The movie “Pirates,” directed by Roman Polanski in 1986, features an exceptionally costly movie prop—the full-scale pirate ship called Neptune. This colossal prop wasn’t merely a background element but doubled as an integral set for the film. The ship was constructed to enable the actors and crew to interact with it directly, creating an immersive pirate world on screen.
The Neptune was an impressive build, costing around $8 million initially and then an additional $2 million to convert it into a functional sound stage. This investment made it the most expensive movie prop ever made at that time. Equipped with a diesel-powered motor, functioning sails, authentic galleon architecture, rigging, and adorned with a giant Neptune figurehead, the ship was an exceptional piece of craftsmanship, easily overshadowing the movie itself.
Despite the massive effort and expense poured into creating the Neptune, “Pirates” turned out to be a major disappointment. Starring Walter Matthau as Captain Red and helmed by Polanski, the film failed to captivate audiences or critics, resulting in dismal box office returns.
Roger Ebert, in his review, acknowledged the film’s weaknesses, particularly citing Matthau’s unsuitability as an action star and Polanski’s inadequacy as an action director. However, he praised the construction of the Neptune, labeling it the real star of the movie. Ebert appreciated the craftsmanship but criticized Polanski’s direction for not showcasing the ship’s grandeur effectively in the film.
The Neptune, despite being a masterpiece in prop construction, couldn’t salvage the lackluster movie. It remains an exceptional piece of movie artistry, currently residing in Genoa, Italy, where tourists can visit and admire its grandeur.
In summary, “Pirates” stands as an example of a film with an extraordinary and extravagantly expensive prop that, while a remarkable achievement in craftsmanship, couldn’t save a lackluster movie. The ship, Neptune, remains a testament to the dedication and artistry involved in creating movie props, even if the film it starred in failed to live up to expectations.
“Pirates” is available for rental on Prime Video in the U.S.