Saturday 17 May 2008

The Ice Pirates (1984)

In a galaxy far, far away... well, no this isn't that cliched but it's still a great huge fun spoof on the science fiction genre. It's dumb reality, made with outrageous recklessness, more Dark Star than Star Wars, filmed on Star Trek level sets, but very meaningful to fans of the genre nonetheless. If you enjoyed films like Galaxina, you'll find plenty to enjoy here. As a long standing fan of Ron Goulart's fiction, I especially loved how robots and electronic equipment were depicted here, all malfunctions and ineptitude.

We're in space and we're in the future. There have been intergalactic wars and what's left afterward are evil Templars from the planet Mithra. They hoard the galaxy's supply of water, which is rare and valuable, thus prompting rebel pirates to swash and buckle their way on board Templar vessels to steal the ice. The first raid we see nets them not just millions of gallons of precious water but Princess Karina of Argon to boot. Jason, the pirate leader, steals her for himself, the Templars steal her back only for her to turn out to be something other than what anyone expects and spark a quest for the legendary seventh world with its equally legendary ample supply of water. Guess which one that is.

The opening music sets the pace for the entire tone of the film. Bruce Broughton wrote it and either he's a talentless TV background music scoring workman or he's a complete genius because this is possibly the most appropriate music for a film that I've heard in what seems like forever. The key name behind the screen though is Stewart Raffill, who co-wrote and directed, so I assume much of this is due to what goes on inside his brain.

The cast are way better than the material but they play along with it, even though most are not known best for their film work. Some are TV actors, like the lead, Robert Urich from Spenser: For Hire. Some are sports stars, like John Matuszak who apparently played American football, but I guess that counts. Some are even TV stars with celebrity connections, like Mary Crosby, daughter of Bing and the lady who shot JR on Dallas. Even those known for film work are often way past their prime, such as John Carradine who had been rotting in B movies for a couple of decades by 1984. That leaves the major names as people like Anjelica Huston, looking very slim and fit in her revealing pirate outfit, and Ron Perlman, one of my favourite modern day actors, perhaps because he's one of the least conventional in every way. This was also his first film after his debut, Quest for Fire, so it's really early days for him.

There are so many reasons to hate this movie and so many reasons for it to become a cult hit. It's loud, it's vulgar and unkempt; it's gaudy, outrageous and disrespectful. The robots may just personify the whole thing in every way. If you can see the serious underlying scientific understanding behind the ship garbage robot having a tongue, you'll love this film. If not, this is absolutely not the movie for you and you shouldn't even think about watching it. The hooker robot is mere icing on the cake. A creature called a space herpie and what look like the gophers from Caddyshack pay testament to some of the other subtlety in play.

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