Vintage Cable Box: “The Ice Pirates”

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“Whatever happened to ‘we rape, we pillage’?”

ice_pirates

“The Ice Pirates”, 1984 (Robert Urich). MGM/UA

“Long after the great interplanetary wars, the Galaxy has gone dry. Water has become the only thing left of value.” So sayeth the introduction accompanied by Bruce Broughton’s uplifting adventure score for a movie I loved when I was a kid. I think I loved “The Ice Pirates” because it had all the tropes of other science fiction movies without directly identifying itself as a spoof. It has a little “Star Wars” in it (a lot actually – the writers really like robots and robot-related humor) and a little “Alien” action (in the form of giant space herpes that infest a ship), and a little environmentally-conscious “Soylent Green” preachiness.

Robert Urich, in a role turned down by Kevin Costner (who would go on to make the similarly-themed “Waterworld”), leads a rag-tag group of pirates whose main booty appears to be – you guessed it, ice. Surprise! That’s where the title of the movie came from. His crew consists of Anjelica Huston (bad-ass swordmaster), Ron Perlman (a rather “flamboyant” Perlman), and Michael D. Roberts (programming genius). During a routine sweep-and-clear, they are captured by a beautiful Princess, who spares the men a painful castration, and forces them to take her on a mission to find her father, who disappeared searching for a fabled water-covered planet.

Urich’s old buddy, Lanky Nibs (aged prematurely due to a time-warp distortion) tells the Princess her father was searching for the fabled “seventh planet” that spun out of it’s regular orbit and into a new galaxy, but to reach that galaxy, the ship must evade further time distortions. One of my favorite scenes has Urich and Crosby getting friendly in a simulated holographic thunderstorm. As they travel through pockets of accelerated time, Crosby becomes pregnant and gives birth to their child. The child grows into manhood and saves the rapidly-aging crew from certain destruction at the hands of the Supreme Commander (played by John Carradine) all in the space of five minutes.

“The Ice Pirates” is a lot of fun, even watching it now. I’ve complained before about movies I loved as a kid that didn’t hold up well, and while I recognize the stupidity of this movie, at least I felt the filmmakers were having fun making it. The movie is a mosaic of unusual set design borrowing elements of space opera, bargain-basement Shakespeare, and of course, pirate movies. The pre-CGI visual effects and matte-work are still impressive. Most of the one-liners are cringeworthy, and while Urich and Crosby make an interesting Leia-and-Han-type couple, their chemistry is hindered by Crosby. While undeniably beautiful, her performance lacks energy.

Utilizing the old axiom about “stealing from the best”, the movie takes certain visual cues from other science fiction movies. It’s good cheesy fun. Some jokes seem way too racy (and racist) to have made it into a PG-rated action yarn. There’s a great bit where Urich is introduced to his child, who proceeds to piss right in his face. Spoiler for those who haven’t seen the movie: it was Earth all along!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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