The Ice Pirates

Remind me why I was waiting for a space comedy?
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1984
Director: 
Stewart Raffill
Starring: 
Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, Anjelica Huston, John Matuszak, Ron Perlman
The Setup: 
The wacky adventures of a bunch o' space pirates who steal ice.
Discussion: 

The trailer for this movie says it’s “the space comedy you didn’t know you were waiting to see.” Well, now I’ve seen it, and I STILL don’t know that I was waiting to see it. I guess my desire to see a space comedy was pretty well repressed by my subconscious. I’ll have to talk to my therapist about that.

Anyway, when I rented this I did not in fact know that it was a space comedy, and I thought it was actually fairly serious, or at least as serious as something like Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone or Megaforce or something like that. I also thought that the title Ice Pirates implied that these folks were going to be sliding around this ice planet on these giant space-sleds or something, but no, they’re just in a regular spaceship and they want to STEAL ice, since water is now somehow the universe’s most precious commodity. This story element turns out to be eerily prescient, and many environmentalists now surmise that one of the most difficult effects of global warming will be a worldwide water shortage, and I recall reading a government report that surmised that in case of a water shortage the U.S. might join with Canada [where the water trickles down from] and wall off Mexico and essentially tell them to fuck themselves. So obviously Ice Pirates is on the bleeding edge of social criticism.

The movie starts off with a shock: Angelica Huston is in this? She is, in this Tasha Yar-type role as a tough space pirate lass who is forced to wear this ludicrous outfit that can barely be accounted for. It’s also disconcerting to see an actress of her stature and overall awesomeness to be in a totally peripheral role—let alone a role peripheral to ROBERT URICH. But she carries it off with her usual aplomb. Also on hand are Ron Perlman, back when he was still small and not yet a bodybuilder [I should have snapped him up them] and former pro football player John Matuszak [whom I also should have snapped up], who is cute and big and sometimes adorns the screen n a shirtless state. They all make up a ragtag crew of space pirates… really, this is essentially a proto-Firefly. Has Joss Whedon, WILL Joss Whedon ever acknowledge this movie’s influence on Serenity? You KNOW he was watching this shit.

Anyway, so they’re all out doing some daring pirate shit when Robert Urich [in the requisite 80s beard stubble] spots this princess and decides, after lifting her dress to look at her boob, to kidnap her. This leads to a bunch of zany and daring space adventures that fill up the rest of the running time without ever once being interesting or amusing.

The best way to approach something as scattered as this is with a list:

> Note the alien on the crapper about 5 minutes in. This was my first indication that this is supposed to be a comedy, or at least highly wacky.

> Ron P. gets his hand chopped off! Hello, is this PG material?

> The black guy orders fried chicken out of the Jetsons-like food maker.

> Our heroes play a Galaga-like game to escape a spaceship.

> There are a surprising number of mustachioed hunks on hand in various supporting roles.

> At one point our heroes are on a male castration conveyor belt. Please note the gay space hairdresser wearing he ascot.

> At one point you see the exterior or a futuristic city, and you’re like; “Is that the EXACT SAME future city from Logan’s Run? And yes, ladies and gentleman, that is the EXACT SAME future city from Logan’s Run.

> I always love it in cheesy sci-fi movies when someone gives a party and we are treated to “the music of the future,” which sounds a LOT like the cheesy synth-rock of the 80s. This used to happen on Buck Rogers all the time, usually accompanied by dancers on lit-up roller skates.

> You will NOT be able to miss the black robot pimp.

> Note the cockatoo they have plucked in order to make it look “otherwordly.”

> The medium with the high-pitched voice from Poltergeist is on hand as a diner waitress at the space bar meant to evoke the cantina scene from Star Wars.

> At one point we can see that part of our props are jugs from an office water cooler that have been spray-painted gold. I love touches like that.

> John Matuszak walks with a hot cocky strut. I must make love to him. Later, he watches Rollerball on TV.

> For some reason, there are two cute baby donkeys on hand.

> What about the caterpillar-drag queen man?

> Then there’s the problem of the space herpes, which is left entirely unresolved. Didn’t Howard the Duck mention having space herpes in his movie? Is this some sort of theme I should know about?

> Bruce Vilanich shows up as himself as a sort of space queen.

> In this bizarre scene at the climax, they all go through this time warp were they all get older as we watch. John Matuszak can be spotted looking even hotter than normal with a long ZZ Top beard. Please fuck me, John.

> Throughout, there is talk of a mystical “7th Planet” where water is bountiful and free. Can you guess what this planet turns out to be?

> By the way, for a universe with no water, they all look pretty fully hydrated.

> It seems to be a universal truth that all space princesses must have big hair.

It was about 200 times stupider than I expected. This is the kind of stuff that my friends and I used to watch on Saturday afternoons on cable, and probably the biggest pleasure I got out of the movie was in remembering those days. Even if I was expecting a comedy, I don’t think this would have been funny. The only reason I can see to watch this is if you saw it on cable when you were 14 and want to relive those days. Though I would advise you that some things, especially those things that star Robert Urich, are best left in the past.

Should you watch it: 

I wouldn’t.