Monday, 11 June 2012

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (Jim Mallon, 1996) Blu-Ray Review

Talking heads... Mike Nelson endures another MST3K with the gang...

In the age of Youtube, The Nostalgia Critic and, heck, even Twitter, it can be hard to look at Mystery Science Theater 3000 and still appreciate it as the innovative meta skit show that it once (sporadically) was. For the unacquainted, MST3K (as it was abbreviated by fans) was a popular American TV show which ran from 1988 - 1999, and each week picked up with Mike Nelson (himself) and his two robot pals, Tom (Kevin Murphy) and Crow (Trace Beaulieu), as the nefarious Dr. Clayton (Beaulieu, again) subjected them to endless reels of bad movies. Like all barmy science types Clayton was out for world domination, and apparently screening crummy B-movies to a hapless blue-collar chap and his tin-can pals would have aided him in this quest (who knows how, for nobody involved in the plot sees it necessary to explain). Oh, and all of this takes place on a giant bone shaped-spacecraft, a nice nod to the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unfortunately, it's one of the only decent laughs that MST3K: The Movie has to offer...

Firstly, that opening paragraph deserves some explanation, and my own opinion of MST3K should be stated. The series, created and co-written by Joel Hodgson, was probably quite original in its time, but nowadays its schtick can be pulled off by anyone with access to a webcam and a funny bone, as the Nostalgia Critic (who's more consistently funny than Hodgson or Nelson have ever been) and his legions of imitators have proven over the past decade. Recently tweet-a-thon's have been held for films such as Drive and Snowtown, where fans and commentators can make and share their own jokes through the 140-character forum, and there was even a fad in the early 2000s, memorably on the Spider-Man and Curse Of The Black Pearl discs, for viewers to record their own commentaries by popping their special edition DVD's into a PC. Now, all of this tomfoolery was likely inspired by MST3K, but frankly much of it is funnier and better executed, and the original series (which was always patchy) is starting to look a little stale. I've only seen a handful of episodes, but they never bowled me over, and certainly I've never seen the need for a big-screen treatment of the series. Turns out, it's in even less need of a Blu-Ray...

Clayton's chosen "stinkburger" for this cinematic voyage is This Island Earth (M. Newman, 1955), one of the most clumsy and ludicrous sci-fi films of the 1950s, even by that decade's standards. Some still hold it up as a genre classic, but I've never really been able to get onboard with that idea, and the screenplay, by Franklin Coen and Edward G. O'Callaghan, writes many of its own jokes ("In this place, I wouldn't trust my grandmother!"). An immediately noticeable problem with this Blu-Ray is that This Island Earth hasn't been upgraded any. Only scenes of Mike and the gang pottering about on the ship, which amount to around fifteen minutes of screentime, have been polished up, and the remaining hour just sees them sat before the screen in black silhouette. Has there ever been a more pointless restoration? Until Derek Jarman's Blue comes along, I fear the answer is yes. I understand the need for This Island Earth to remain authentically grainy, as it adds to MST3K's aesthetic effect, but it renders the whole idea of Blu-Ray quite pointless, and means there's very little need to shell out the extra cash for HD (truth be told, the series still works best on VHS)...

Not that there's much worth shelling out for anyway. When they're not aiming for the cheap seats with fart and poo gags, the writers (of which there are an unfathomable seven) rarely raise more than a chuckle, and only five or six jokes really hit the mark. Many of them have dated badly (there's an abysmal reference to My Own Private Idaho, which feels like it only exists to break the silence), but mostly I was just left wondering... what makes this any different from the TV show? Apart from some slicker effects, the answer is resolutely simple: nothing. MST3K: The Movie feels like exactly the cash-grabbing opportunity it is, and the obvious laziness of the zinger-free screenplay makes me wonder why so many fans still hold it in such high regard. I'd be cautious in suggesting that so many people are just suffering from nostalgia, but when the movie adaptation of a popular TV show is twenty minutes shorter than even the average episode, and can't muster up an equal number of gags, what real defence is there to mount?

The Disc/Extras
As stated in the review, there's no obvious reason for MST3K: The Movie to have received the Blu-Ray treatment, and while the upgrade is perfectly competent and noticeably sharp in the ship-set scenes (which do make great use of primary colour), they alone can't justify the inflated price tag. The sound mix is pretty crisp and clear also, but the film doesn't make particularly good use of sound outside of some cartoonish wind and explosion effects.

Extras are expectedly slim for a fifteen-year-old adaptation of an outdated TV show, but fans really deserved more than this. Alongside the flimsy five-minute 'Making Of' pulled from the archive, which throws away two of the film's decent gags, you can expect the usual suspects: the original theatrical trailer, which throws away another good gag, and a stills gallery. This package is almost as lazy as the screenplay. Almost.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie was released on DVD/Blu-Ray on June 11th...

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