krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
It's back to looking at the episodes of the twelfth Mystery Science Theater 3000 collection, and specifically "The Starfighters." I've noticed people complaining that the movies of the show's sixth season could tend towards the tedious, but I have to admit that I particularly like at least some of them... and perhaps because I like how the "riffing" responds to that tediousness. (I also like how the riffing responds to their awfulness, as well.) I was perhaps slow to watch "The Starfighters" the first time around because I wasn't sure how I would respond to it (after all, there's an little piece in the official episode guide itself where Frank Conniff talks about a fan complaining to him about "Why did you guys do Starfighters?", and admits that they needed a film no matter what), but in the end I did like it quite a lot.

The movie involves three young pilots arriving at an Air Force base to be trained in flying the F-104 Starfighter (which I have to admit I find a pretty interesting airplane...) One is married, one is just kind of there, and one is the son of a Congressman who wants him to transfer to bombers, possibly because he thinks of them as safer and possibly because he flew them during the Second World War. (Intriguingly, the person who played that pilot would later become a mildly infamous Congressman himself...) They go on familiarization flights, train in air attack and ground attack, and practice mid-air refueling... there's a lot of stock footage of refueling.

In an odd resonance between when I got around to watching the episode and what was on TV that day, I was able to switch between "The Starfighters" and Dr. Strangelove. It seems that Stanley Kubrick's vision of just how refueling can be interpreted was put to good use by the Mystery Science Theater writers, but even so they pause during the second refueling scene, talk about how they've run out of refueling jokes, and then keep going anyway. ("And as the seasons changed the refueling continued..." "Remember the world before this movie, before refueling?") They also manage to comment on the movie's peculiarly jazzy soundtrack ("Are the other armed services as easy-listening as the Air Force?")

There's the potential crisis of one pilot's landing gear perhaps not locking into position, but it turns out to be a false alarm ("I know I'm supposed to feel something, but I don't.") A bit later on, the pilots get caught in a storm not actually seen on screen, and one of them crashes his fighter but manages to eject safely. Finally, the whole squadron gets transferred to Europe ("Uh, Captain, I don't speak Europe,") and the subplot with the Congressman is sort of resolved when, told that his son is indeed transferring, he becomes pleased for the moment before he learns just what kind of transfer that is.

I suppose there are some moments that feel a bit duller than others, but all in all the riffing in this episode seems to me a good example of cutting interjections and ironic commentary. The "host segments" are pretty good too, if in a sometimes now-peculiar way. At the start of the episode, Crow is trying to get on the "Information Superhighway," and struggles with his PC... it seems far from as clueless as some of the "hey, this 'online' thing is taking off!" cracks that were being made at that time, but being very aware that there were some already quite "plugged-in" fans at the very moment that episode was airing, some of whom were writing MSTings where the Satellite of Love crew are all very skilled at using the very same online services they were, I do wonder how they would have responded to it. (Of course, I suppose I could look that up myself...) There's also more timeless stuff like Mike promoting his "bold" barbecue sauce, Crow and Tom Servo attempting to "refuel" right when Crow's call to tech support gets through at last, and an all-Tom Servo choir performing "The United Servo Academy Men's Chorus." As if in response to this, the bonus feature on this DVD is another selection of songs from assorted host segments.

May 2017

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