A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 270 – Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie – November 25th, 2010

Once upon a time, back when MST3K was on Comedy Central and they were still airing it at a decent hour instead of 2-4 in the morning, US Thanksgiving was marked by the Turkey Day MST3K Marathon. It varied in length, but a few years were over 24 hours, starting the evening before and going through the night until the following midnight. I was really the only MST3K fan in my household, so any time I got to watch was in between helping with the meal, eating, and being sociable with family. And then Comedy Central sort of abandoned the idea, and then MST3K moved to SciFi and they did a short marathon one year but it was never quite the same. We’ve done Turkey Day marathons of our own, reconstructing what we can of some of the older ones from our own collection. This year, however, we decided to pick the one MST3K item in our collection that qualifies for this project.

I’m not sure if I’ve explained the importance of MST3K to myself and Andy in previous reviews. Please excuse me if I have. We’ve got 269 reviews behind us and I might well have mentioned it before but it’s really quite relevant here. While Andy and I didn’t meet because of MST3K, we certainly got to know each other better because of it. I’d brought some tapes to school to loan to a friend (one of them was Cave Dwellers, with Ator from Ator the Fighting Eagle, actually) and he saw them and asked whose they were. We hadn’t spoken much before that and it sparked a great conversation and many more followed. Once we started dating it was an easy conversation topic. Andy bought me an MST3K t-shirt and stickers for Valentine’s Day one year while we were dating (the shirt has now been signed by most of the cast). We used to stay up until 2am to watch episodes together and we both joined the fan club. I know a hell of a lot about a few television shows (The Avengers and The Prisoner come immediately to mind) but MST3K is my thing. I’ve seen live shows, gotten stuff signed, had my picture taken with the cast, gone to a miniconvention (missed the Conventio-con-expo-fest-a-ramas due to college). I love the show and so does Andy and it’s something we’ve shared since well before we started dating. So when this movie came out? We were there in the theater on opening night.

Ultimately I think we saw this movie three times in the theater (and once in a small theater during the overnight movie marathon our high school did every year). Once was opening night, once was with Andy’s father, and once was with a friend of Andy’s. Prior to seeing the movie we’d seen a lot of the show and we knew it quite well, so we weren’t going into this blind. I honestly don’t know how many people went to see the movie in the theater who didn’t at least know how the show worked. I imagine it would be a little confusing if you had no idea what to expect. But then, this movie wasn’t made for those people. It was made to bring MST3K to a big screen. The sets are bigger, the camera gets to move around, everything just feels a bit more expensive. Including the movie Mike and the Bots riff on.

I’m going to break this into a couple of sections, because this is a bit of a unique movie to review. Really, it’s two movies. There’s Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, and then there’s This Island Earth embedded in the middle of it. The format of the show is echoed in the movie, meaning that there are breaks in This Island Earth for Mike and the Bots to goof off on the satellite, and then the bulk of the movie is made up of them watching a film and making fun of it. Every MST3K episode has a movie in it, and when it comes to the television show, the vast majority of them are either laughably or painfully bad.

So let’s talk about This Island Earth. It’s actually kind of a sci-fi classic. I know around when they were making this movie there was an ad played on Comedy Central where Mike Nelson commented that the movie wasn’t really very classic and mocked it a bit. And I get where he’s coming from. There’s ridiculous pseudo-science and the aliens have these bizarre foreheads that no one comments on and there’s the rubber bug alien who’s wearing what look like khakis and yes, it is all very silly to watch it now. That being said, compared to some of the other movies they’ve done? It’s a masterpiece! Sure, the acting is overdone and I find the main character, Cal, to be about as emotive as a brick. The plot is somewhat lacking and the climax doesn’t really resolve anything. Aliens kidnap two nuclear scientists in hopes that they’ll be able to help find a way to fuel the alien planet’s defenses, but when they arrive an attack is in progress and the humans go down to the planet just long enough to say hi to everyone before they escape and the planet’s destroyed. It’s fairly perfunctory and kind of pointless. So I get it. But really, it’s at least five or six rungs up the ladder from something like The Giant Gila Monster or The Creeping Terror. But really, that works for a theatrical release. In the event that a casual viewer of the series, or someone who doesn’t know the series well at all went to see it, this wasn’t one of those movies that the riffing only makes barely tolerable. It’s a big cheesy 1950s sci-fi adventure and they mock it just enough.

One of the first things I noticed about the movie riffing in the movie was that it was slower paced. This was intentionally done, actually. Since this was a theatrical release, they realized that people would be watching it with other people, and not in an environment where they could videotape it and play it back to catch things they missed. It wasn’t going to re-air unless they paid to see it again, and it would be the same potential situation all over. People would, hopefully, be laughing. And if the jokes came in faster, things would get missed. Consequently, to a fan of the series it may seem to be a little less packed to the gills with references and prodding and the like. Because it is, but that was so everything could be heard. Granted, there were still things I missed in my first viewing, but not so many. That, and the shorter running time than most episodes, mean we don’t often put this in, choosing one of our many episode DVDs instead. But the riffing in this movie is still top notch stuff. There are jokes we reference all the time and moments we love. And they even riff on their own credits, which is fantastic.

When it comes to the stuff on the satellite, I am of two minds. I do love the expanded sets and additional views of the satellite’s interior. I love seeing Tom’s room and watching Mike use the manipulator arms is great. But much as I enjoy the bits that come in lieu of commercial breaks, it feels kind of weird to have them there for no reason. But I can’t complain too much. There’s some great stuff done in the breaks on the satellite. It’s really a pity they couldn’t use this set again, with the giant hamster wheel and Tom’s underwear collection and Crow’s hole in the hull (patched with a helmet). Then too, there were plenty of little jokes for the fans hidden in there, like Mike reading a copy of the old fan club newsletter, and the manipulator arms being named “Manos” and the little curl on the forehead of a mask on the last door to the theater.

When you get down to it, like I said before, this is a movie made for fans of the show. It was fantastic fun and I’m sure the Best Brains crew had a great time making it. Bigger sets, more expensive cameras and sound equipment, a bigger budget for rights to a film to riff on. Those are all great perks of a theatrical release. It was a thrill to see it in the theater. It made my geeky little heart so glad to sit there next to Andy, in a theater full of my fellow geeks, and see my favorite characters up there on the big screen. And tonight it was great to watch at the end of a Turkey Day full of good food and family. Happy Turkey Day to all.

November 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

November 25, 2010

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Happy Turkey Day to our fellow United Statesians. Traditionally in our household this day has been the home of the MST3K Turkey Day Marathon – something that Comedy Central did several years in a row around when Amanda and I started dating. Many of our most beloved and most watched episodes were aired as part of the Marathon and recorded for posterity by Amanda. We couldn’t think of any more fitting Thanksgiving movie therefore than this one – the only MST3K “episode” to have been released in theaters.

We saw this together in the theater on opening night. It was a fantastic time, surrounded as we were by other cheering, laughing MSTies. Our viewing was slightly marred when they had to evacuate the sold-out theater because somebody pulled the fire alarm near the start of the film. We had to all leave, wait for the fire department, and then file back in before they could re-start the film. (We have long speculated it was somebody from the back of the theater who wanted a better seat.) Otherwise it was one of the greatest opening night experiences I can recall. It’s all about the joy of being surrounded by people who have as much respect and anticipation for something. There was an enormous cheer for example when Crow delivered the line “Please say we get the Sci-Fi Channel. Please, please, please!” As there was for the “Manos” sign and musical sting on the controls for the manipulator arms on the SOL bridge.

This movie was filmed, as I recall, between Season Six and the extremely short Season Seven – just after Frank Conniff had left the show but before Trace Beaulieu left. It was a little odd at the time seeing Dr. Forrester without any side-kick after years of TV’s Frank and Larry before him. (Season Seven would feature Mary Jo Pehl as Dr. Forrester’s mother Pearl – a role she would fill for the entirety of the Sci Fi Channel run of the show.) Another thing that was strange about this movie is that it does not feature the iconic MST3K theme song – which has changed over the years as the cast changed but was always there – introducing us to the cast and reassuring us that it’s just a show and we should really just relax. Also missing is Cambot – the steadfast POV from which all action on the Satellite of Love is filmed. In this movie there’s a more cinematic feel to the SOL, which means that they chose to use multiple camera angles to explore the sets with more freedom.

At its core, however, the movie is faithful to the central theme of the television show. Dr. Forrester has Mike Nelson (played by Michael J. Nelson) trapped in a spacecraft orbiting the Earth and is sending him awful movies as an evil experiment. Mike’s only hope is to use his robot pals Crow and Tom Servo and his own wit to make hilarious fun of the movie so that it does less damage to him. There are no ad breaks, so no “commercial sign,” but the writers still found other ways to get the boys out of the theater so they could have other hi-jinks take place. In this particular instance the movie that they’re viewing is This Island Earth.

I confess that I have never seen the uncut and un-MiSTed version of This Island Earth. Going into this movie I knew only that it was considered a sci-fi classic and that it was featured in Allan Moore’s Watchmen books. The movie as shown in this treatment tends to jump around and doesn’t make a lot of sense and I’ve often wondered how much of that is due to the editing that the MST crew did to get it to fit into their time frame, and how much is due to the movie just being clumsily put together. I strongly suspect that it is the former, so I don’t really feel that I can comment on the quality of the movie within the movie. Oh, sure, it’s a fifties cheese-fest with hilariously bulgy-headed aliens, a funny looking bug-eyed monster, and more silly pseudo-science than you can shake a stick at, but I don’t think it’s actually all that bad. Still it does make for a fun MST episode.

Amanda and I have seen this movie probably hundreds of times over the years. We’ve bought it on VHS and twice on DVD. We’ve watched it when falling asleep at night more times than we can count. We had fun showing this at three AM during a twelve hour movie marathon at our high-school. The slightly punchy and exhausted crowd laughed uproariously throughout. (The biggest laugh, as I recall, was for the line “All the jerking around must have caused a flame-out” and Tom’s slightly uneasy “Should we be seeing this?”) The riffs are a little bit sparser than in a normal MST episode (the writers found when they showed it to test audiences that they needed to leave more time between jokes to give the entire theater time to laugh.) But it is one of our favorites.

This movie has been a very pleasant way to end an exhausting and long Thanksgiving. For any fan of MST it is always fun to see the silhouettes in the theater seats making fun of yet another film. And for anybody who has somehow missed more than a decade of hilarious movie riffing that went on from 1988 to 1999 then this would be a perfectly fine way to introduce them to the concept. Happy Turkey Day everybody out there – I hope you all are happy, well, and full.

November 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment