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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Ice Pirates (Blu-ray)
The Ice Pirates (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // PG // January 19, 2016 // Region Free
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted February 20, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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The global box office impact of the original Star Wars trilogy (1977-83) went in three directions. Their success led to other big-scale, effects-heavy science fiction films which, for the most part, were in both approach and design totally different from George Lucas's films: Alien (1979), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), The Terminator (1984), and their sequels; Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Blade Runner (1982), E.T. (1982), The Thing (1982), Dune (1984), etc. Many of these pictures were critically and/or commercially successful.

The success of the Star Wars films also impacted Hollywood's move toward high-concept blockbusters in other genres, e.g., Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Top Gun (1986), Lethal Weapon (1987), etc.

Where Star Wars didn't have much impact was in spurring other Star Wars-type movies, and those that were made were almost universally mediocre to terrible. Why things turned out that way is difficult to ascertain. Possibly the early failures of Star Wars imitators like The Black Hole (1979), Flash Gordon (1980), and the TV series Battlestar Galactica made Hollywood leery of pricey, technically daunting and logistically complex space operas. In any case, by the early-1980s the big studios had largely thrown in the towel for such films, leaving the genre to lower-bracket producers like Roger Corman (Battle Beyond the Stars, etc.), working with inadequate budgets.

The Ice Pirates (1984) resembles Corman's many cheap New World sci-fi outings more than it does Star Wars. Mirthless, the picture is neither fish nor fowl, starting out as a would-be rousing sci-fi swashbuckler with more humor than its inspiration but still very much in that mold. By the climax, however, Ice Pirates descends into the broadest of broad slapstick, none of it funny. It's as if the filmmakers realized partway into production that the slightly more straight-faced approach wasn't working, and in desperation tried transforming it into a wild, anything-goes comedy. "You have to be there to see it," said the posters, almost apologetically. Neither approach succeeds.

A Warner Archive release, The Ice Pirates looks good at least, though people concerned about such things should be advised that the picture is in 2.0 mono, not stereo as the IMDb and other sources (perhaps incorrectly) report. The only extra is a trailer.


In a far-off galaxy, Jason (Robert Urich) is the Gilbert & Sullivan Pirate King-esque leader of a band of "ice pirates," raiders of priceless colossal cubes in a universe where frozen water is more precious than gold. (There's little hesitation about using it in preparing food, however.) He and his crew - warrior Maida (Anjelica Huson*), Zeno (Ron Perlman), and Roscoe (Michael D. Roberts) - raid a Templar cruiser and kidnap a beautiful princess, Karina (Mary Crosby, daughter of Bing and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad's Kathryn Grant). They're soon captured and threatened with castration and slavery, but Karina saves them at the last minute. She then essentially blackmails the pirates (by this time joined by fellow prisoner Killjoy, played by John Matuszak) to help her find her missing father, who disappeared after searching for a distant planet positively dripping with H2O.

Director and co-writer Stewart Raffill had a background in nature-based family films, notably Disney's Napoleon and Samantha (1972) and The Adventures of the Wilderness Family (1975), the latter a huge, unexpected hit for a modest independent film. (My hazy memory recalls it was "four-walled," i.e., a form of self-distribution in which the distributor rents theaters and keeps all the box-office receipts.) In the 1980s Raffill abruptly turned his attentions toward sci-fi/fantasy, scoring with The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) but stumbling badly with Ice Pirates and especially the reviled Mac and Me (1988), an E.T. rip-off notorious for its blatant product placement and story ties to a certain fast-food chain that made the film play like a 90-minute television commercial.

Co-writer Stanford Sherman worked primarily in television, notably later, less interesting episodes of Batman. He got into film writing the even-worse-than-the-original Any Which Way You Can (1980), Clint Eastwood's unasked-for sequel to the unaccountably popular Every Which Way But Loose (1978). He followed it with the straight science fantasy Krull (1983), similar to and a bit better than Ice Pirates; and The Man Who Wasn't There (1983), a 3-D film about an invisible man.

The Ice Pirates is misguided at every turn. It's not really a spoof in the Spaceballs sense. Rather, it's merely silly, more like AIP's low-budget Beach Party comedies of the mid-‘60s, where Frankie & Annette would battle Eric von Zipper at the climax, everyone running around madly (often in fast-motion, as is done here) in silly costumes, bonking one another on the head and engaging in pointless pratfalls.

The movie's comic sensibilities are exemplified by a third act appearance by comedy writer Bruce Vilanch (one wonders if his character had been written with Paul Lynde, who died in 1982, in mind). His comical villain is decapitated, the head bouncing down a flight of stairs, prompting the line, "Anyone got a Tylenol?" (The Fort Washington, Pennsylvania-based product is, apparently, far-reaching.) Did I mention the jive-talking robot pimp?

Video & Audio

Warner Archive's 1080p, 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray of The Ice Pirates can't be faulted, as it squeezes as much color and detail as the picture offers. The 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio mono likewise maximizes what in all likelihood was originally a monophonic release. Underwhelming by today's standards, it's good for what it is. The disc is region-free.

Extra Features

The only supplement is a trailer that gives away the ending and more overtly pushes the picture's intended comedy elements.

Final Thoughts

A pretty miserable viewing experience, this is one of those titles for nostalgic fans, children of the 1980s. All others beware. Skip It.


* Huston's thankless, minor role here was immediately followed by Prizzi's Honor (1985) and a string a far more worthy projects.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His new documentary and latest audio commentary, for the British Film Institute's Blu-ray of Rashomon, is now available.

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