SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE (1996)
Director: Jim Mallon
Most geeks have a certain television show that they're drawn to before all others. Some have Star Trek, Doctor Who, or Battlestar Galactica. Others have the shows created by Joss Whedon. As for me, my drug of choice was Mystery Science Theater 3000. The brainchild of comedian Joel Hogdson, Mystery Science Theater 3000 began airing on Minneapolis TV station KTMA in 1988. It was picked up only a year later by the cable channel that would one day be known as Comedy Central, before its cancellation forced its move to the Sci-Fi Channel in 1997. Though the show was ultimately cancelled for good in 1999, it continues to maintain a faithful cult following. The show's popularity through the '90s was noticed by Hollywood, and the Universal Studios subsidiary Gramercy Pictures released Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie on April 19, 1996. Though the movie does have some flaws, it is a valiant effort by the MST3K crew.
The plot of the movie follows the show's concept rather closely. Mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) has trapped Mike Nelson (Michael J. Nelson) aboard the Satellite of Love, a space station orbiting Earth. Dr. Forrester subjects Mike to a number of bad B-movies in an effort to drive him insane, hoping that he can find the perfect bad movie to use as a weapon in his plans for world domination. But helping Mike keep his sanity are his three robot associates: Gypsy (the voice of Jim Mallon), who pilots the Satellite of Love, and Tom Servo (the voice of Kevin Murphy) and Crow T. Robot (the voice of Trace Beaulieu), who accompany Mike into each movie. The movie they'll be watching here is the 1955 sci-fi flick This Island Earth, starring Rex Reason and Jeff Morrow. Though Dr. Forrester intends for This Island Earth to break their wills, Mike, Crow, and Servo entertain themselves by mercilessly mocking the movie.
If you've seen an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, then you'll have an idea of what to expect from the movie. The only odd thing is that at 73 minutes, it's actually shorter than your average episode of the television show. Yeah, no kidding. That had to be some kind of studio mandate, because I'm sure they could have easily filled two hours. But I don't think Gramercy Pictures ever had any faith whatsoever in the movie, since they only released it in 26 theaters at its widest. Why even bother putting the movie in theaters at all? But problems or no problems, the MST3K crew manages to be at the top of their game with some of the funniest gags they've ever done.
Since there's no real reason to talk about direction or music or acting or anything like that, unless I wanted to turn this into a review of This Island Earth, I'm going to skip all the formalities and go right to discussing the writing. Credited to Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Jim Mallon, Mary Jo Pehl, Paul Chaplin, and Bridget Jones, the script takes a little time to get rolling. Once it finally hits its stride, it's hilarious. The jokes don't come as fast and as furious as they would on a regular episode of the TV show (perhaps due to executive meddling?), but that doesn't make them any less funny. I'll confess that some of the jokes do fall flat, and there are a few moments of extended silence in the commentary. But I found the flaws to be outweighed by all the gold the jokes produce.
I first found Mystery Science Theater 3000 when I was around 11 or 12 years old, and I was immediately hooked. I spent every Saturday morning parked in front of the television, eagerly anticipating whatever lame movie the crew would be riffing. The show can probably be thanked (or blamed) for helping shape the goofy sense of humor I have today. It's because of MST3K that I often feel the need to crack jokes during bad movies. And in spite of the failure that was its theatrical run, their movie definitely some of the best work that its crew have ever produced. So for that, I'll give it three and a half stars, leaning towards four, along with my own personal seal of approval. If I had to rank it alongside the best episodes from the show, I'm not quite sure where exactly I'd place it. But it'd be close to the top, for sure.
Final Rating: ***½