krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
Jumping straight from the tenth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to the first, I've finished it off as well with "Women of the Prehistoric Planet." ("My sister saw this in junior high! All the guys had to go into the gym!") The episode is numbered "104," and practically every chronicle of the show (including the official episode guide) puts its entry for it in between those for "Mad Monster" and "The Corpse Vanishes." They also always seem to include a little note that it wasn't taped in between those two episodes, but was in fact the last produced for the first season. However, one person, in managing to watch every episode in the space of a single year, put "Women of the Prehistoric Planet" after "The Black Scorpion," and even though I haven't quite followed "production order" myself that did get my attention...

It's been argued through "Satellite News" itself that to draw too much attention to the delicate situation of this episode would be to call into question the arrangement of all the rest of the show, and I suppose there's a little something to that. It's also pointed out that it does manage to break up a long stretch of black-and-white movies "riffed" in casual fashion. (This was not the case when the first season was being shown on cable for the very first time, though...) At the same time, we know from official sources about this episode's situation, and callbacks in both "host segments" and riffing and the fine details of set and bot construction add up to show it following "The Black Scorpion," so to me being peculiar in my list of episode comments doesn't throw the rest of the series on to a slippery slope. With all of that said, now I suppose I have to acknowledge there's an actual episode and movie there too...

Joel starts off by adding a couch to the Satellite of Love's bridge and holding a low-impact talk show; then, Dr. Forrester and Dr. Erhardt musically present "Clay and Lar's Flesh Barn" ("Stunned, killed, right at your table; eviscerated very fresh.") and Joel responds with a roll of toilet paper inside a plastic bottle, which Dr. Erhardt supposes could make a good Molotov cocktail. Joel, getting annoyed, tells them "Oh, you guys twist everything! You could have made tiddlywinks evil!" They respond once more with their "Thank you!" catchphrase, and then Dr. Forrester introduces the movie with "There is no reason for it, really. It just is what it is." With that stirring statement, a sort of simplistic spaceship model ("It's a chrome watermelon.") is introduced as "Cosmos I," crewed by military-garbed Caucasians (the female communications officers wear tight sweaters) and "the Centaurians," all of whom are played by actors of Asian descent and who wear pink, sleeveless clothes. There seems some tension over the casual contempt of some of the officers towards the Centaurians (apparently from a planet that needs to rebuild), and on another spaceship, "Cosmos III," this explodes into mutiny with the Centaurians there intent on going home. ("They're Klingons, without the Kling.") In the process of this, though, their (model) ship crashes into a nearby (model) planet...

Admiral King (played by Wendell Corey, with as slurry a voice as in "Agent For H.A.R.M.") defies the orders of headquarters and sends his Cosmos I to the rescue as a handful of military and Centaurian survivors stumble away from the crash of Cosmos III through a soundstage approximation of a jungle, not quite in the best of moods. ("We're too annoying for anyone to consider picking us up!") Out on the Satellite of Love, Joel brings in a strange satellite (without referring to "Rocket Number Nine" for his external views yet) only to discover it's a doomsday machine (voiced by Mike Nelson). With that, they have to get back to the movie, where a renegade Centaurian waylays the survivors only to at last ("Don't just do something--stand there!") be shot by his own sister. ("Kill your brother. It's the only way to reinforce the director's white male reality.") Love suddenly blossoms between her and the most intact officer.

Cosmos I gets to the strange planet, and it's explained (if not all that well) that time dilation from travelling at relativistic speeds (something, I suppose, that not a lot of science fiction movies engage with) means eighteen years have now passed for the survivors. Admiral King sends out a search party anyway; despite being stuck with the comedy relief character they blast a "giant" iguana (apparently subjecting the real iguana to at least the proximity of flame). In the meantime, the Centaurian Linda casually leaves Cosmos I by herself to find the soundstage approximation of a pool, only to fall into it when threatened by a snake that gets shot in turn by a compact crossbow. Back on the Satellite of Love, Joel's best efforts to disarm the doomsday machine more or less just turn up that it's "Isaac Asimov's Literary Doomsday Machine." "Literary Doomsday?" Tom Servo asks. "Isn't that when your library fines exceed the price of the book?" Back in the movie, the comedy relief character rambles about the time he tried learning karate, finally yelling the immortal catchphrase "Hai-keeba!" as he throws himself head over heels. ("He'll be riding in the trunk on the way back to Earth.")

Linda recovers to find herself in the bachelor cave of Tang ("I'm not just for breakfast any more."), son of the two paired-off Cosmos III survivors, who keeps his parents frozen in his basement. The search party finds itself confronted with a smoking pool; taking note of the tree conveniently fallen over it but not the edge of the pool just a few steps away, they begin a perilous crossing only to have the last guy fall in. ("Never did like him anyway." "Is he primordial soup yet?") Despite a disagreement that has Tang smack Linda ("I can love only through pain."), she bounces back ("Wang, bang, thank you Tang.") just in time for Joel to make his final attempt to defuse the Literary Doomsday Machine. Unfortunately, it blows up in his face, leaving him, Crow, and Tom with big sideburns and large glasses. They return to the movie as much frolicking ensues between Linda and Tang, but some unexplained primitive humans show up and attack. The search party happens on Linda at last, but manages to shoot Tang in the process. ("A typical response. I don't understand it so I'd better shoot it.") This does not leave Linda in a good mood, and she flees Cosmos I just in time for a volcanic eruption to begin via much stock footage. Admiral King runs out looking for her, but just as he's admitted she's his daughter his second in command slugs him and drags him back to the ship, which takes off leaving Linda behind. ("This is great. I feel like E.T.") Fortunately, everyone on boards sees her and Tang reunited, and Admiral King is now more than willing to let her go and populate this new world ("We got a planet to populate, honey." "I'm already bored, Tang."), a planet he declares will be called "Earth..." Our heroes discover their sideburns were just glued on, and Dr. Erhardt heads off singing to file the experiment for Dr. Forrester.

As cheap as the movie was, I do find certain things about it intriguing. It feels like a skewed version of Star Trek to me, and it happens to have been made right around when Gene Roddenberry was trying to get his series on television. I couldn't say the people who made the movie were somehow aware of his efforts (the way I know the people who made "Rocketship XM" were aware of Destination Moon and rushed to beat it to movie screens), but if they weren't it's sort of interesting to imagine something common "in the air" around then. In wondering about that odd feeling of similarity, I did ask myself if the movie could instead just be seen as a degenerate copy of Forbidden Planet. However, on this viewing "the Centaurians" left me thinking of an attempt, however liable to suspicious interpretations, to provide some form of genuine social commentary, and that just seemed to increase the resemblance to Star Trek.

It was explained in the official Mystery Science Theater episode guide that the Best Brains weren't supplied with a movie "in time for us to shoot Show 104," so they skipped ahead to 105. That leaves me wondering if there had been a rough outline with a movie intended for in between "Mad Monster" and "The Corpse Vanishes"; whether the thought was to jump into colour (perhaps indeed to "Women of the Prehistoric Planet" itself) or just show another grim black-and-white movie I only have suspicions. In any case, in watching this episode with the full awareness of it being the last made in the first season, once I'd shaken the sense of Joel and Josh Weinstein's Tom Servo being slow to sound really engaged I had the distinct and almost surprising feeling that, differences in cast and set aside, there wasn't as much difference between its riffing and that of "Rocketship XM" as I had imagined. At the same time, as Joel and the heroes snapped at and complained about the comedy relief character, I did think back to when I watched "It Conquered the World" and they were sort of faking amusement at the "kooky" comedy relief character there, so perhaps my musings about the show "playing nice in the Joel years" need some reinterpretation. In any case, I've now finished commenting on the first season, which has always been where I've started with the show save for small clips of the "KTMA episodes." As I've just said, it does now give an impression of pushing forward and developing on the go, from a show just that much more elaborate from the old "horror hosts" to something distinct.

July 2017

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