The Spring of '84: The Ice Pirates -

The Spring of '84

Mania Grade: C-

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  • Starring: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, Anjelica Huston, Ron Perlman and John Carradine
  • Written by: Stewart Raffill and Stanford Sherman
  • Directed by: Stewart Raffill
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Series:

The Spring of '84: The Ice Pirates

"Space herpes."

By Rob Vaux     March 17, 2014

The Ice Pirates
© Warner Bros/Robert Trate

 There was a time in life when we thought certain jokes were very grown-up and mature. Like space herpes. Hey, herpes is a sex disease and putting it in outer space? Only fully-formed adults would think that up! The same goes with gags about castration and giant Afros. We coveted such material as forbidden fruit when we were young, then we grew up and realized it wasn't that funny in the first place.

So it is with The Ice Pirates, a would-be Star Wars parody that stumbles on the timing, the execution and the creativity of its jokes. In other words, the jokes don't work, and if you lose them, you lose the whole movie. When you were twelve, that didn't matter, because hey space herpes! (Giggle.) Now that we're adults it's just a lot less funny than we thought it was.

In fact, the whole movie lacks the boldness to really go for broke, tingeing its satire with just enough "straight" space opera to blunt its entire purpose. We don't need a second-tier Star Wars ripoff when we have access to the real thing, and while I'm not the biggest fan of Spaceballs in the world, it at least follows through on its satirical convictions. The Ice Pirates nibbles timidly at its chosen target, then retreats into "legitimate" sci-fi adventure before striking home. The tone is off from the beginning, and with it, the derivative storyline can't help but founder.

The George Lucas playbook is certainly in effect here, with an evil empire in a distant future that thrives by controlling the water supply for the entire universe. The valiant ice pirates battle against that tyranny by stealing the water, led by cocky Captain Jason (Robert Urich) and including such future luminaries as Anjelica Huston and Ron Perlman. I don't need to tell you that their talents are left to wither on the vine, as Urich proceeds to woo a beautiful princess (Mary Crosby) en route to a legendary planet that holds enough water to keep the universe cool and refreshed forever.

The derivative nature of the story wouldn't matter so much if the jokes were more polished, or the tone more conducive to them. With a clever script, we could have laughed at the threadbare sets and shopworn cliches as part of the gag. But nothing here quite fits, and without that all-important sense of timing, the upbeat approach falls completely flat.  Urich's paper-thin character can't support anything resembling a rooting interest, and the various observations about space opera as a genre hang limply on the screen before dropping off in favor of dead air. All of the characters demonstrate a kind of bland charisma that makes them easy to look at, but tough to care about, even as a fulcrum for the jokes.  

The Ice Pirates can't even be bad enough to be memorable, achieving a resolute competence that ensures we won't remember a thing about it once the final credits roll. Considering that it arrived amid a glut of similar Lucas-inspired knock-offs, and considering that the years haven't been especially kind to it, its forgotten status shouldn't be changing anytime soon. It certainly isn't the worst film of the era, but definitely serves as a reminder that not everything released in the hallowed days of yore was a masterpiece. Rose-color glasses work sometimes, but not all of the time, and if yours fit for this one, then more power to you. Otherwise, just leave it be. Cinematic history is littered with misfires like The Ice Pirates, a sad fact of Hollywood life that doesn't show any signs of stopping.


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Dazzler 3/17/2014 3:09:15 AM

Why is it black?

SinisterPryde 3/17/2014 3:37:25 AM

My mom took my brother and I to see this in theaters.  I think I may have watched it a total of three times between it's release and, probably, about 1999.  The only things I remember was the near castration and some alien with ton of snot coming out of its nose.  I think.  I might be thinking of another movie with that second one, but definitely I remember the near castration.  It's probably better that way.

monkeyfoot 3/17/2014 4:25:24 AM

 I've never seen more than five minutes of this. In fact only a tiny part of the trailer really is prominent in my mind. Some silly scene of kung fu robots.

mikemc2 3/17/2014 4:43:11 AM

I enjoyed the movie - so bite me.

I know somewhere in the 90's everyone got hypersnesative and eventually completely lost all sense of fun - but get over it.  The jokes were funny.

Eldogg42 3/17/2014 5:59:24 AM

I was expecting a better grade, just on nostalgia.  Its a parody film back in the early eighties. So yeah the if your watching this new now, it won't hold up. But back then I liked this movie alot. I agree with mikemc2, its back in a time where the jokes were not PC.

CyanideRush 3/17/2014 8:04:15 AM

It will probably surprise zero Maniacs that I really enjoy this movie.


CaptAmerica04 3/17/2014 8:04:31 AM

Uh oh.  Rob woke up on the wrong side of the humor bed this morning!  ;)

I haven't seen this since I was 10, but I remember thinking it was hilarious back then.  I need to watch it again, even if it won't be as funny anymore.  Anyone know where I can find this little tarnished gem?  Netflix Instant?


RaithManan 3/17/2014 9:11:44 AM

 Ice Pirates just reminds me how old I'm getting since I just turned 43 last week.  This was a REALLY BAD movie, yet it was reasonaby funny bad film to where its a guilty pleasure viewing.  It just needed more polish in execution and could have been just as clever in witty bravado like the more embraced classic Spaceballs.

But its parodies like these that shows just how it was done back in the day as opposed to how bad the genre has been the past 15 years.  Funny parodies started its decline in the mid 90's after the Naked Gun series (which we all know is making a comeback) and Hot Shots 1 and 2 ended.

Scary Movie was the last funny and entertaining parody at the turn of the century and should have never spawned sequels cause it was the catalyst in the current stretch of god-awful and unfunny parodies that more or less leaves people expresssionless while wanting to poke our own eyes out with pointed-end tweezers.

I think studios need to make directors they choose to make parodies to watch all the old parodies to understand how to make it funny again.  If you gonna be a good parody, give us a reason to embrace it.  If you gonna be a bad parody, atleast be funny while doing it.  But if you gonna be an insulting parody of the genre itself, you're asking people to pull out guns to shoot the screen.





aegrant 3/17/2014 9:56:37 AM

 Look - its been close to 30 years since I have seen this movie, but I destinctly remember laughing my ass off when I did. Yes it was not as good as Spaceballs but it was funny to my 13 year old self. So the C- grade seems a litle harsh.

Damn 1984 had a lot of good movies!



Walker 3/17/2014 10:14:25 AM

 This movie was pretty fun.  One reason it does not hold up is because the robots are a vehicle for a lot of racial jokes that probably would not be considered acceptable today.  In particular, Michael Bay got a lot of flack for doing something similar (robots as racial sterotypes) in one of the Transformer films.

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