krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
Heading into the ninth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I decided to watch the episode "The Space Children" not in small part because it happens to feature the first short of the whole "Sci-Fi Channel era," one touching both on "genre" and a topic of personal interest. While I suppose the closest I've ever come to visiting a World's Fair is EPCOT Center at Disney World, I do have a certain fascination in them, particularly the ones of the 1960s. After the episode begins with Tom Servo setting up a kissing booth, Pearl Forrester sends a cluster of telephones to the Satellite of Love, and after her phone conference doesn't work that well, she hurls the phone-focused short "Century 21 Calling..." at our heroes, who are sent on an enforced visit to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair...

Two blonde teenagers ride the monorail to the Fair ("Ah, these monorail designers, they have a one-track mind."), where they dash around getting occasional dirty looks from people who happened to visit the Fair the day a film crew also showed up. They poke at the obliging representatives of foreign lands ("Come on, let's grope that Eskimo.") and tear through the United States Science Pavilion. ("Polyester, how it can work for you." "It's a brand new 1962 double helix!") Then, they charge into the Bell System Exhibit, and all of a sudden there's narration, explaining wonders like the Bell System Bellboy, which fits in a (very deep) shirt pocket to inform you of calls. (You still have to find a phone to return them, though.) Despite a demonstration of push-button phoning, perky guides explain the Bell Telephone Laboratories's Electronic Central Office can speed-dial, forward numbers, put people on hold and set up conference calls just by dialing away on rotary phones. (After they went away from people's houses, I admit something about phone dials did begin to seem "elegantly nostalgic" to me, but it happened I was sent to a part of work where dial phones were still installed on the walls, and sticking a finger in the dial holes didn't seem quite so comfortable any more.) There's even the promise of being able to switch major appliances on and off by remote control from dial pay phones. ("I called your blowcomb, honey!") At last, the happy couple decides to go up the Space Needle ("Wow. That is one impressive corn dog stand.") as a bombastic theme song closes the short out. ("Don't examine your soul, just get speed dialing!" "Uh, where did we park?")

After Mike plays the energetic and enthusiastic "little fella" from the short and Tom and Crow hit him with a wrecking ball, then decide on lunch ("Again? Why, sure!"), it's on to the movie. It begins with the Brewster family driving out to a desolate stretch of seashore. ("Okay, we've seen the ocean. Let's head back to Iowa.") Nobody seems in a very good mood, even when the two boys Bud and Ken hear strange sounds and see a strange light beaming down to the shore ("Sand crabs are using their death ray.") that shorts out the family station wagon. Their parents can't hear the noise, though, and just brush the concerns of their sons off. ("Stop trying to form a bond with us! We had you, isn't that enough?")

Arriving at a trailer park ("Tornado Magnet Trailer Park welcomes you."), the family does their best to settle in with the other families assigned to work on "the Thunderer," which is a matte painting of a Vanguard rocket ("Two billion dollars and we made a pole!") rather "nestled" near rocky cliffs for a launch vehicle and meant to orbit a satellite carrying a hydrogen bomb. Trying to find happiness where they can, the kids explore the beachside cliffs and happen on a cave, just as a small spot of light descends along the ray from before...

While I had supposed the movie involved the kids holding a secret without much difficulty from their oblivious parents, my recollections of the "obvious" sort of plot turned out wrong when the Brewster father David is led to a small, glowing, rubbery blob and carries it back to the famiy trailer. ("Uh, kids, it's laying eggs in my chest. Is that normal?") When the drunken and depressed Joe Gamble (played by Russell Johnson from Gilligan's Island; our heroes make a bigger deal of this than they did in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, perhaps) is about to attack his oldish son, the blob takes action and kills him in his armchair. By this point, the scientist in charge of the project is growing suspicious if also curious, proclaiming "A man of science is like a deep sea diver. He musn't be afraid to walk down where it's dark and frightening, in the hopes of scooping up a handful of truth." ("I think I just got the bends from that analogy.") In the meantime, the blob had returned to the cave and enlarged into a massive rubbery, glowing thing. ("Jabba the Hutt really let himself go.")

The children sneak up to "the Thunderer" and are only spotted leaving the secure area, chivvied away by the guards. ("Adorable little spies, they're just precious!") At last, the rocket is about to be launched, only for the top of it to neatly explode on ignition. ("Okay... communism is better." "Quick, everyone grab jobs in the private sector!") The army storms down to the beach, but the children block them ("The Magnificent Seven... Year Olds.") until the blob can slither out of the cave ("Earth versus Nougat.") and ascend back to the heavens. It turns out that children all around the world managed to simultaneously neutralise the atomic stockpiles. ("But they overlooked Canada! And Canada takes over the world! Mandatory toques and backbacon!") Things close with a quotation from the Gospel according to Matthew about having to become as children to enter heaven. ("This is all that's left of Saint Matthew's original screenplay.")

As I said, the short was my draw for the episode. It's weird but also interesting, and gives plenty of scope for humour. As for the movie, I did start off thinking it doesn't quite stand out in the ninth season, but started wondering about that initial thought as it wore on. The "riffing" was entertaining without seeming really "annoyed," and in fact I began thinking of previous seasons all the way back to the "Joel years," helped along perhaps with the riffs pointing out Russel Johnson and also Jackie Coogan, here playing a dyspeptic father but with his role as Uncle Fester on "The Addams Family" oft-mentioned. His wearing short shorts and a "womanly robe" leads to a "host segment" where Crow presents a series of horrifying fashions for him, but the drawings used did provide another "old-fashioned" touch. Dwelling to some extent of late on whether Mystery Science Theater grew "funnier" at the subtle cost of getting "nastier" as the series wore on and the writers kept having to make entertaining comments about movies identified as "bad," a sort of "flashback episode" was in fact a welcome surprise.

Date: 2012-07-13 01:25 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] thrush
Interesting! I never thought of this as a flashback episode; I'll have to watch it again with that in mind.

This is an episode I have mixed feelings about, but there are particular lines here that always crack me up ("Ooh, is someone here to see Grandma Blob?" "Hello, Devil's office."), I think due to something about the way the riffs fit so perfectly with the on-screen action. For me this film is an example of the optimum level of bad. It's clearly sub-par by a lot of metrics so I never feel bad for making fun of it, but it's not so painful that I couldn't watch it un-MSTed if I had to.

I also like the short, though I think the shorts were generally used to better effect earlier in the series.

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