A look back at how ‘The Ice Pirates’ deserves an honored space in the ultimate sci-fi comedy genre.
The 1970s and 1980s gave us a whole bunch of ultimate Sci-Fi comedies such as Dark Star and Buckaroo Banzai that were full of wacky humor and an anything goes attitude. The Ice Pirates ranks high up there with them, and it also delivered the goods on the action front. While it seems easy to write the film off as a Star Wars and Flash Gordon parody it is not just a spoof but has a fun story to tell, so let’s have a look!
Jason (Robert Urich) and his crew roam space to rid cargo ships of water, the most precious resource in the universe after the water wars. During a raid, they capture Princess Karina (Mary Crosby), who takes the pirates on an adventurous search for the mythical seventh water planet, with the space Templars of the galactic dictatorship chasing after them.
Spring Water! I Can Smell it From Here
Not spice, but ice is the rarest and most valuable material in the galaxy, and in view of the looming water crisis on our planet in our time the Ice Pirates became a truly prophetic film. Nah, I’m just kidding, it’s all big nonsense, but still a cool premise. Director and writer Stewart Raffill made the semi-Sci-Fi classic The Philadelphia Experiment in 1984, but it looks like he also needed an outlet for his more crazy ideas, and in the same year he made The Ice Pirates.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of what awaits you in this film: medieval knights, cowboys and pirates with laser pistols, Sleeping Beauty in space, amazons on unicorns, a robot pimp, lascivious frog women, a castration and lobotomization factory, and a spaceship with Herpes. I enjoyed the film’s humor, as it relentlessly exploits the absurdity of the numerous outrageous situations the pirates find themselves in. The best part may be the clumsy and cowardly droids which usually find themselves at the center of many practical jokes.
Depravity in Zero Gravity
The initial 20 million USD budget apparently was scrapped to a mere 8 million USD, so the crew improvised as much as they could to still put together a consistent production, and they succeeded with much creativity. The special effects are on the lower side of the budget spectrum, and even though they can’t hold a candle to Star Wars, they are inventive such as when an actual space battle is fought like a Space Invaders game on a computer screen. The costumes are spot on: space pirates look like pirates, and space amazons look like amazons. It’s a beautifully chaotic mix and makes for some totally wild visuals.
The cast is perfectly tuned in to the vibe of the film. Robert Urich gives a campy impression of Han Solo, his crew mate Anjelica Huston is suave and bad-ass, and her costume looks like art from the scrapyard. And John Matuszak (Sloth from The Goonies) shows his comedic side as a muscled but soft-spoken hustler.
The Ship Just Got Herpes!
Just like in any good pulp story, things take turns abruptly. The bad guys usually show up without warning and then it’s havoc time! The quality of the action sequences is not on the level of an A-list action flick, but Rafill put as much mayhem on the screen as possible considering the budget issues.
Axes, swords, and laser pistols are put to use frequently in the many skirmishes unfolding in the space ship corridors. There’s a fantastic chase sequence through the desert between a pirate buggy and a bounty hunter rig stacked with space vikings, and a hilarious time-bending finale where everyone ages 50 years during battle.
Rafill orchestrated a swashbuckling space opera of joyful madness that is in tongue-in-cheek mode every second. The Ice Pirates has not a single dull moment, and rightfully earned its place in the Sci-Fi Comedy Hall of Fame.