Eric's Bad Movies: The Ice Pirates (1984)

According to Wikipedia, The Ice Pirates is "considered to be a cult classic by many science fiction and B-movie fans." This is followed by "[citation needed]," which I couldn't have phrased better myself. Who are these people who consider The Ice Pirates -- an excruciatingly unfunny semi-comedy and unbearably stupid semi-adventure -- a "cult classic"? And what else is admired in this cult? Bile? Excrement? Patch Adams?

The Ice Pirates was made on a budget of about $12 by the guy who would later make Mac and Me, so you get what kind of filmmaker we're dealing with (i.e., the untalented kind). It's simple-minded, as if for kids, but it's also smutty, as if for adults, but it's also imbecilic, as if for imbeciles. So it's a movie for imbecilic adult kids. I understand Adam Sandler has it on Laserdisc.

The movie is set in ... THE FUTURE! In OUTER SPACE! The galaxy is suffering from a major water shortage, and what little water is left has fallen under the control of evil villainous bad guy types, who sell it at exorbitant rates. No doubt this is a metaphor for the modern situation of our oil supply being controlled by foreign enemies, which makes The Ice Pirates one of the most trenchant political satires of its day, at least among those starring Robert Urich.

Yes, Robert Urich, star of many TV shows and, um, many other TV shows, is the leader of the ice pirates, a band of ne'er-do-wells who go around stealing water and ice from the overlords who hoard it. What do the ice pirates do with it then? Why, sell it, of course. What, did you think they gave it away to the poor thirsty people? The movie is called The Ice Pirates, not The Ice Robin Hoods Who Steal from the Wet and Give to the Dry. Urich's character is named Jason, which isn't a very fierce name for a pirate. Maybe it's short for Jasonbeard, or Jason the Impaler. He and his buddy Roscoe (Michael D. Roberts) have a small crew consisting of the burliest men you'll see outside of a lumberjack convention: Ron Perlman, ex-NFL player John Matuszak, and Anjelica Huston.

While stealing ice from a supply ship one day, Jason and friends discover a princess named Karina (Mary Crosby) asleep in a weird cylinder, like the glass box the dwarfs put Snow White in after she got poisoned, except I think this is just supposed to be where people sleep in THE FUTURE. (Preferring a soft, comfortable mattress over a rigid plexiglass box is so primitive.) Jason is smitten with the sleeping beauty and stands leering over her for a while before being dragged away by his compatriots. "What happened to 'we rape, we pillage'?" he demands, indicating, I guess, that he was planning to rape the unconscious woman before his fellow pirates intervened. Ha ha! We're having some fun now!



Immediately after stealing the ice, the dread pirate Jason and his crew are captured by the people they stole it from. So our first experience with the film's heroes is an episode where they fail. Nice. Jason and Roscoe are hauled off to the bad guys' home planet, Mithra, where miscreants such as themselves are castrated and sold as slaves. Again: Hilarity! In 1984, when this film came out, the funniest thing you could joke about was genital trauma. Muppet Babies devoted several episodes to it. Ronald Reagan referred to it frequently in his re-election campaign. And The Ice Pirates plays it for all it's worth, with Jason and Roscoe stripped naked and strapped to a conveyer belt that looks like the one in the Laverne & Shirley opening credits (I expected someone to put a rubber glove on Roscoe's wang), then sent toward a machine with chomping mechanical teeth, all the better to unman them with.

Fortunately, Jason and Roscoe are rescued by Princess Karina, who took a liking to Jason at some point when she was awake (so ix-nay on the ape-ray, or you'll blow this for him!). She has them fake being castrated, then buys them at the slave auction. Then multiple shenanigans occur that lead to Karina and the boys meeting up with the rest of their crew and hightailing it out of the solar system. Anjelica Huston is jealous to see Capt. Jason lavishing such attention on Karina and not her, but you gotta figure this is something she's used to. It's not like she started looking like Anjelica Huston just yesterday.

Domino's Online Pizza TrackerAll of this is accompanied by an aggressively whimsical musical score, a score that grabs you by the throat and crams merriment down your gullet. The music makes you think that the film is intended as a comedy, but most of the overt attempts at humor are simply awful. The very first joke in the movie is Jason and crew sneaking through a ship's bathroom and passing an alien sitting on a toilet, complete with farty sound effects. Oh, please! As if the buttocks of a reptilian alien creature would be designed in exactly the same manner as a human's, so as to create exactly the same sound when air passed between them! Come on, The Ice Pirates!

The reason Princess Karina has teamed up with the scurvy Capt. Jason is that she needs help finding her father. Seems old dad got whisked away to the legendary Seventh World at the center of the galaxy, whence no traveler can return, except for the many times later in the film when travelers do indeed return from it. It's hard to get to the Seventh World because you have to go through a time warp, and the process causes you to age rapidly. This makes perfect sense if you are familiar with Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and by "are familiar with" I mean "have heard of but do not understand."

Karina's dad is being held captive by a fey villain named Wendon, played by Bruce Vilanch, the bleating, grape-shaped joke-writer who used to sit next to Whoopi Goldberg on Hollywood Squares as part of an experiment to see if you could assemble the nine least funny people in the world and still produce a successful game show. (The other seven were Jay Leno, Carlos Mencia, Larry the Cable Guy, a drunk frat boy, Idi Amin, the mean nurse from One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, and a dead dog.) Wendon is evil (I guess; the movie is not clear on what his deal is, exactly) and apparently has magic powers. The heroes decapitate him, which is the natural response to hearing Bruce Vilanch speak, yet his severed head continues to live! Which is fine in and of itself, but it keeps talking, too! (Just keep telling yourself: It's only a movie...)

The film's climax is a surreal sequence where the bad guys board the pirates' ship while they're in the time warp, leading to a massive fight during which everyone ages several decades. Jason's hair and beard grow out, and Karina -- who had sex with Jason once -- grows pregnant and delivers a baby, which then grows up into Robert Urich and saves the day, whereupon they exit the time warp and ... everything ... goes ... back to normal. So it's a temporary time warp. It ages you, but then you age back again. W.T. Hell?

I guess it shouldn't surprise me that The Ice Pirates has a cult following. Nothing is so terrible that it can't be beloved by someone. I mean, Garfield still appears on the comics page every day, doesn't it? (I'm asking: Doesn't it? Do they still make newspapers?) Still, I echo Wikipedia's "[citation needed]" -- but only in the sense of wanting to know that the movie's fans actually exist, not in the sense of wanting to hear from them. It's probably best if the members of this particular cult remain anonymous.

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"Eric's Bad Movies" appears Thursdays at Film.com. You can visit Eric at his website, where time warps are permanent.