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The Ice Pirates

The Ice Pirates (1984)

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The Ice Pirates (1984)

Once a mainstay of the American film industry, pirate movies failed to keep apace with westerns and combat films as showcases of masculinity at its most aerobic and stylish. Universal's attempt to update the subgenre failed miserably with Swashbuckler (1976) despite starring Robert Shaw a year out from Jaws (1975) and having the added bonus of James Earl Jones, who would provide the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977). The success of George Lucas' mythology-based sci-fi bagatelle allowed filmmakers to fold back into the mix piratical flourishes so long as they were accompanied by the occasional laser blast and deep space explosion. MGM's The Ice Pirates (1984) was playing the percentages by setting its tale of smuggling and slavery in an intergalactic milieu, with profiteer Robert Urich (in a role turned down by Kevin Costner) and his band of brigands (among them Ron Perlman and Angelica Huston) searching for a lost planet whose vast reserves of potable water could help refresh a dry cosmos. Director Stewart Raffill had got his start with wholesome wilderness adventure movies yet The Ice Pirates is bracingly sophomoric, its paper plate aesthetic and penchant for potty humor closer kin to Flesh Gordon (1974) than Flash Gordon (1936). Though not a success on par with Star Wars, The Ice Pirates earned back $14 million from a $9 million investment. Raffill went on to direct the notorious Mac and Me (1988), an "homage" to Steven Spielberg's E.T. - The Extraterrestrial funded in part by the fast food franchise McDonald's.

By Richard Harland Smith

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