaced without explanation

A 1984 sci-fi / comedy / adventure, writer-director Stewart Raffill’s The Ice Pirates has a great cast and a few fun scenes, but never comes together as it should.

The known universe is controlled by a tyrannical group known as the Knights Templar, and the most valuable substance isn’t gold or jewels, but water. The Templars jealously guard the water supply for the entire region, fighting off any and all pirates who try to steal from their reserves. Jason (Robert Urich) is the captain of one such pirate vessel, and along with his crew, which includes Roscoe (Michael D. Roberts), Zeno (Ron Perlman), and Maida (Angelica Huston), he infiltrates a Templar space cruiser to pilfer as much ice as he can. To his surprise, this particular ship is also carrying the Princess Karina (Mary Crosby). Ignoring the protests of his crew, Jason kidnaps the Princess in order to demand a large ransom for her return. Unfortunately, he and Roscoe are captured and sentenced to life on a slave planet, where, upon their arrival, they will be immediately castrated.

To their surprise, it’s the Princess Karina who comes to their rescue; not only does she prevent their castration, but she also helps Jason and Roscoe escape. In return, the Princess asks Jason and his crew, as well as their new friend Killjoy (John Matuszak), a fellow prisoner who also managed to escape, to help her track down her father, who disappeared while searching for the fabled “Seventh Planet”. Rumored to contain enough water to end the current drought, the “Seventh Planet” lies just beyond a rift in space, and all who approach it find themselves at the mercy of its time-altering powers. But with the promise of more water than they’ve ever seen, Jason gladly agrees to the Princess’s request, and sets off in search of a planet that, by some accounts, might not even exist.

The Ice Pirates features an excellent cast: Robert Urich is fine as the captain, and Michael D. Roberts makes for a good first mate (his Roscoe is also something of an electronics whiz, working on all the ship’s robots to ensure they’re in tip-top shape). However, it’s the supporting players, an admittedly odd mix, who really draw your attention. Angelica Huston, a scant 2 years away from her Oscar win for Prizzi’s Honor, is both bad-ass and sexy as the no-nonsense Maida, while Mr. Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman, gives it his all in what was only his second big-screen appearance (his first being 1981’s Quest for Fire). In addition, former NFL star John Matuszak is both funny and convincing as the sly Killjoy, who, despite being sentenced to the slave planet along with Jason and Roscoe, was never in as much danger as our heroes (from the moment we meet him, it’s obvious Killjoy is one crafty devil). Hollywood legend John Carradine pops up in a brief cameo as well, playing the aged commander of the Knights Templar.

I also enjoyed the film’s action scenes, which borrowed heavily from the era of swashbucklers, a la Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood; characters swing from hanging wires as if they were ropes or vines, and fight each other not with lasers, but swords (even the Knights Templar dress as if it was the Middle Ages, wearing chain mail and battle helmets). 

Alas, the comedic sequences in The Ice Pirates, most of which revolve around robots and droids, never really click (unlike most sci-fi flicks, the robots in this movie are bungling idiots, and tend to fall apart rather easily). Worse yet is the film’s structure, which, to put it plainly, is far too chaotic. Once the quest for the Seventh Planet begins, the movie isn’t so much a straightforward narrative as it is a series of random scenes, some of which feel as if they were squeezed in with a crowbar (though definitely cool, an entire sequence set on a desert planet does nothing to move the story forward, and could have easily been left on the cutting room floor).

It’s a shame, too, because The Ice Pirates had a fun, low-budget ‘80s vibe to it, and sometimes that alone is enough for me to enjoy a movie. In the case of this film, though, not even a truckload of nostalgia could save it from mediocrity.

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