Pirates (1986) – By Jonathon Pernisek

 I will start by making a quick assertion: Thank goodness for Pirates of the Caribbean. Without the existence of the Johnny Depp/Orlando Bloom film, filled with a great sense of fun and adventure, the genre known as the Swashbuckler would be dead and festering in the ground. Who would society blame for its death? I firmly declare Roman Polanski as the culprit, for it was he who brought us Pirates in the year of our forsaken Lord 1986. Polanski, renowned director of such hits as Rosemary’s Baby and The Pianist, should be ashamed of himself for bringing this astoundingly indulgent, cold pudding of a movie to the world.

What really threw me for a loop during the first few minutes of Pirates was how old it looked for having just been made in 1986. The film obviously had a rough transition to video, as none of it seems to have been formatted in any way. In fact, some of the opening credits easily ran off the sides of my television’s screen. Aside from the formatting, Polanski’s film just looks bad. You would think by the ‘80s he could have made a fairly slick looking movie about buccaneers, but I first estimated the release date for this thing at around 1960. In other words, this puppy don’t age well.

Looking cheap and altogether sketchy is one thing, but being altogether boring and at the same time infuriating is quite another. Quite another indeed! Yes, this nearly two hours in length mammoth of a picture made my eyes itch from boredom. My brain was shutting down during the opening credits, which actually listed every member of the crew like in ye olde times of cinema. During this time all I had to watch was the camera slowly (and I do mean slowly) zooming in on a rickety little sailboat. In retrospect, the stuff I had to watch post-credits made the credits seem fascinating.

Pirates is about, well, pirates, of course. Mostly it’s about Captain Red, played with complete incompetence by the awful Walter Matthau and his oh-so bland first mate The Frog. Thrill as you watch them for what seems like an eternity, drifting on the sailboat and doing absolutely nothing of importance. At one point Matthau swipes a fish recently caught by the Frog, swallows it while still on the hook, and then swallows the hook when he can’t remove it from his teeth. This proves how tough Captain Red is, ya see. Then we get to watch Matthau sit. Then we get to see The Frog forge a new hook. Shot of Matthau sitting. Shot of the hook being made. Sitting. Hook. Sitting. More hook. Sitting. Again with the hook! You must understand the importance of the hook! Christ, I know Polanski loves pirates, but hook-making cannot possibly be the best part of their history. Let’s get this thing going!

Sadly, the movie never goes anywhere, and it takes its dear sweet time doing so, let me tell you right now. Red and Frog eventually sneak aboard a Spanish ship where an antagonistic Spaniard forces them to be servants, which leads the always tough Red to stage a mutiny. There’s also a pretty Spanish lady The Frog falls for, and a golden throne Captain Red desperately wants to possess. If you think any of this sounds even remotely interesting, you’re so wrong. It feels like absolutely nothing happens during this film, and it even has the gall to end with Red and The Frog drifting on yet another sailboat. This is especially maddening because the movie literally just stops, with no real conclusion to speak of. Even the romantic angle between The Frog and his Spanish lass ends up being completely anticlimactic, leading me to throw up my arms in shocked disgust. That one director could so successfully waste my time is amazing.

As I said before, Polanski loves pirates, and this is why he made the movie in the first place. Unfortunately, his love of the sea dog and the need to be historically accurate make for a very dirty, unappealing film. Captain Red is wholly unwatchable, reeking of slime, gas, salt, and a crusty filth no shower could remove. We’re forced to watch sweaty scenes of what I’m sure is completely truthful violence, including shots of hatchets being thrown into men’s chests, but what’s the point? A pirate movie should be fun, not greasy and depressing. And for the love of Pete, why are these scenes set to rousing, happy-go-lucky “pirate” music? It’s sort of disquieting to see men getting shot in the head while a joyful flute plays in the background, ya know?

I couldn’t care less about Walter Matthau, the stupid gold throne, who was in love with whom, or anything else having to do with Roman Polanski’s Pirates. All of it is excessive and tiresome, especially the fact that an actual Spanish galleon was built to scale for the purpose of this dreck. I’m not kidding folks, $30 million was spent making a blasted galleon for this monumental monster of a flop. If this figure doesn’t put a kibosh on future vanity projects, no form of evidence will either.