Z To A: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996)

(Z To A is an ongoing series: cumulative reviews of my DVD collection in reverse alphabetical order.)

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Plot Synopsis: From the makers of the highly successful cult classic TV series comes Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie– one of the most outrageous, most irreverent, and most hilarious big-screen spoofs ever! A mad scientist, in his quest for world domination, concocts a diabolical scheme to subject the human race to the worst movie ever made: 1955’s This Island Earth. It’s up to one test subject’s quick wit, sharp sense of humor, and utter intolerance for cinematic garbage to foil the plans of the scientist and to save the Earth. Experience the hijinks and low jabs of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie– where the worse the movie is, the better time you’ll have!

– From DVD Production Notes

I’m finding it difficult to write about MST3K: The Movie, at least from an artistic standpoint. The reasons I own it are strictly personal. It’s one of those rare films I know practically by heart, an old favorite that has not only been just that- a favorite- but found its way into my vocabulary, inner monologue, film/audio projects as well as my general sense of humor.

Like anyone else I have what I refer to as “comfort objects.” Some people like to watch a romantic comedy or a musical when they’re feeling apprehensive or sad. Others have an old record or a favorite book that makes everything feel okay. Although I hadn’t considered it until now, I think MST3K: The Movie may be one of mine. It has helped me get through many sleepless nights. It has even made me laugh in my sleep if I happened to drift off. Nothing else holds that distinction except for old episodes of Space Ghost: Coast To Coast.

To the layperson all of this might seem silly. But am I ashamed? No.

In fact, I’d argue that MST3K is the lynchpin for The Holy Shrine itself- beginning with the idea of watching a film and being able to respond to it in real time. Most brush this off as comedy and nothing more, but there’s more to it than that (and I admit it’s harder than it seems). It’s a fine art.

Also, before we go further- if you aren’t aware of MST3K, whether in TV, film or any other form (it has since spawned RiffTrax, Cinematic Titanic and The Film Crew), then I recommend you educate yourself. Immediately.

In a nutshell: imagine watching something absolutely terrible with really clever people making sarcastic comments during it. Here are exhibits A through D, all of which you’ll find in this movie:

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During high school this little-known comedy had an unexpected influence. My friends and I sought out movies we couldn’t help but talk through, ranging from John Woo’s Hard Boiled (1992) and Sam Raimi’s The Quick And The Dead (1995) to lesser known “gems” like The Watcher (2000) or anything Stephen Seagal starred in (my personal favorite is Exit Wounds). It was all a part of recreating the experience while making our own.

Eventually we came up with a “Holy Shrine” of VHS tapes we kept on a small shelf, a list of movies we had watched and riffed on during that time. Years later we still own parts of this collection, although it was dismantled and divided between us. For my part I plan on keeping my tapes for as long as I possibly can, and yes- I still watch them from time to time.

Aside from developing my taste for so-bad-it’s-good cinema, MST3K: The Movie made me appreciate humor that is responsive while being well written, well performed and- in some cases- expertly timed. It has also become a gift that keeps on giving. If you find other fans you’re bound to have a great time. Over the past decade I have found viewing clubs for the show, had dinner with Mike J. Nelson and attended a RiffTrax panel at Comic-Con. This is all without trying very hard, and every experience has been rewarding.

But above all, I love its “comfort object” aspect more than anything else. While watching it for this post, toiling into the late hours, I felt a sudden and strange connection to all of these former selves, lying in different beds in different states on countless other nights, watching the same movie. Certain things simply don’t change. It was a striking, slightly sad but kind of beautiful thing to realize. When I can’t sleep, MST3K is something I always have in the arsenal. I grew up with it. It has been years and I still feel the same about it.

And of course, it’s funny too. That doesn’t hurt either. My recommendation?

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Yes, that- and sit down and enjoy this movie. For starters, it’s streaming at Netflix. So why not? Whether you’re a newbie to the series or a MST3K fanatic it’s worth the plunge, regardless of it being your first time or your 1000th.

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