March 31, 2009

Last night Balthazar and I watched The Ice Pirates. It was... Epic. Baffling. A sort of high camp cheese-fest that defies explanation. Let's start with the poster.

The Poster:

According to IMDb, one of the taglines for The Ice Pirates is "You have to be there to see it". Which is seriously brilliant. You do have to be there to see it, it's so true. When you factor in the head-scratching poster that includes a lot of everything and nothing at the same time, rendered in that dashing afternoon adventure cartoon style, it's difficult to determine exactly what you're in for. Is it a comedy? Is it a space adventure? A high seas pirate movie? A parody? Good questions all.

The Synopsis:
I can't tell you definitively what the plot was even though I just watched it so I'll once again defer to the venerable IMDb. "In the far future water is the most valuable substance. Two space pirates are captured, sold to a princess, and recruited to help her find her father who disappeared when he found information dangerous to the rulers. A real Space Opera with sword fights, explosions, fighting robots, monsters, bar fights and time warps." Sure. Why not?

The Cast:
Robert Urich - Jason
Mary Crosby - Princess Karina
Michael D. Roberts - Roscoe
Anjelica Huston - Maida
John Matuszak - Killjoy
Ron Perlman - Zeno
John Carradine - Supreme Commander
Bruce Vilanch - Wendon

It's highly entertaining to see both Anjelica Huston (pre-Oscar) and Ron Perlman (pre-bodybuilding) play second-fiddle supporting characters with probably a dozen lines apiece to Robert Urich's "dashing" lead. It's like bizarro world.

The Concept:
Because subtlety is something the 80s largely lacked, it should go without saying that though The Ice Pirates is set in space, they are not just pirates in the "rebelling against the established status quo" sense but are pirates in the literal swashbuckling sense as well. They dress sort of like Jack Sparrow meets Mad Max and fight with swords and brute strength when they're not sending their robot minions in to do battle for them. Water, transported in the form of giant ice blocks, is the most valuable commodity in the galaxy and these pirates break into ships and steal it from the evil Templars. Along the way they get mixed up with a princess and some kind of nefarious plot involving her father, secret coordinates, and a mythical seventh world comprised almost wholly of water. Also along the way they encounter, in no particular order...
~ alien toilets
~ a butler robot who wears an apron
~ an alien disco
~ a castration conveyor belt that turns prisoners into blonde androgynous slaves
~ space herpes
~ a time warp that ages things at alarming rates
~ a drag queen frog that drives

The Visuals:


Anjelica's costumes, it must be said, are a never-ending parade of awesome if awesome consists solely of iron bands, leather swatches, and the artful use of wire. Observe:


(Note: don't insult Maida or she will behead your friend then make you apologize. Choice!)


The princess, played by Mary Crosby, wears an even stranger array of fashion but with less narrative cohesion. She is alternately dressed like Leia in the Throne Room scene of Star Wars, a Greek goddess, or a Woodstock hippie. Robert Urich (whose character name is Jason and therefore unimportant) wears an impressive selection of brightly colored tie-front shirts and a curly ponytail.

The Verdict:
Balthazar and I thoroughly enjoyed The Ice Pirates. I suppose it helps to go in with zero expectations, a high camp threshold, and a willingness to set aside rigid notions of narrative and logic. It is seriously baffling but it also, despite the cheese factor, feels impressively epic and is riotously entertaining. It's not a parody, really, but it can't have been made as a straight comedy either. It's like a knowing Star Trek / Pirates of the Caribbean / Mad Max mash-up with Anjelica Huston and Ron Perlman. "You have to be there to see it".

The Bonus:
Space herpes!