First, Pirates gave one of television’s most affable guys – Robert Urich – the chance to appear in a bona find SciFi/Fantasy film, and despite the second-rate plot and third-rate laughs he survives fictionally to fight another day. Urich’s was a welcome face from 1970’s/80’s/90’s television – a charming fellow who could comfortably switch between a somewhat predictable ‘tough guy persona’ and the sensitive romantic type. While his shoulders were certainly big enough to carry a genre release, Pirates’ script (from Stanford Sherman and Stewart Raffill, who also directs) meanders through too much goofiness to salvage a solid leading man performance much less even a good secondary one. Urich ably winks and nods through most of the shtick – as do emerging genre-favorite Ron Perlman, the chunky John Matuszak, and funnyman Michael D. Roberts – and perhaps it’s his machismo that prompts so many fond memories of the film.
Second, Pirates’ set decoration is actually fairly good if not consistent for the B-Movie material that occupies much of the plot. (Basically, it’s the future, and water is in short supply, hence the need for “ice pirates” to steal frozen stores from the rich in order to provide fluid to the poor.) John M. Dwyer is credited with set design (with Ron Foreman and David M. Haber as art directors), and Pirates is chocked full of props, gadgets, and gizmos downright lifted from other low budget Science Fiction project of its era. I’ve read that the film was originally slated with a vastly larger budget – one which was slashed when the script somehow morphed from dramatic to comedic – and I suspect all involved behind-the-scenes were all too happy to plunder MGM’s warehouses for anything they could use to bring this particular universe to life affordably.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that I do like Pirates’ central thread, that of a band of merry rogues being stealthily put into service of the galactic crown precisely because those working outside of the system can seemingly accomplish more than the loyal agents within. It’s that same kind of appeal that lifted the original Star Wars (aka “A New Hope”) several years earlier, so director Raffill certainly had a solid foundation upon which to build a second-tier space saga … but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Still, Pirates persists to this day in finding small audiences that sing its jolly praises. After all, where else can you find Urich, Roberts, Perlman, the lovely Mary Crosby, and an up’n’coming Anjelica Huston (looking absolutely fetching in a borderline bondage outfit) together on the silver screen? Granted, they may’ve walked the proverbial plank, but they proved a likeable ensemble that deserved better than they got from this spacey imitator.