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Sweet 'Mystery' of Life

By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 19, 1996

The release of "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie" rectifies a shameful and long-standing inequity in American society: that many of our citizens do not have easy access to "Mystery Science Theater 3000" the television show. Either they're too cheap to spring for cable, or their cable provider is too clueless to offer Comedy Central, the cable network that airs the brilliant, loyalty-inspiring, Minnesota-born (and now canceled) series.

In other words, our long national nightmare is over.

The framing device behind "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (MST3K to its fans) can seem complicated to the uninitiated: Evil scientist Dr. Forrester (played by Trace Beaulieu) is preparing for—what else?—world domination. Forrester has marooned regular guy Mike Nelson (Michael J. Nelson) on a space station (a k a the Satellite of Love), forcing him to endure his weapon: overexposure to dangerously cheesy movies. The resourceful Mike, accompanied by a pair of robots (voiced by Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy), maintains his sanity by talking back to the screen, cracking jokes and supplying rude sound effects. In other words, the whole thing is an excuse for the MST3K writers to be as clever as you and I think we are when we watch bad movies on TV.

The big screen movie that gets the treatment in this big screen movie is the 1955 "This Island Earth," your basic macrocephalic- aliens-come-to-Earth-to-assemble-top-scien- tists-before-their-nefarious-plan-is-exposed film. It was made at a time when science fiction emphasized the fiction: It doesn't make any sense at all, isn't burdened with internal logic and stretches for legitimacy by having the set dressed with piles of weird-looking equipment. (A trait that the peanut gallery lampoons when they have hunky scientist Cal ordering his damp-browed flunky to "increase the Flash Gordon noise and put more science stuff around.")

It does have glorious color, hokey dialogue, goofy costumes and a kitschy earnestness that makes it a nice fat target for these MST3Kisms:

  • Cal Meacham, the strong-jawed hero, gets into his own Air Force-provided jet airplane, quipping to a group of reporters, "I hope the taxpayers don't mind." ("We do!" Mike and his robots, silhouetted at the lower right of the screen, shout back.)

  • A mail man ("Sort this! Deliver that! I'll make them all pay!") walks up to a laboratory door with a package ("The script has finally arrived!").

  • An alien ship emits a piercing, high-frequency noise. ("Now we know what the world sounds like to Pete Townshend.")

  • A meteor goes screaming toward a planet. ("Tinkerbell, pull up!")

So, how does movie differ from TV show? The answer is, thankfully, not a lot. There were always a few dead spots on the TV series. The dead spots here seem a little deader, perhaps because there aren't any commercial breaks so the whole movie ends up seeming longer.

Having said that, "MST3K: The Movie" probably provides more LPM (laughs per minute) than most Hollywood comedies. It is painfully funny in places: painfully because you nearly herniate yourself stifling laughs to keep from missing the next bon mot.

Of course, now that "MST3K" has been turned into a flesh-and-blood film it prompts the question: Who will take it on, using it as fodder for heckling hi-jinks?

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE (PG-13) — Contains satire, double-entendre and the occasional very mildly naughty word.

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