Satellite of Loathe: Hollywood Couldn’t Kill MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE


True lovers of cinema will unfortunately always be trapped in an abusive relationship with that drunken brute of a cocksucker called Hollywood. We allow it to take our hand, whisper sweet nothings in our ear, instill our souls with the hopes and promises of wonderful things to come, and then act surprised when we end up with a face full of bruises and a broken lamp post inserted halfway into our rectum. Such was the case with 1996’s Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.

Quite possibly my favorite television show of all time, MST3K had been a beloved cult classic practically since its humble origins as a locally-produced program in Eden Prairie, Minnesota in 1988. Influenced by the 1972 sci-fi drama Silent Running and the 60’s children’s show Beany and Cecil, each episode of MST3K was based around the wholesale mockery of some of the worse films to ever be produced in history of the moving image. Series creator Joel Hodgson was the original host of the show with the assistance of his robot pals Crow T. Robot – voiced and puppeteered by Trace Beaulieu, who also played the show’s chief antagonist Dr. Clayton Forrester – and Tom Servo (performed first by J. Elvis Weinstein, and later by Kevin Murphy).

The show got off to a slow start, but with some casting changes and additions – including Frank Conniff as Forrester’s haplessly sweet assistant “TV’s Frank” – it quickly gained prominence and was picked up for national broadcast by a young Comedy Central. Long before the days of South Park, The Daily Show, and Tosh 2.0, MST3K was one of Comedy Central’s most popular shows and the show’s annual Turkey Day marathons were a beloved Thanksgiving institution in many a carb-famished geek’s holiday household.

After seven seasons and the release of the movie the show left Comedy Central for the Sci-Fi Channel (now called SyFy), where it ran in a slightly compromised form for two more seasons before airing its final episode – Mario Bava’s swingin’ 60’s comic strip romp Danger: Diabolik – on August 8, 1999. A month later MST3K took its official last gasp when the utterly terrible family feature Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders was broadcast a month later. Sci-Fi would continue to air reruns for the next five years, and a growing library of VHS and DVD box sets released by Rhino Video and later by Shout! Factory have only served to enhance the show’s enduring popularity.

Hollywood heard the hype surrounding MST3K and decided to check the show out for itself one lonely evening while bathing in Wild Turkey and prying cheese doodle dust from its greasy mustache. As sweat poured down its face Hollywood couldn’t help but breathe heavily at the antics of Joel and the Bots and realized it must have the show for its own diseased pleasure. MST3K‘s production company Best Brains entertained the prospect of a full-length movie and made pitches to several studios in Tinseltown, including Paramount and Universal. The latter jumped at the chance to make MST3K: The Movie a reality. With Mike Nelson, a staff writer and performer who had replaced Hodgson successfully as host of the show halfway through the fifth season, on board to star and co-write and pretty much every member of their core creative team in place, the movie entered production in 1995.

It was filmed at Energy Park Studios in St. Paul, Minnesota with a bigger budget to build more expansive sets that would allow fans of the show and newcomers to see the show’s primary location the Satellite of Love in greater detail for the first time. TV’s Frank was no longer on the payroll at Gizmonic Institute, so the heinous Dr. Forrester was left to menace Mike and the Bots all by his lonesome from the comfortable confines of Deep 13. Director Jim Mallon and the Best Brains posse were allowed to select a movie they would be ripping into on screen from the Universal library, and though they had pondered the possibility of one of the studio’s many cheeseball made-for-TV flicks they finally settled on the 1955 sci-fi classic This Island Earth.

Island contained its fair share of wooden acting and inane dialogue but it also featured some impressive (for its day) visual effects and an iconic movie monster in the silent, murderous Metaluna Mutant. At the time of its release This Island Earth garnered positive reviews from respectable publications like the New York Times and Variety and today is still held in high regard by fans of 1950’s science-fiction cinema. It wasn’t a perfect movie but it was also hardly on the level of Red Zone Cuba, Mitchell, Puma Man, Manos – The Hands of Fate, or any number of atrocious Z-grade exploitation flicks the show had mercilessly mocked during its celebrated existence. Island was chosen mainly for its name value and suitable-for-the-big-screen scope and had twenty minutes edited out in order to accommodate the various host segments being written and filmed by Mallon, Nelson, and the rest of the good folks at Best Brains.

Though the movie had been financed by Universal the studio pawned the releasing responsibilities of MST3K: The Movie off on its indie distribution arm Grammercy Pictures. Grammercy’s limited funds for marketing forced them to make a Sophie’s choice between giving Mike and the Bots’ feature film debut the grand-scale nationwide theatrical roll-out it richly deserved or wasting it all away to promote the futuristic adventure Barb Wire, based on a forgettable Dark Horse Comics title and starring Pamela Anderson’s breasts, Jango Fett, and Steve Railsback as Evil Villain Dude. Barb Wire won out in the end but flopped harder than a shrinking Tommy Lee erection.

On the other hand, MST3K: The Movie received a limited theatrical release beginning on April 19, 1996 in certain markets around the country and grossed a little over a million dollars at the box office despite not once cracking the box office top 20 during its 11-week engagement. The fruits of Best Brains’ labor earned better reviews from critics than Barb Wire, including two upturned thumbs from the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert and raves printed in Time, Entertainment Weekly, and Details to name but a few. MST3K: The Movie started amassing its own cult of devoted fans when it hit home video the following October. In the years since it has received several VHS and DVD releases that have all subsequently gone out of print.

One of MST3K: The Movie‘s major flaws is its truncated running time. At a microwavable Hungryman dinner shy of the 80-minute mark MST3K: The Movie is the only big screen adaptation of a popular television series that’s actually shorter than the average episode, which were often over 90 minutes in length excluding commercials. The film had originally been longer but the studio ordered several minutes’ worth of integral footage be removed after test audiences were less than enthused by an earlier cut. Among the scenes that hit the cutting room floor were the infamous “meteor shower sequence” and an alternate ending that was much funnier and more satisfying than what was ultimately used. These scenes and a few more were included as bonus features on the recent Blu-ray/DVD combo release of MST3K: The Movie from Shout! Factory.

In the MST3K pantheon the movie doesn’t attain the instant classic status of some of the show’s best episodes, but I would still consider it as funny as one of their average good episodes. The host segments are a little weak at times and yet I laughed a lot. This Island Earth, despite its reputation as a genre classic, makes a hilariously ripe target for Mike and the Bots’ rapid-fire riffing, though they tend to lean heavily on running jokes more than they usually did on the show. It’s also the only part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 legacy that will likely ever be deemed worth of an upgrade to Blu-ray, and as a consistently funny film I enjoy owning it a great deal.

You can pick up that MST3K: The Movie Blu-ray/DVD combo pack HERE.

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