krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
For the final episode of the eighth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the Best Brains were at last able to step away from the "somewhere in time and space" format imposed on them by the Sci-Fi Channel (or so I've heard). The "host segments" are built around a "Public Pearl Television" telethon (complete with the brief opening theme from the Mystery Science Theater Hour and Ortega working the phones) so that Pearl can scam the well-meaning; this connects to the "movie" in the episode itself. "TV movies" had been tackled by the series before (with a certain show of knowing derision), but "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" ("Ha ha ha ha, that is funny.") has the soft, muzzy look of 1980s videotape (I do sort of wonder if it always looked that way or it just got that way with age) and was made for a PBS station...

Raul Julia (recently deceased a few years before the episode was made) stars as Aram Fingal ("aka Gomez."), explained in the voiceover narration as stuck doing data entry for a big corporation in the future. ("SAT farms of the future!") In an anticipation of modern time-wasting methods, he "scrolls up a cinema" on his terminal that just happens to be Casablanca (prompting some rude comments about begging unwelcome comparisons). Before the movie can get beyond a "fair use" excerpt of the opening credits, he's caught and sent off for psychoanalysis, which recommends a vacation "doppling." ("I've only dabbled in dopples.") Fingal has to pay for this himself, though, and can only afford to have his consciousness transferred into a baboon (despite his worries he'll get stuck as an anteater).

After meeting Appollonia James (who's been providing the narration), the top of Fingal's head is sliced off to expose his brain while his consciousness is transferred. A touring group of school children wander past his exposed brain, and one of them switches the routing tag on his body. This means that when, after narrating over stock footage of a baboon ("Surely this wil cure him of his love of cinemas!"), Fingal has to be rescued from an elephant, his body can't be found and the illuminated cube his consciousness is stored in has to be transferred into the main computer, with a time limit imposed before the cube breaks down.

Appollonia tries to contact Fingal, who's begun constructing a virtual reality around him without quite realising it. Despite her best efforts to tell him to stay in his routine without quite explaining why, things soon start changing from the mundane "real world" into an approximation of Casablanca. It seems a Peter Lorre impersonator was more readily available than any of the other actors, but Raul Julia does get to play Rick Blaine at "The Place." ("Formerly That Other Place." "Formerly The Locale." "Formerly The Site.") The massive chairman of Fingal's corporation (compared on his first appearance to TV's Frank) also begins making vague threats to Fingal.

After a great deal of this, Fingal seems to sort out how to gain control over the computer (this perhaps serving to point out the importance of good long passwords), and even as Rick gets shot some cheap video special effects ensue. He's returned to his relocated body in the nick of time, and it just so happens that love has blossomed between Appollonia and him. ("Oh, and I guess PBS means Public Boinking System!") He uses his control of the computer to dump the chairman into a lengthy "dopple" in an anteater and provides Appollonia and himself with new Casablanca identities before heading off into the future. During the fairly lengthy end credits, our heroes call technical support for the movie, but this doesn't go quite well.

I did eventually manage to read the John Varley short story the movie was based on; I recall the Casablanca fixation and the overtones of "man against the corporation" being added going to video, but it was taken out that the story in fact takes place after humanity has relocated to the Moon, (somehow) managing in the process to get rid of all harmful bacteria and the like, which provides a slight explanation for Fingal's brain being left exposed. The movie is indeed confusing and doesn't quite seem able to establish whether Fingal is a common man managing to strike a blow for common people in the face of corporate oppression, or is just taking advantage of an unusual situation to indulge base desires. All of this, though, does seem to add an edge of frustration and annoyance to the "riffing," and I suppose I can wonder if jabs at public television can amount to taking shots at an easy target. Still, things do stay funny enough, with Tom Servo and Crow ordering a monkey online and Tom deciding to get into "doppling" himself with perhaps predictable results.

Date: 2012-06-25 11:51 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] thrush
Whenever I see this episode I cannot help but reflect on the similarity at certain points to the Matrix, but I guess that was an old idea even in the '80s. This is not one of my favourite episodes, but it does have some real high notes for me. In particular I think Tom's continuing bashing on the pseudo-Orwellian lingo and technobabble are great, I like the whole anti-Anteater running gag, and there are some pretty hilarious riffs on visual details (the Nirvana lyrics, the bad video effects, the "this is the amount of pure cocaine..." line).

Is the original short story worth reading?

Date: 2012-06-26 01:15 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] thrush
Cool, thanks! I'll keep an eye out for the short story, then.

I suppose the main thing that makes me think Matrix as opposed to VR in general is Fingal's inexplicable ability to "will" the virtual environment to do his bidding, and the subsequent effects this has in the external world.

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