Those of you not familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000 need to do some homework. The show ran for almost 11 seasons on several different networks which produced 197 episodes and one feature film. To this day it has a cult following having just released its 25th anniversary DVD. The show was created by Joel Hodgson (from the twin cities) and Mike Nelson (from northern Wisconsin). Anyone familiar with the show would be hard pressed to miss the jabs at the culture of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. We are not going to take on MST3k in any sort of marathon tribute as is JPFmovies typical style. Why? Because there are 197 episode’s sitting out there for examination that would drive on insane trying to review even the top 10% of the shows at a single time. So we will intersperse MST3k episodes over future reviews.
Basically the shows premise is simple, but brilliant. The show mainly features a man and his robot sidekicks who are imprisoned on a space station by an evil scientist and forced to watch a selection of really bad movies (according to the theme song “the worst they can find), as part of a psychological experiment, and sometimes preceded by short public-domain non-educational films. To stay sane, the man and his robots provide a running commentary on each film, making fun of its flaws, and wisecracking their way through each reel in the style of a movie-theater peanut gallery. Each film is presented with a superimposition of the man and robots’ silhouettes along the bottom of the screen. The film is interspersed with skits tied into the theme of the film being watched or the episode as a whole.
Joes Hodgson originally played the stranded man, Joel Robinson, for four and a half seasons. When Hodgson left in 1993, series head writer Michael J. Nelson replaced him as new victim Mike Nelson and continued in the role for the rest of the show’s run. The robots, Crow T. Robot (my favorite), Tom Servo, and Gypsy, are puppets created from a variety of household objects, manipulated and voiced by other cast members who rotated over the course of the show’s run.
Once of the most notorious MST3k episodes is about a film called Space Mutiny (1998). This film was so bad without the running commentary from Nelson and his robot friends it would be unbearable to watch without some serious prescription sedatives.
The budget of “Space Mutiny” was so insignificant that the exterior footage of spaceships and space battles is entirely made up of stock footage from the original “Battlestar Galactica” T.V. series starring Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict and others. Anyone growing up watching the original BSG show instantly recognizes it for what it is—a true case of copyright infringement. The interiors were filmed in the basement of a South African gambling resort—maybe they bet on black and lost at the roulette table forcing them to stay on the premises.
The film was released in 1988, long after everyone else had gotten over the craze of Star Wars clones. To cast it in its best light it is simply a bunch of guys that stand around in silver robes, look at really bad computer monitors, and talk about fighting for the freedom of people that don’t seem to exist. With rare exceptions, these folks are either graying, wise father figures (one looks like Santa Claus) or re-tread women in high-cut combination tunic-thongs who could not act to save their lives. I believe the movies sets the record for the number of “railing deaths” used to dispose of the extras and the films minor players.
Set sometime in the distant future the intra-galactic space-colony-ship Southern Sun is on a multi-generational trip to a new settlement. Tired of his fate to live and die on the ship, Kalgan (John Philip Law), the head of the Enforcers who are tasked with the ship’s security, causes an explosion in the Southern Sun’s docking bay just as a fighter is landing there. The decorated fighter pilot, Dave Ryder (Reb Brown) survives the crash via an emergency teleportation system, but his passenger, Professor Spooner is killed in the crash, which causes serious damage that puts the docking bay out of commission. Ryder is taken to see the Southern Sun’s commander, Alex Jansen (Cameron Mitchell), who accepts Ryder’s account of events, though his daughter Lea (Cisse Cameron) flies into a rage at Ryder and accuses him of abandoning the Professor to die. Despite this less than harmonious introduction, the two quickly become friends, and it becomes clear that Lea is strongly attracted to Ryder.
Just before the docking bay accident, a group of witchcraft-practicing female aliens named Bellerians are brought on-board. While they never interact with the main characters during the course of the film (aside from a brief scene in which their leader Jennera consults with Commander Jansen and their purchases of Spencer Gifts static electricity globes), it is implied that they influence the actions of the lead protagonists, and also covertly help them by seducing Enforcers, which causes Kalgan to execute them for their seeming incompetence, thinning out his own forces.
Shortly thereafter, a maintenance engineer named Codell discovers evidence that Kalgan caused the explosion in the docking bay, and after informing a bridge officer, Lt. Lamont of this, begins making his journey to the bridge to inform Jansen. Kalgan intercepts him on the way however, and offers him a choice – join the mutiny, or be put in the “deep freeze.” Codell instead chooses to commit suicide.
That night, Lea is flirting with Ryder in the ship’s disco, when a pair of Enforcers arrive and ask for Lamont, who is also at the disco. She leaves the disco and is immediately shot dead by Kalgan, who leaves the scene in an electric kart. Ryder and Lea both overhear the whole thing and chase Kalgan down in another kart, eventually arriving at the “deep freeze.” This turns out to be a room in which troublesome officers are stored in cryogenic suspension; when Kalgan takes over the Southern Sun they will be thawed out and given one further chance to join Kalgan’s forces, or be ejected into space. Kalgan and more Enforcers then arrive, and Ryder and Lea are heavily outnumbered and forced to flee, but now have solid evidence that there is a conspiracy and that Kalgan is the ringleader.
Ryder is thusly promoted to being the ship’s new security chief, just before the Southern Sun encounters the space pirates. Thanks to Ryder’s leadership, the Southern Sun easily defeats the pirate ships (which look uncannily like Cylon Basestars) without taking any serious damage. Knowing that he cannot now rely on outside help, Kalgan abducts Lea and threatens to kill her if Commander Jansen does not voluntarily give up control of the Southern Sun. Not wanting to rely on Jansen giving into his demands though, Kalgan begins torturing Lea for information by using a laser-like device on her teeth. During this MacPhearson arrives and gives Kalgan a progress report, causing Lea to realise that he too is a part of the conspiracy.
The mutiny begins in full, with both sides taking heavy losses – in particular, many officers fall to their deaths over the various railings dotted throughout the ship. Eventually Ryder sets off an explosion that traps most of the mutineers in that section of the Southern Sun, but both Kalgan and MacPhearson escape. MacPhearson isn’t able to get very far and resorts to hiding in a gas expulsion sump. Ryder (implied to be under the influence of the Bellerians) fills the sump with methane gas which he then ignites, causing a fire which burns MacPhearson to death.
With Kalgan the only mutineer still at large, Ryder and Lea pursue him into the ship’s bowels in an electric kart. Lea gets knocked out of Ryder’s kart, which she then accidentally disables by shooting it in an effort to take out Kalgan, who in turn rams Lea with his own kart, causing her a slight injury. After getting his kart working again, Ryder aims it at Kalgan’s kart and drives toward it at full speed, diving out of it at the last second. Kalgan is unable to dodge it, and is apparently consumed in a massive explosion.
The mutiny seemingly thwarted, Ryder and Lea apparently make preparations to get married. Later however, it turns out that Kalgan survived the explosion, ending the film on a “cliffhanger.”
No matter how benign this summary sounds it is impossible to convey the new low this “work” brought to the film genre. Only the MST3k running commentary can do it justice that is why this is a clip intensive video and I beg you to watch the clips to get a taste of the full Space Mutiny experience.