East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Raiders of the Lost Franchise: Sky Pirates (1986)


The year 1986 was clearly a good one for Indiana Jones wannabes and unlikely first chapters of franchises that never went beyond the first chapter. In the first episode of this series, we’ve seen how in 1986 good old stalwart British pulp hero Biggles was let down by a confused execution and a misguided “update”. This time, we get a movie that features…

  • ancient astronauts
  • Easter Island
  • Stonehenge
  • the Sea of Lost Ships
  • the Philadelphia Experiment
  • space-time distortions
  • conspiracy theories
  • Melbourne (for that little extra exoticism)
  • World War Two (but just a hint of it)
  • and a lead called Dakota Harris

It was shot in Australia, and it is, of course, the 1986 adventure … ehm, classic, Sky Pirates (aka Dakota Harris).

I looked for a trailer, but I was only able to find one in Polish and one in German. Out of sheer perversity, I went for the German…

Let’s lift the plot from IMDB:

Air force Lieutenant Harris starts for a flight to Boa Boa, on board Reverend Mitchell with a box containing a part of a top-secret extraterrestrial key. They get lost in a supernatural storm and find themselves after an emergency landing in kind of a Bermuda triangle, 5,000 miles off their course. Home again, no one believes Harris’ story, and his crew suspiciously denies it too. Harris is thrown in jail, but manages to escape. Together with Mitchell’s daughter he seeks the lost part of the key and its secret.

Neat poster

There is a certain charm in the way in which Sky Pirates (sometimes also known as Dakota Harris) cheekily lifts plot elements from the Indiana Jones movies, from Philadelphia Experiment, and from a dozen other movies – one critic observed the film references each and every Steven Spielberg movie to date.

And it is a pity that the plot is confused and for much of the 89 minutes running time, and this is an action movie sadly devoid of action(you practically get all the action in the trailer). The director Colin Eggleston had scored a big international hit with his previous feature, the 1978 eco-horror The Long Weekend, but here he is unable to provide traction for the story. The cast is adequate, and lines up a number of well-known Australian actors – TV-movie veteran John Hargreaves is a little stiff in the role of Dakota Harris (why is an Australian called Dakota?) and Meredith Phillips (in her only film role) has a nice damsel-in-distress scene in which she survives a hand grenade inside an elevator. Tough lady.

There are a pair of nice set pieces – the Sea of Lost Ships is sinister enough, and there is a fine stunt number midway through the movie, featuring a plane and some wing shenanigans. But sadly the dialogues are particularly ludicrous, and the movie, shot on a budget of 4 million AU$, shows all the shortcuts the productions had to take to film it.

In Australia, the movie made 76 million AU$, but that was not enough to grant a sequel, and it’s probably better this way. The soundtrack rips off John Williams and was composed by Brian May – only, not that Brian May.

Neat cover – notice the whip…

In case the trailer was not enough for you, the movie can be found in a decent copy on Youtube. It’s a silly way to waste one hour and a half, but well, we has to get our fix of pulp adventure where we find it, right?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

3 thoughts on “Raiders of the Lost Franchise: Sky Pirates (1986)

  1. So, you’re basically describing an Indy-like movie made with 0.1% of the original budget! Sounds interesting, thank you. I didn’t know it at all.


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