krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
When I filled in the last space on my list of "episode thoughts" about Mystery Science Theater 3000, there were some "end of an era" thoughts, and yet there still could have been a certain negative space left open on that list. I'd commented on every episode shown on cable, the movie, and Joel Hodgson's proof-of-concept pilot, which he'd shown at a convention where someone had made a fully adequate recording that had wound up an online video encoding. I could have followed the pilot by seeking out those episodes people had managed to videotape off an Minnesota UHF station in 1988 and 1989, but along with all the comments overheard how the improvisational "KTMA episodes" had a lot of "unriffed space" in them and the personal impression the first cable episodes themselves can feel sort of tedious, I had what might seem the convenient excuse there were no fan copies of the first three episodes. Starting close to one beginning seemed fine to some, but somehow I was a little too conscious of the gap.

"I think it's a good time to point out these puppets do their own stunts."

I did keep returning to the series through its official DVDs, and then I worked up the courage to contribute to the "MST3K revival" Kickstarter where I still haven't taken a chance on any of the previous "post-MST3K projects" of the show's creators. I still have my suspicions the new writers and performers recruited wil be as prone to anyone else to what'll grate on me as gratuitous cheap shots at designated "fan" targets, but I have been trying to keep up with Joel's production updates. "Turkey Day" rolled around again as I pondered the chance to order a DVD of "KTMA host segments," and then all of a sudden Joel was presenting a very significant update. The first two of the three missing episodes had turned up in his sources, and they would be available as part of the downloadable bonus content for the Kickstarter backers. I did wonder if I'd picked the options when making my pledge that would give me access to them or if I'd be hunting down unauthorized versions along with at least some other people, but it did turn out the access rights were broader than I'd first thought.

The "but I can't start at the very beginning" excuse had been dispelled in stunning fashion, but I was still conscious I'd be stepping off over the deep end. One thought I did have, though, was to remember a conviction that had sprouted in me some years ago, that Mystery Science Theater 3000 didn't "just" have to be about "using a bad movie to demonstrate how witty you are," but could also be about "finding enjoyment in something no matter how skewed it might be from what was intended." I just had to remember those who'd once tuned into B-movies introduced by amiable local hosts as I settled down to "Invaders from the Deep."

As it turned out, most of the explanation that would have been offered that Thanksgiving in 1988 for just why things were the way they were in the show were in the theme song after all, which went further than the long-haired Joel's opening comments themselves at setting up the now-familiar antagonists. He just talked a bit about "the station" sending up a film, and took his own time getting into the theatre, at first all by himself. For a while he's crunching on popcorn (as I first thought) or potato chips (as someone else said), and he pretty much doesn't say a lot, much less the "amusing out of context" stuff I sometimes did focus on finding to go in these posts. After a "host segment" Crow does join him, and with two characters there is some back-and-forth banter, but his staccato voice does sound odder than ever; I eventually saw an explanation Josh Weinstein and not Trace Beaulieu was performing him. There is a reference to "Beeper," but that proto-Tom Servo doesn't appear as he did in the pilot; the sight gags from it do get recycled, though.

Even with the very occasional comments, though, there was certainly something "cheesy" to the "movie." Where some titles in the MST3K canon put together two one-hour episodes of TV series, this one puts together four half-hour episodes of a "Supermarionation" puppet series, "Stingray," which has assorted underwater dwellers (but never more than two or occasionally three at a time) launching plots only to be foiled by Troy Tempest, captain of the submarine Stingray, his sidekick "Phones" (it took a while to get over his accent making it rather easy to think "Bones" instead), and the voiceless but cooperative underwater dweller Marina. It could be that things don't drag as much as they might have with a regular movie. With a different design for the adversary puppets in every segment, however, there's not much that seems to provide "unifying themes" beyond a possible escalation in scale. I did, though, take some note of the stock footage of the good guys' home base retracting underground as defensive works deploy; that had me thinking of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, which does seem fully aware of visual science fiction works of "Supermarionation" vintage. At one point, too, one of the more infamous fanfics improving things for the characters of that anime (at first, too, just the female characters that seemed to appeal to the writers) for their own good, a small portion of the infamy of which seeming to be its Anglophilia (in both stop-the-plot worldbuilding-of-an-underbaked-sort and its overpowered "replacement main character" himself), had made its own connection between some of the design cues of Evangelion and the tricks that kept from having to have the "Supermarionation" puppets walk too much.

In any case, as much as I'm tempted to say a certain nagging awareness of how spaced out the "riffs" in my first MSTing were had a slight balm of perspective applied to it, I do still appreciate the discovery. It does cast deciding to pay a fair bit of money for the bonus DVD in a different light, but it was interesting to take in all the same, and I can suppose I've got something out of contributing to the revival Kickstarter no matter what.

September 2017

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