The Ice Pirates (1984)

Oh George Lucas, what did you bring upon us with your earth-shattering movie of 1977. The answer to that is of course an absolute multitude of knock-off’s, clones, wannabes and homages. This long forgotten oddity is what you might call a very light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek Star Wars knock-off.

The plot takes place in the distant future, presumably in a galaxy far far away, where water has become an extremely scarce and valuable resource (not too original eh). In fact H20 is so valuable that its actually used as a form of currency in ice cube form. Naturally only one planet is not affected by this, Mithra, home of the evil Templars. And of course they want to keep it this way ensuring their dominance over the galaxy. But as expected there are space pirates that battle the Templars for their control of the water. One such band of pirates (led by Jason, Robert Urich) stumble across a Princess whilst trying to pinch the watery cargo from one Templar ship. In turn they also discover that this Princesses father is thought to have discovered a planet with water, thing is he has also disappeared. So the Princess hires the pirates to find her father and hopefully the watery planet. On their tail are the Templars who do not want this secret being discovered.

OK so the first thing I have to point out is, this is quite literally a film about pirates in space. The movies title isn’t just there to look and sound cool. The heroes literally steal ice, and they are all literally pirates complete with cutlasses, wide belts with big fat belt buckles, cavalier type boots, and poet shirts with lacing down the front. This whole pirate look is blended in with the more typically cliched futuristic sci-fi look. On one hand a shabby, used and weather beaten universe. On the other hand shiny uniforms and ships (basically Mad Max and Star Wars). Interestingly they also throw in some medieval fashions in there too. Yep the Templar foot soldiers (on-board ships) appear to wear medieval knight attire such as full body chain mail etc…

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Now despite how the movie may come across with its obvious similarities to other space set fantasies in its poster and trailer, this movie isn’t really for kids. OK sure there are lots of childish elements like the various silly robots, the slapstick etc…But this movie does have some moments of violence, gore, sex and umm…castration. Let me be clear, this isn’t an R/18 rated type movie, but it has fun bits for the adults. There is a very wet and somewhat in depth softcore sex scene.There are a few scenes of people losing limbs complete with blood. One of the pirates (Zeno, Ron Perlman) loses his hand early on. In one of the more shocking sequences the sexy female pirate (Maida, Anjelica Houston) gets into a sword fight with some bounty hunter fellow and cuts his head off! Its actually quite unexpected and there are no cuts, you see it come right off. And yes in one sequence it is shown that the Templars turn prisoners into slaves by cutting of their balls with a set of robotic steel jaws.

I didn’t really get the whole eunuch slave thing. They go through the process of having their balls cut off (and a lobotomy as well apparently), and come out afterwards with white hair and eyebrows? I guess the shock of having your balls bitten off by a steel trap could be the reason why your hair turns white; but when they are all lined up to be inspected (in white lycra catsuits) its quite clear that these eunuchs still have a lunchbox. One potential buyer even comments on a slaves lunchbox, but surely they shouldn’t have lunchboxes?

Anyway what space fantasy is complete without a generic desert planet or desert scene. Well don’t fret because of course this movie has one of those. Its actually one of the more interesting looking locations, just a shame we don’t spend much time there. For some reason desert terrain always looks good on camera, it always looks authentic and suits fantasy films perfectly. I always liked this part when I was a kid, I think it was that [i]Mad Max[/i]-esque battering ram with huge wheels. This little action sequence is probably the best in the movie despite being very brief. Some nice explosions, a few stunts, a bad guy getting run over and crushed under one of the huge wheels, cool stuff.

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Anyway what space fantasy is complete without generic scantily clad, female amazonian warriors. Well don’t fret because of course this movie has some of them too. They are all highly sexy, they are all very scantily clad, they are all seemingly submissive to their male leader (phew!), and they all seemingly hate outsiders…men and women (indeed). Yes you guessed it, it isn’t long before our hero gets restrained in a very hot and steamy situation after the amazonians wrestle him to ground. Oh no! please don’t straddle me and wrap your legs around my face, scantily clad sexy ladies! This movie seems to have an obsession with body parts too because the male character we meet in this location (Wendon, Bruce Vilanch) appears to be just a head. Presumably another robot but I’m not actually sure, but its another opportunity for a head to roll around.

Anyway what space fantasy is complete without a sequence set in a smokey, scummy space bar complete with aliens, space mercs, bounty hunters, space wh*res, ruffians…you get the idea.

The movie is a bit jumbled overall in hindsight, there are many many ideas being thrown around from many sources. Its like the director was overwhelmed and couldn’t decide which ideas to rip-off, so he did them all. Hell there’s even an ‘Alien’ rip-off (homage?) subplot with this little worm thing that hatches out of an egg and slithers amok on the ship. At one point this thing bursts out of the crews turkey dinner. Turns out its space herpes, which I’m guessing was suppose to be a crude joke at the time, but now falls totally flat. This subplot simply goes nowhere despite it running for most of the movie. Its just there as a joke.

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The effects are also a very mixed bag. There are one or two matte painting shots with live action foregrounds that look really good (and familiar). Some of the sets and props are well designed and built; some look reasonably authentic as if they could actually work. The spaceship/space effects are pretty poor though, considering this came along way after ‘Star Wars’ its a bit shameful really. Then you have the various robots which include actual real robots of the era that do fit in quite well, but were limited in movement. The bulk of the robots are men in suits and very hokey. Rudimentary robotic movements, you can see the suits bending and creasing, plus the God awful slapstick and fights they get into are extremely stupid and infantile. I complain but I don’t really think the effects were ever meant to be taken seriously. Sure they tried but its clear to see this feature was more of a cheeky comedy, hence the effects were never supposed to be groundbreaking (think ‘Spaceballs’).

When I was a kid I loved this movie because I obviously enjoyed it, and it felt like I was watching a movie for adults. It felt like I was being a bit naughty, I felt like I was more grown up…even though my folks were fine with me watching it. Looking back this movie has faded somewhat and lost its excitement factor for me. Robert Urich is certainly an underrated hero with his looks and might have been a better Lone Starr than Bill Pullman, who knows. The rest of the cast is definitely a curiosity and quite star studded these days but none of them really added much to the proceedings. It just doesn’t really feel like a movie, more like a made for TV movie, the style of the end credits kinda reinforce that vibe. A product of its time for sure.

5.5/10

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