Reviews of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988) and related work

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988Moving picture, 97 minutes)

Review applies to the first four of the Comedy Channel (Comedy Central) seasons. I have seen no episodes from the earlier KTMA season and fairly scattered episodes from subsequent seasons.

A regular working man is forcibly sent into orbit by his mad scientist employer. To test the limits of the human psyche, the mad scientist subjects the man to really bad films. Failure to turn up for a complete viewing results in oxygen deprivation or electrocution. To take the edge off the horror of his monotonous experiences, the man builds a quartet of robots. Two of them enter the station’s theater with him, and together they fill every pause in the original dialogue with obscure cultural allusions, show-business trivia, improvised sound effects and a cappella music, and “additional” dialogue including consistent new features of the plot.

A grail of solitary geekdom, with some appeal to all ages. In its 11-year run prior to an ignominious 2017 sequel, “MST3K” came to almost 200 episodes, each one long enough to contain a feature film, frequently prefaced by a short film or two, and several skits. That’s a lot of sheer time to spend watching TV, and it’s not even suited to casual viewing.

As David Buckingham briefly observed in Small Screens (2002), MST3K does the work of ironic viewing for you. It is layered and intertextual, leaving little time for personal reflection or conversation. There’s little point to watching the program with others, although there has always been extensive trading of tapes, encouraged by a message in the show’s credits. MST3K has probably attained its cult status in geekdom precisely because it can serve as a surrogate for interaction with others and for an ironic imagination of one’s own.

The alterations made by MST3K are so substantial that I do not consider myself to have seen the original works, but they are at least uncut and provide a great deal of perspective on the relative quality of even the least interesting high-budget and cult feature films. Unfortunately, the video and sound are often degraded, making extensive and focused viewing—at least of fan copies—quite irritating.

References here: Reviews on this site, Dirty Dancing (1987), Daybreak (2019).

moving picture fiction series

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996Moving picture, 73 minutes)

Seen in 2016.

This Island Earth (1955), picked because, unfortunately, it’s not a terrible film.

The riffing is nothing special, but it’s nice to see upgraded sets and props for a change.

References here: This Island Earth (1955).

moving picture sequel fiction