Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: The Ice Pirates

the ice pirates indexThanks to the success of Star Wars and a few other big sci-fi blockbusters by the early to mid-eighties there were a lot of studios attempting to cash in, and originally this was meant to be a fairly high budgeted epic. But then the studio changed its mind, reduced its twenty million dollar budget down to eight million, and asked the writers to change the script so that it was more of a tongue in cheek spoof.

The end result is a very strange mess, one which is sometimes an out and out parody of a number of films including Star Wars, Logan’s Run, Mad Max and Flash Gordon, but in other places it comes across as a fairly decent attempt to be an exciting slice of science fiction with only the odd joke here and there. The performances are an odd mix too, with some of the cast having there tongue so far in to their cheeks they’re almost bursting through the skin, while others play it largely straight.

The initial set up is that there’s very little water left in the universe and only six planets with any life on them, though a seventh is rumoured. The initially quite large group of roguish heroes start the movie by attempting to steal ice from a spaceship in a sequence which is very similar to the beginning of Star Wars, though here they kidnap rather than rescue a Princess (Mary Crosby) , end up being captured themselves and threatened with castration, before the Princess sets them free and asks her to help find her missing father.

The initial half hour is packed full of wonky robots, aliens on toilets, dodgy wigs and silly chase sequences and it’s quite the thing, but then the following twenty minutes is a bit weak and the film stops being entertaining. There’s subplot which mocks Alien as a small monster which is supposedly sentient herpes runs about, but this storyline is often forgotten about despite the Princess’s anger when she finds out they hadn’t told her about it. Luckily this weak middle section doesn’t go on for too long, and a brief Mad Max parody sees the movie start to be fun again, and then it has one of the best endings to a sci-fi film that I’ve ever seen.

It’s also absolutely ludicrous, I won’t spoil it for anyone but when watching the film I wasn’t quite sure how I’d rate it, but the final half hour is so deranged that it more than makes up for having to watch some of the weaker scenes. With a running time of 91 minutes it’s not a film which outstays its welcome, and I’m convinced that if someone were to edit out the rubbish bits and make a movie which was about 70 minutes long it might be considered a lost classic.

Robert Urich and Michael D. Roberts do most of the comedic heavy lifting and are superb in the lead roles, John Carradine makes for a decent villain and Mary Crosby is strong as the romantic lead. The film has early appearances from Anjelica Huston and Ron Perlman but they’re given less to do, though still have the odd fun and violent scene, and this is well worth seeking out, at least if you like your sci-fi comedy to have a quite unusual and ridiculous flavour.

★★★1/2

Alex Finch.

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