krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
Opening up the current Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD set, I launched into "Time of the Apes." Starting out as a Japanese response to Planet of the Apes in the form of a twenty-six episode TV series, then crammed down into the length of a TV movie by the infamous Sandy Frank to become something I imagine was intended as nothing more than cheap filler (whether for actual TV schedules or just movie packages for TV stations), it was found in the library of a local Minneapolis TV station by a group of young comedians working on a quirky little show, and embarked on a new leg of its odyssey...

The "cable" version of the Mystery Science Theater show starts with Joel and the bots playing T-ball inside the Satellite of Love (with what might be one of the earlier examples of Gypsy being articulate and motherly) and an "Invention Exchange" that introduces the "miracle growth baby" who also appeared in the following episode. As the movie itself gets under way (with expressions of dismay over it being the third "Sandy Frank thing"), the youthful "Johnny" is planning to visit a local research centre. Johnny's mother is worried by an earthquake, but Johnny responds with "I don't care!" (which became a catchphrase in the "riffing") and meets his young friend "Caroline" to head off. Once there, the young scientist "Katherine" shows them experiments being made on freezing and thawing out monkeys. They're looking at three capsules meant to do the same to people when a much larger earthquake strikes and a nearby volcano starts erupting; as the ceiling caves in the trio seek shelter in the capsules only for a convenient lever to be pushed by the falling debris. ("Oh, no! It hit the plot contrivance switch!")

When they come to, the trio are now in a world very much like Japan except for everyone being silent, threatening apes. Managing to escape from the apes (who are now talking, if not to much in the way of eloquence when shouting about finding the "naked apes"), they stumble into a traditional Japanese home (complete with paper walls), meet a young white-faced monkey of sorts who doesn't seem afraid of them, and then have to flee more apes (having removed their shoes on entering the home just like you're supposed to in Japan, they have to scramble to retrieve them on the way out).

The continued flight of the trio carries them into a zone the apes seem reluctant to enter; a possible reason for this emerges when a series of deathtraps goes off. At last, a normal if bearded human appears; Godo may well be the last of the species but still dresses in a sharp survivalist fashion. As he shaves off his beard, it's revealed that the young monkey "Pepe" is Godo's friend, but this doesn't quite help them when the apes set fire to the landscape. The humans get captured, but Pepe helps Godo and Johnny escape to try and free Caroline and Katherine. ("You know, it's kind of funny how film directors always make air vents big enough to crawl through.") They, though, now say the apparent leader of the apes (dressed in what our heroes call a "Colonel Sanders" outfit) is beginning to show some measure of ambiguity towards the humans.

A flying saucer is showing up by now to belabour the apes, and an ape military officer is ranting about how Godo killed his wife and son, but as coherence disintegrates further the flying saucer manages to reveal Godo had been trying to help the two apes only for the mother to fall to her death and the son to be shot by his own father. At last, after some measure of reconciliation between apes and humans and Pepe returning to the side of her sick mother (her being a girl seems to surprise our heroes), the humans enter a structure perhaps related to the flying saucer and a light show similar to one that marked the opening catastrophe strikes again...

Caroline wakes up and meets up with Katherine, and after some brief panic they discover they're among humans again. Johnny is also there, but Godo is nowhere to be seen. A lot of bafflegab narration suggests the "time of the apes" may all have been a cryogenic dream, except for Godo being shown stumbling alone through a desert and the trio's sad remembrance of him, and at last things grind to a close.

I've heard that the previous "KTMA version" of this episode included additional scenes from the movie, although I haven't yet tried searching them out. In any case, I have to admit to two of the "host segments" in between bits of the movie seeming a bit more peculiar than of genuine hilarity to me (the presentation "Why Doesn't Johnny Care? A film by Bell Labs," and a recreation of the Scopes Monkey Trial, described in the official show guide as "having the overall look and feel of a fever dream"), but things take off for the third segment with a salute to "ape fashion" (which does manage to include a snippet of footage not shown in the episode itself). We also get the "Sandy Frank song," set to a takeoff of the movie's theme, as things come to a close. The DVD includes a small but interesting bonus feature of an explanation of "Time of the Apes" by someone well-versed in these kinds of Japanese movies and series (he appeared earlier in the bonus features of the "Gamera collection"); he basically winds up saying "this was a kids' show made on a minimal budget to begin with," but adds that compared to similar stuff being made in North America at the time, it was still pretty impressive. That does sound sort of familiar to me.

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