Viking Night: The Ice Pirates
By Bruce Hall
June 30, 2011
This week’s column isn’t about a movie so much as it’s about me taking my own advice. I recently advised never to try to re-live your childhood through movies. The reason nostalgia feels so good is because it never really happened. Sometimes this makes you sentimental; when I was four-years-old, I LIVED for Gilligan’s Island reruns. I wish ANYTHING could still entertain me like that. Other times, looking back just makes you sad. What kind of person watches a movie like The Ice Pirates and comes away giggling like an idiot? And doesn’t stop giggling for weeks? An 11-year-old boy, that’s who.
I guess it makes sense. We’re talking about a flick stuffed like a Christmas turkey with farting robots. And hairy Space Vikings, driving around in giant foam rubber Laser Tractors. And Space Amazons. Armed with Space-Whips. Riding killer Space Unicorns. Feel free to read that again. It’s all true. And it’s all set to a nauseating soundtrack lifted directly from an episode of The Love Boat. This is exactly what would happen if you left a bunch of kids alone in a room with ten million dollars, a refrigerator box full of pop rocks and a Panaflex. Some things in this world are so monumentally hideous they must be spoken of with hushed tones, and in secret places. Other things are terrible, but have redeeming qualities that make them worthwhile - like NyQuil. This movie is the first one, not the second. Don’t take my word for it, let me earn your trust by describing it for you.
The story is set a long time in the past, in a galaxy that is not very close to ours at all. A series of devastating space-wars have destroyed all the water in the galaxy, except on one planet. This planet is ruled by an evil force called the Templars, who use this precious water to enslave the galaxy and buy outrageously flamboyant uniforms. But ancient Legend tells of one last world on the far side of the galaxy, still covered with water and free of the Templar scourge. And it’s up to one plucky pirate crew to find it, and to bring the sweet taste of freedom - and free water - to everyone.
I immediately take issue with this premise. Don’t worry, I’m not about to jump on this movie for its lack of technical accuracy. Science fiction is supposed to be about people, and the particulars of the story are merely a vehicle for character development. I can excuse the odd yawning plot hole in favor of a ripping good yarn. And since this is a comedy, it should be even easier to go easy. But farce or not, Ice Pirates undermines itself about five minutes into the first act, and it does so with great irony. And it never stops doing it.
The problem I have is the water. That’s right, the water. One of the most abundant substances in space, made from two of the three most abundant elements in the universe - is gone. Poof! Because of a war. Now, that would imply a civilization in possession of some pretty wild technology wouldn’t it? Death rays, battle stations the size of small moons with highly vulnerable thermal exhaust ports two meters wide, that sort of thing. The point is, would you imagine the inhabitants of this society flying around in ships that looked like used Happy Meal toys? Would you imagine the mighty Templar soldiers dressed like the cast of Spamalot? Would you imagine the Space Pirates wearing Space Scarves, puffy shirts and fighting with what looks like the props they used to give you in ninth grade drama? The Ice Pirates is obviously supposed to be a send up of Star Wars, one of the most critically acclaimed visual effects driven pictures in history. So if you’re strapped with a low budget, you should make that part of the gag. But this movie expects you to take its biggest flaw seriously, destroying its own credibility right out of the gate.