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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Pirate Movie
The Pirate Movie
Starz / Anchor Bay // PG // March 22, 2005
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Daniel W. Kelly | posted March 23, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
Well, I'll be whipped with a Cat O'Nine Tails…and like it! Because one of my favorite cheesy 80s teen musicals, The Pirate Movie, has finely made it to DVD, although the soundtrack, which I still have on double vinyl, has yet to surface on CD….

The Story:
Take the musical The Pirates of Penzance, borrow elements of the plot and some of the more familiar songs, add some original pop tunes and pop references as well as adolescent slapstick humor, and you've got this somewhat campy piece of loveable trash that rates right up there with and From Justin To Kelly.

Way back when, in 1982, Kristy McNichol was still working to keep her face on the map, after her stint on the TV show Family, her role in the teen flick Little Darlings, and her dramatic role in Only When I Laugh. She made the unexpected move of doing this fun musical, which, while never a hit, proved several things about Kristy. A) she couldn't be typecast as a tom boy any longer, because she was a feisty and sexy little tart in this flick, B) she couldn't be typecast as a dramatic actress any longer, because she nailed comedy effortlessly in this film, which was a clear foreshadowing of her natural turn on Empty Nest by the end of the 80s, and C) the girl could pull off a pop tune with ease, as evidenced earlier on with a record featuring she and her brother, as well as appearances (and the privilege of) singing alongside Karen Carpenter on some Carpenters Christmas specials.

Meanwhile, young sex symbol Christopher Atkins had proved that—well—he could look really sexy in a handmade thong in the film Blue Lagoon, and would prove a year later that he could look sexy in a sequined thong in the film A Night in Heaven, so he really needed a movie like this to prove he could A) Act B) handle a comedic role, and C) sing—which, he could do too, in that type of sweet upper tenor that the Cassidy brothers had invented in the 70s. And just to play it safe, he basically dons his Blue Lagoon thong in this light musical comedy at one point—AND gets stranded on an island—to remind us what he's all about!

Anyway, on to the plot. Geeky Mabel (Kristy) is at a pirate spectacle at the beach with a group of beach bimbos who treat her like an outcast. They're in bikinis, she's in jeans, a flannel shirt, and glasses, with boyish hair. Then, Mabel gets invited to go to Pirate Rock with a handsome young "pirate" actor (Chris). But Mabel's mean spirited friends trick her, and the boat leaves without her. So she rents a rowboat and sets out to catch up with them…and then the storm hits. Mabel is capsized, washed ashore, and falls into a dream state. At which point, my now adult mind realizes the story takes a device from The Wizard of Oz, because Mabel wakes up in a different place and time…and the cast from the reality all take different roles in this dream world. Now, it's the 1880s, and Mabel is the beautiful outcast youngest sister of the same group of beach babes, and their father is the Modern Major General of their island. Meanwhile, out on the high seas, young Frederic (Chris), who has been raised by the Pirate King (Ted Hamilton) and his scallywags, has just turned 21, and is now free of his service to the Pirate King. And he vows vengeance on the man whose type killed his parents and left him an orphan. So he is made to walk the plank…and washes ashore…on Mabel's island! Love blossoms between the two…but there's also trouble. The Modern Major General doesn't want his daughter falling for an ex-pirate, for pirates stole his booty years before—and now want to steal his daughter's booty! At the same time, the Pirates come ashore to wreak havoc, and the Pirate King is determined to destroy Frederic before it's the other way around. There's also a catch to Mabel and Frederic's first love—the rules state that the Modern Major General's daughters must marry from oldest to youngest…uh-oh. So many things stand in the way of Mabel and Frederic's love…including a hitch in Frederic's birth date. And it seems the only way to solve all this is with a war!

What makes this hokey movie so good is basically everything. The pop songs are the strong point, so sugary sweet are they. The original Penzance numbers can get a little annoying—but the great thing about it is that characters break the fourth wall to point out to us how bad they are. This is pure slapstick silliness. The sappiest sing-a-long ballad will finish, and without missing a beat, will be followed by a comic punchline. Kristy and Chris both keep right on top of the musical and comic interchanges, and look like they are having a ball doing it. Their chemistry is adorable and ridiculous. Double entendres abound, most often involving the male member. There are fun pop references (many of them revolving around the 80s) including silly plays on two of George Lucas's biggest franchises from back then, both of which starred Harrison Ford. Some other great 80s stuff to watch out for, aside from the music and the hairstyles, is Kristy's Olivia-esque headband at the beginning of the film (in fact, she looks much like a muse from the wonderful musical film Xanadu at the beginning) and one black pirate even calls Frederic a honky! (Clearly, Polly didn't want no Cracka back then…). And keeping with the present, the film somehow manages to look like it is mimicking both Moulin Rouge and Chicago at various moments!!!! And this was made 20 years before both of those hit the screen! So while the 80s references may depend on devotion to the "I Love the 80s" series on VH1 for today's young girls and young gay boys (the prime audience to eat this film up), it will still reflect what they've seen as of late on the big screen. This film has plenty of man flesh (which my 14-year-old gay mind loved way back then), and there's even open gay jokes, including a pairing of a couple of burly pirates—which was a nice thing to see when I was in my pubescent stage! Plus, for the teenie bopper girls, there's bubble gum pop, a strong role model in Kristy, and the non-threateningly feminine and pretty Christopher Atkins for them to get crushes on. Oh yeah. There's one last audience for this film…all of us grownups who were young girls or young gay boys back then! Because this film is still a load of fun. Let's just hope that this may spark Polydor to issue the soundtrack on CD!


At last, I get to see this film in its 1:85:1 aspect ratio, anamorphic no less. While the print is littered with tiny dust specs, it's never all that noticeable. For the most part, the colors are rich and the flesh tones are right on, but every now and then, a scene looks a bit washed out. The edges are relatively sharp with nice depth. The film is a little on the dark side, but the blacks themselves are a deep black and contrast nicely with the brights and colors. Only real problem I noticed was some pretty distracting jittering of the screen momentarily at about 1:10-1:11.

Not only do you get a 2.0 option, but there's also a 5.1! It's a mixed bag though. The bass needs to be cranked, and when you do, it's more like grumbling thumps than clean bass response. Singing and dialogue is centered and somewhat flat. The musical score and sound effects jump around pretty well, but the separation feels very forced and often leaves a hole in the middle of the room. The soundtrack songs mixed into 5.1 separate well as result, but still somehow sound flat and mono!

Well, you get the original trailer—and it's a HORRIBLE full screen presentation. Sound and image are absolutely horrendous, looking like they were recorded onto a 6-hour video tape when the preview aired back in 82.

The other extra is, surprisingly, a commentary. The DVD producer Perry Martin sits in with director Ken Annakin, and pretty much steers Ken to talk about certain things in a sort of interview based on what's going on onscreen. This commentary is a snoozer. This is such a light, fun film, and Ken, with his Australian (I assume) accent, sounds all proper and sterile, talking about the technical aspects of the film. I sure wish Kristy and Chris could have done a commentary, because they seemed to have so much fun doing the movie, I would have liked to have heard their take on the film now.

Final Thoughts:
The Pirate Movie is the perfect way to introduce young girls and young gay boys to the musical The Pirates of Penzance. It's got totally singable pop tunes, silly slapstick humor, cute guys, a loveable female lead, and despite being made over 20 years ago, captures the fun musical sensibilities of many musicals that have snuck into the mainstream lately.

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