The spirit of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 lives on – sort of. MST3K alumni Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett haul the old idea out of the mothballs – making sarcastic remarks while watching a bad movie – and transfer it from outer space to a mechanic’s garage. Unfortunately, the prosaic setting seems to embue the entire proceedings with a work-a-day blandness that fails to match the giddy glee of the old show.
The premise this time has Mike, Kevin, and Bill as the titular film crew, apparently blue-collar workers assigned by their boss (yes, they have boss again who sends them bad movies) to supply DVD audio commentaries for obscure films. This they do in the old MST3K tradition, making wisecracks while the film unreels before them. Also, just like in the old days, there are occasional interstitial segments, where we watch the crew venting their rage, frustration, and/or confusion about their current film.
It’s nice to hear the familiar voices up to their old tricks, but the new paradigm (providing an audio commentaries, as opposed to sitting around and watching the film with some friends) yields little that’s new and lacks some of the appeal of the old. Those silly silhouettes from MST3K, seen in the lower right-hand corner, really did add something special – and it didn’t hurt that two of the characters were robots.
The same holds true for the interstitial segments. The three actors are all very funny, but their particular brand of spoofery worked better when two of the characters were mechanical creations and all of them were trapped aboard an orbiting spaceship (which, as MST3K creator Joel Hodgson pointed out, helped explain why they couldn’t just walk out of the movie). The colorful, low-budget look of MST3K suggested a children’s show, setting a tone that made the jokes enjoyable even when they were juvenile. In THE FILM CREW, on the other hand, we have adults acting more or less like children, and the effect is teeters on the edge of embarrassing.
This leaves the show to live or die on how much humor can be derived from the film being skewered. In the case of KILLERS FROM SPACE (a virtually no-budget sci-fi dud, featuring a pre-MISSION IMPOSSIBLE Peter Graves, lots of stock footage, and not enough story to fill the running time), the result is mixed. The film is certainly bad enough to warrant the treatment it gets, and many of the jokes hit their target with bulls-eye accuracy, but sometimes bad movie-making is not funny; it’s just bad. That’s especially the case when – as here – the film is more dull than ridiculous, sometimes reducing the Crew to doing little more than remarking how slow the story is going and how long they have to wait to see the titular “Killers from Space.”
The great thing about the crew of the Satellite of Love was that they were, in a cartoony kind of way, making almost a radical statement: you didn’t have to passively accept what Hollywood spoon-fed to you; you could actively engage the movie and deconstruct it in the process. At their best, the crew (especially when Joel Hodgson was still on board) didn’t just take jabs at cheap production values and slack pacing; they called out filmmakers for their pompous attitudes, striking with satirical zeal at ignorance, sexism, and racism parading as conventional wisdom. (”Listen to Mr. White Male Reality,” was Joel’s remark upon hearing a male scientist insist that his female colleague was simply “being a woman” when she broke down and cried on the job in ROCKETSHIP X-M).
THE FILM CREW’s take on KILLERS FROM SPACE lacks this satirical bite. The commentary continues the downward trend that marred the last season’s of MST3K, when clever satire gradually gave way to a simple smug sense self-superiority. The Crew has little if anything to say about the assumptions underlying the narrative of KILLERS FROM SPACE; concerns about scientific testing, nuclear power, stealth invasion – which more or less encapsulate the 1950s mindset – should have provided ample fodder for some sharp observations; instead, we hear over and over again how bland Peter Graves is
On the plus side, KILLERS FROM SPACE employs a memorably bizarre attempt at cinematic style: incongruous, often mismatched close-ups inserted at seemingly random intervals. The technique elicits understandable derision from the Crew, who milk it for the best interstitial sequence, in which they attempt to illustrate why the effect was used.
There is only one DVD bonus feature, which features a brief clip from the film of one of the bug-eyed aliens speaking its native language. The scene was achieved by running the footage in reverse, to make the actor’s standard English lines sound weird and other-worldly. The Film Crew re-reverses the footage, so that you can hear what he is actually saying. This is used as a springboard for a joke in which half a dozen “outtakes” of the scene are shown – actually the same footage with new lines overdubbed. It’s funny once or twice, but watching the same footage over and over again – first reversed and then forward – wears out the joke pretty quickly.
The premise of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 seemed to have virtually limitless potential, thanks to Hollywood’s capacity to turn out bad movies worthy of rebuke, so it was a sad day when the show came to an end after ten years on the air. THE FILM CREW makes an adequate effort at filling the void, but it feels a little tired. The new show feels like familiar friends getting together for old time’s sake. There are still enough laughs and memories and good feelings to make you feel your time is well spent, but no matter how much you want it to be, it just ain’t like the old days. By the time it’s over, the only inspiration you will feel is to haul those old MST3K DVDs off your shelf and relive the real memories once again.