The unlikely heroes of our story are a human geek named Mike and two wisecracking robots, all condemned by a mad scientist, Dr. Clayton Forrester, to watching really awful Hollywood movies in outer space. Under the circumstances, you'd talk back to the screen, too--loudly and often. Still, that doesn't quite account for the success of the Comedy Channel's cult hit Mystery Science Theater 3000: The 128 two-hour episodes aired since 1988 all rely on the same basic joke, and your threshold for cinematic shlock has to be pretty high to keep tuning in.
Just don't try telling that to the 60,000-plus members of the show's fan club--the MSTies.
It was only a matter of time until MST3K took another major turn in the cultural road. Starting this week, it's now a purposely bad movie adapted from a TV show originally inspired by bad movies. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie runs just 73 minutes, which makes it the shortest feature film in recent memory. But "Best Brains," the Minnesota-bred creative team that dreamed up the whole thing, has packed its first big-screen effort with enough hip, inspired kibitzing to please the most bleary-eyed MSTie.
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The target this time is Universal International's This Island Earth, a bit of Z-grade sci-fi straight out of 1955 in which a team of nuclear scientists gets hijacked by aliens to help in the defense of a distant planet called Metaluna. The deep-voiced hero, played by the unforgettable matinee idol Rex Reason, has to contend with a couple of mutant insects who have heads the size of small cars, as well as some stretches of dialogue that sound like they were written in another galaxy. Jeff Morrow co-stars as the noble alien Exeter, and the leading lady is someone named Faith Domergue. They all make initial contact via a homemade contraption called--what else?--an "interocitor," and later, everyone's trying to stay out of the dreaded "thought transference chamber."
Naturally, this enjoyable old nonsense gives Mike (head writer Michael J. Nelson) and his electronic sidekicks Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot (voices of Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu, respectively) opportunity aplenty to lay on the usual front-row commentary--references to everything from Casablanca to Sylvester Stallone, post-office terrorists to the bankruptcy of Orion Pictures, Dirty Harry Callahan to Walt Whitman. The jokes and jibes fly by so fast you barely have time to process them.
Of course, that's always been part of MST3K's appeal--for the initiates, anyway. The problem now is that, despite its success, the TV show is likely headed for cancellation, although reruns are scheduled until February 1997. For now, the MSTies can get a big-screen fix.--Gallo
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.
Screenplay by Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Jim Mallon and four others. Directed by Jim Mallon. With Michael J. Nelson, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu.