Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"...Just Another Face in a Red Jumpsuit..."

As promised my list of things from Mystery Science Theater 3000's third season that you shouldn't skip.

I say "things" because, and here's where season 3 is a little different, this was really the first season where there were a number of host segments which were better than the movie riffing and several shorts where the short combined with the riffing to blow the feature film it was paired with out of the water.

First -- whole episodes...

Ep. 301 -- Cave Dwellers: The season opener gets off like a pistol shot. It's fast and hilariously funny and it is obvious everyone is on their game. The host segments are silly and satirical at the same time and the theatre riffing is top notch. You'll be laughing till you cry by the end of it. The film is a real "winner" as well (and by that I mean 'loser') -- a fantasy 'epic' that is more like epic fail. Bad acting, plot holes you could drive a truck through, and characters who are just ridiculous. My favorite character is actually Thong, the hero Ator's wordless sidekick. Why do I love Thong so much? Because he's an utter jerk. Seriously. At one point Thong is told flat out that Ator is walking into a trap. Does Thong even *try* to warn Ator before the trap is sprung? No. When Ator is first captured does Thong try to rescue him? No. When Ator and a bunch of villagers are taken to a place of sacrifice to be sacrificed to a giant snake (puppet) Thong waits until every single one of the villagers is sacrificed before he acts to save Ator. In short, Thong is a butthat. Oh, and the "cave dwellers" of the title? Yeah, they only appear at the beginning and middle of the film and probably have a screen time of about five minutes total.

The Gamera Run: I couldn't pick just one of the Gamera movies -- the riffing on all of them is just too good. Sure, some are stronger than others and some of the host segments are a mixed bag of merely amusing to outright hilarious but the five Gamera movies represents something unprecedented in the history of the show. Never before and never again would the team do a run of direct sequels like this. In fact, as a sign of the Gamera movies' place in the show's history this past summer all five were released on DVD in the show's first ever themed box set. You can find them as MST3K vol. XXI, MST3K vs. Gamera. And the DVD box set is pretty nice. I have to admit I didn't have much interest in many of the extras offered but just having the five riffed movies in nice, clear, sharp quality was worth it. Another reason these hold a special place for me is more personal -- I was one of those kids who grew up watching the Gamera movies on Saturday morning from a local, independent TV station. I met Gamera before I ever met Godzilla and my love of goofy, rubber suited monster movies was cemented. I love Gamera in spite of the cheesiness and also because of the cheesiness. The excellent riffing by Hodgson, Murphy and Beaulieu is just icing on the cake of my childhood memories. Sweet, satiric icing.

As an incentive here's the justifiably beloved "Tibby" song from Ep. 302 -- Gamera:

Ep. 321 -- Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: It was the gang's first attempt at doing a 'Christmas' episode and they hit a home run on their first time at bat. There is almost an insane balancing act done here of making fun of the movie and spoofing some Christmas social conventions but without ever turning nasty or mean spirited about it and the team makes it look effortless. And the riffing for this weird little movie is a laugh riot. If you're someone who gets the holiday blues or whose family gets you down then seek out this gem to lift your spirits. The movie itself is the ultimate in cashing in on the cheap. I can only imagine the writers sitting down over a three martini (or more) lunch and coming up with this plot: The children of Mars are depressed. They see TV programs from Earth and want to have fun and play like the Earth children do. So the leaders of Mars get together, go to Earth, and kidnap Santa Claus to bring toys and Christmas to the Martian children. One of the Martians, though, has a grudge against Santa and is determined to see the jolly old fellow dead. Hilarity ensues.... unintentional hilarity. The movie was obviously trying to capitalize on the "space" craze with the Martian plot and it tried to do so as cheaply as it could with lousy costumes and cheap sets filmed entirely on a soundstage somewhere. On several occasions one actor completely steps on another actor's line and they don't bother to reshoot the scene. At one point "Santa" also seems to lose the plot or the script one or the other (or maybe both) and, again, the scene isn't reshot. I also, must confess, that I actually *did* see this film once when I was little on that aforementioned independent, local TV station. I don't remember most of it and it turns out there's a good reason for that. Still, this is a perfect movie for the guys to riff and by the time they're done with it Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is nothing more than a smoking crater.

Part the Second.... The Shorts:

Ever since the first season the MST3K-ers had used serial installments and short films to to pad out the time when a feature film ran too short to fill an episode. Season 3, however, featured some of the finest (and by "finest" I mean bizarre, out-of-date, and unintentionally hilarious) examples of the genre. There are three, though, that I truly loved...

Catching Trouble (second short for ep. 315 Teenage Caveman) While the riffing on this one is pretty good it's the short itself that if funny in that 'appalling' way. Viewers watch tracker "Ross" in the Florida Everglades as he hunts down and captures animals for zoos in obviously stages scenarios. Even if you're not a backer of PETA you'll probably find this one shocking thanks to the passage of time. Catching Trouble, however, would not be complete if it were not watched with the following host segment -- "Catching Ross". The guys get something of an unholy glee out of 'capturing' a doll meant to represent Ross. It's definitely more entertaining than the slow Teenage Caveman where even Joel, Kevin, and Trace seem to struggle to make the movie funny.

The Home Economics Story (short with ep. 317 The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. Yeah, that's an obscenely long title) This one would be funny enough on it's own but being as I am the female of the species this short's casual sexism and perpetuation of "suitable" jobs for women in the 1950's is a scream. Viewers are treated to what is essentially one big commercial for the University of Iowa's Home Economics program -- which teaches girls how to be fashion designers, design home appliances, work in school and hospital cafeterias, run restaurants, and be interior designers... at least until they get their M-R-S when they'll be expected to apply their knowledge to creating a comfy home for their family. Add to that Joel and the bots sitting in front of the screen making fun of the 'college experience' and the short's sexist attitudes and it is, in short (heh) awesome. It also definitely beats out the feature film -- one of Roger Corman's early efforts. One of my favorite lines (and don't ask me why)... Servo: "Would she smoke thin, black cigarettes and reject the Triune God?"

Mr. B Natural (short with ep. 319 War of the Colossal Beast) This one is pure, 100% cheese. Like The Home Economics Story this one was created as one long commercial (for Conn band instruments). In this outing a "Spirit of Music" named Mr. B Natural (played by a woman, of course) works to convince a boy that he can be the hit of the school that he longs to be if he learns how to play an instrument. The riffing that Joel and the bots do onscreen for this one is through the roof. Indications that the little boy is hallucinating, castigation of "Mr. B Natural", and popping the bubble on popularity are just some of the directions the jokes take. The writing team was clearly inspired here. For an added benefit watch the follow up host segment where Crow and Servo do a hilarious debate on whether Mr. B Natural was a woman or a man.

And, as I realize this post is getting a little long I'm going to leave it here for now. Tomorrow I will finish up season 3 by covering a few of my favorite host segments which can (and in some cases should) be watched independently of the movies they are paired with.

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