Saturday, August 28, 2010

S02E12 - Godzilla vs. Megalon


Nuclear tests being performed underwater have resulted in the destruction of a third of Seatopia, an underground civilization that was sent beneath the earth thousands of years ago. In retaliation, Seatopia sends several agents to Earth's surface to capture the robot of a scientist and use it to lead the monster Megalon on a destructive rampage across the land. Only Godzilla can combat this menace and restore peace to the world.

Movie Review

Yet another anti-nuclear film makes its way onto the screens of MST3K, but this one is a bit more interesting than previous films in that this one features Japanese icon Godzilla, that lovable allegory for nuclear weapons that happens to be a giant rampaging lizard. Granted, the subtlety of the original Godzilla movie's stance on nuclear war has somewhat been diminished over the years as the movies became more and more about giant monsters fighting other giant monsters. And while Godzilla vs. Megalon does feature some slight commentary on nuclear testing, no one really cares when one can watch a giant lizard and robot battle two giant evil monsters.

There is a story to be found in this movie, but it's complete fluff and barely worth worry about. The anti-nuclear sentiment is isolated in segments about the "enemy" in this flick, an underworld kingdom called Seatopia who had 1/3 of their population wiped out by underwater nuclear tests. Outside of that, the plot involves two scientists (I think) and a young annoying boy (because tokusatsu kaiju films always have children) in some ridiculous side plot about a robot one of the scientists built. Its only purpose is to provide backstory for Jet Jaguar, the scientist's robot that will eventually help fight alongside Godzilla. And anytime you see the human characters on screen, you will just beg for the movie to skip straight to the giant monsters.

Because this is a kaiju flick, and giant monsters battling it out is where it is at! Not content with just the eponymous Godzilla and Megalon, the film also throws in the aforementioned Jet Jaguar and a monster from a previous Godzilla flick called Gigan. The climactic battle that they pull of is...well, ridiculous! Kaiju flicks can get pretty silly at times, but it's unlikely they'll ever be as silly as the fight seen in this film. The monsters jump around and bounce into the air like preschool kids on a sugar high, and they do things like high five each other and shake hands. And watching Megalon and Gigan scrape their hands together like they're clapping or preparing for a fight...hilarious! It's completely stupid, but it's also incredibly entertaining, which makes the fight a must see.

The rest of the movie, despite not having the same charm as the monster fight, is still bewilderingly entertaining as well. Car chases that make no sense, toys and house decorations that obviously made by mad men, military that lets a civilian take charge of an operation, a robot that grows into a giant because it "programs" itself to do's all hilariously bad and yet oddly compelling. Alas, despite all the wacky goofiness, the characters are annoying as hell. Forget the atrocious dubbing, the characters' personalities are blank slates with itemized and phoned-in traits. The young boy, especially, is incredibly irritating (and did I say forget the atrocious dubbing? I lied. His voice is horrible!).

There are, of course, a few good reasons for why this movie is such a mess. First, it was originally intended to be a movie staring the robot Jet Jaguar, but Godzilla was added because the film makers felt the robot couldn't carry the film by himself. Second, the film was shot in a span of three weeks, which is still better than a Bert I. Gordon film but is still incredibly rushed. And finally...Godzilla is a good guy! Why is Godzilla a good guy? He was a bad guy in the original film, but by this one (his thirteenth film) he's become a good guy who comes at the beck and call of a toy robot. Why? I'm guessing the answer might lie in previous films I have not seen, but still, why?

In the end, despite its convoluted story and ridiculous monster fighting antics, Godzilla vs. Megalon is actually a really entertaining film, if only because of the silliness. The highlight, of course, is the giant monster fight, but there is some merit to be found in the rest of the movie (when that stupid kid isn't talking, of course).

MST3K Review

Several people have said that this movie is one of the best film in the entire MST3K series. While I don't entirely agree with that, I do agree that it is one of the highlights of Season 2 and one of the best episodes in the series thus far. The riffs were sharp and well delivered, and they got especially witty when the giant monsters started their epic brawl. A silly but watchable movie made even better by some great joke delivery by Joel and the bots.

Also, while I'm not really interested in reviewing the host segments for reasons previously stated, the Orville Redenbacher skit was one of the funniest things I've seen in the show to date.

Stinger Review

All of the brilliant cheese in this film...and they choose this as the stinger? Godzilla leaping off a cliff and canon-balling into the ocean below? Granted, it does look a little silly, but it's nowhere near on the bizarre level of some previous stingers we've seen. A much better stinger would've been Godzilla's flying kick into Megalon as he was being held by Jet Jaguar, a kick so ridiculous that it was done twice in the movie (not to mention it was more than short enough to work as a stinger). An incredible episode that went out on an anticlimactic note with such a disappointing stinger.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

S02E11 - First Spaceship on Venus


The finding of a strange alien recording device leads to the discovery that alien life exists on the planet Venus. When contact signals sent to Venus are not answered, a crew of astronauts and scientists fly in a rocketship with the intention of landing on Venus to establish contact with these aliens. But on the journey to the inner planet, it is discovered that the recording device's actual message contains a dark secret, and their arrival on the planet itself reveals an even worse discovery.

Movie Review

What is it with these anti-nuclear films on MST3K? Were they just unlucky in their selection of these films, or do they find it interesting to continuously mock films with such hamfisted messages? Or perhaps it's because most films of this type are simply awful, as is the case with First Spaceship on Venus.

Okay, that's not entirely fair. This film, while not a good film, isn't an atrocious one either. It's nowhere near the caliber of, say, Bert I. Gordon's abominations, and it does have its own charm. Like other previous films on this show like Project Moonbase and Moon Zero Two, some effort is put into establishing some realism with spaceflight. While not entirely correct, it's not insulting, either. And the plot isn't a complete waste of time, either. In fact, it's one of the more interesting plots to so far air on this show. Given some better writing and some polish, it could've been a keeper.

But, as with other bad films, small things get in the way and add up to a negative experience. For starters, the interesting plot has several ridiculous moments in it that destroy any believability it might've had. Also, the movie is plagued not only by terrible characters, but an abundance of them. Seriously, there are far too many characters in this film, ensuring that most of them don't get enough adequate screen time to be memorable. Oh, some effort to add depth to some characters is attempted here and there, but it almost always comes off as forced and cheesy.

And then there's the dubbing. Yes, the dubbing. Originally a German film entitled The Silent Star, this movie features some wooden dub voices that either overact or underact - there is no in between. The film is also a victim of classic American editing: apparently the English version of the film was shorted drastically from its original German version, cutting out several story moments and removing characterization (and thinning it even more). One can suspect that the film was edited upon watching it, as several noticeable splices in the film are noticeable throughout, causing some erratic jumping in scenery. Not the original movie's fault, admittedly, but also not something in its favor.

If there's one positive that the movie can crow about, it's its visuals. Especially for a movie made in 1960, First Spaceship on Venus has a fairly good set design throughout, one that doesn't look like cheap sets a la Women of the Prehistoric Planet. Unfortunately, a lot of the goodwill is destroyed thanks to one particular set piece: a talking robot built by one of the many unmemorable characters. Portrayed as a smart machine and companion, his voice is so grating that one prays for him to leave a scene for fear of hearing him talk. The ridiculous plot thread about giving him a heart doesn't exactly help endear him, either.

Being an anti-nuclear screed, the movie does try to demonstrate the dangers of nuclear war, similar to previous movies on MST3K. The means of getting that message across is similar to that of Rocketship X-M's, though with a bit more complexity. Even so, its good intentions are crushed by the atrocious writing near the end, while also using three unmemorable characters who died at the film's climax essentially as sentimentality props. Better writing could've made it more effective, but as mentioned, this film does not have good writing.

While not a contender for worst movie of all time, First Spaceship on Venus is still a terrible film that sadly missed out on its potential.

MST3K Review

This isn't my favorite episode of season two. There are some very good riffs to be found here, especially at the end where the plot details and becomes ridiculous, but the quality of the jokes to be found don't reach the pinnacle of some of the more enjoyable episodes found in this season. Definitely not as bad as The Hellcats, but not as good as King Dinosaur, either.

Stinger Review

This stinger puzzles me, and not for the usual reasons. The stinger takes a moment in the film when a large group of rocketship grounds crew wave goodbye collectively to the ship's pilots. The only odd thing about this scene is that all of the crew members are wearing letters on their clothing, which was never fully explained in the film (though is likely some kind of task designation system). While weird, the sight of dozens of people waving goodbye while wearing giant letters on their clothing doesn't seem that big of a stinger candidate to me. It seems like this one needs to be taken out of context to really be bizarre, which seems to defeat the purpose of the stinger in the first place.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

S02E10 - King Dinosaur


Short: A reckless driver is killed in a traffic accident and is taken to heaven, where he faces a judge for all of his automobile and pedestrian crimes. His guardian angel during his time on earth describes his reckless behavior in detail.

Film: A strange new planet entered the solar system, so a rocketship carrying a team of four scientists is sent to land on the new world and discover whether it is inhabitable. Upon landing there, the scientists discover that the planet is very similar to their own, with Earth-like vegetation and animals. They also discover other, more dangerous species during their journey, including a terrible creature once thought extinct.

Movie Review

This episode of MST3K marks the very first "short" of the series that isn't from a serial, and the short selected, X Marks the Spot, is a doozy. One of hundreds of thousands of corporate, educational, and government shorts made between the 1930s and 1960s, this short takes the serious subject of traffic safety and dresses it up in a ridiculous short story.

It's never easy to make an educational film that's interesting to the general public. Someone just straight-talking into a camera about rules and regulations makes for a very boring video, even one that's only about twenty minutes long. So it's understandable that the message could be better conveyed if wrapped in a fictional narrative. However, such a tactic can backfire if said narrative is executed poorly, since any weight of the intended subject matter disappears under a layer of cheese.

And X Marks the Spot is dripping with cheese. It tries to treat the subject of auto and pedestrian accidents with reverence, but using a guardian angel who cracks jokes and who shifts frequently between lighthearted and serious is frequently jarring. And all of the dialogue is the type of dialogue found frequently in both films and shorts such as this back in those days: stilted, unnatural, and silly.

The cherry on top comes at the end, when the judge of the case against the dead reckless driver turns over deliberation of the man's verdict to the audience. This is the short's way of reminding the audience of all the information demonstrated, and asks them to remember their own driving habits before considering condemning the man for his poor driving. While done with good intentions, it only makes the short tacky.

In short (heh), this is a refreshing change from all the serials shown in earlier episodes, as it offers a glimpse into the world of American life and how others tried to shape it. And it's part one of one, meaning no future parts to wear out their welcome.

And now for the movie itself, King Dinosaur. This movie is actually the fourth movie shown on MST3K that was directed by a prolific B-movie director called Bert I. Gordon. His earlier "masterpieces" were Rocketship X-M, Jungle Goddess, and rock, Lost Continent, and while all of those films were atrocious pieces of cinema, King Dinosaur manages to outdo them by being the worst of them all (so far).

The story isn't even a story, it' a setting: four scientists use a rocketship to fly to a new planet called Nova in the solar system, and stuff happens. Like many other films that have a thin plot, this movie's so-called story is more like a vacation video without any real narrative. The scientists arrive on the planet, and they go places, meeting animals along the way. Does this sound like an interesting "plot" at all? Things only get "interesting" when they scientists encounter more dangerous animals, like a crocodile and then a "dinosaur," and even this doesn't really qualify as a plot as much as a random encounter. Only at the end does the film tack on some kind of explanation for their actions, and it's half-assed at best, completely lazy at worst.

Speaking of lazy, there is certainly no effort put into the writing in this film. There are two male scientists and two female scientists on the expedition, and while the film's introduction does introduce all of them by their professions instead of generic "science professor" (I'm looking at you, Slime People), on the planet they quickly revert to their sexist stereotypes. The men become the strong protectors and the women become the weak damsels in need of protection. At least there was only one forced coupling in the group instead of two.

And what of the eponymous King Dinosaur? It turns out to be a giant iguana with horns glued to its head. Also incredibly, the scientists mistake it as a Tyrannosaurus Rex (or something resembling it, which even then is stretching it), which stretches the credibility of the film to its breaking point. Beyond the iguana, the movie liberally uses stock footage for much of its padding sequences, from atomic research tests to wild animal documentaries to nuclear bomb tests. It's not hard to believe that nearly half of the entire movie feels like it came from some other movie.

Oh, and special mention must be made of the ending. After encountering the King Dinosaur, the four scientists run to get off the island where they found it. Before they run, however, the leave a nuclear bomb and start its timer. Why? Because it's apparently a good time to use it. They escape the island safely and take cover (behind a small hill, heh) before the bomb explodes and obliterates the island where they found the dinosaur. And the blew him up because...they didn't like it?

And what does one scientist say after the blast? "We did it. We brought civilization to Nova." Either the film makers were in on how bad this film was, or this line was uttered without any irony. If the latter part is true, then holy hell, they really screwed the ending up big time! Was it meant as a subtle anti-nuclear tract, which every movie seemed to be doing around this time? Even if so, it still doesn't explain why they decided to nuke the island instead of just run away.

King Dinosaur is apparently Gordon's first movie ever, and it really shows. The films he would make later are marginally better, but then again, having one toothpick shoved up your fingernails is marginally better than two.

MST3K Review

This episode had some really good riffing throughout. While not entirely a classic episode, the jokes were strong and the energy was apparent throughout. The short itself proved to be a smashing success, allowing Joel and the bots to focus on a one-shot instead of stretch things out over a couple parts like with a serial. And the movie also brought out some good jokes from beginning to end, making this one of the stronger episodes of season two so far.

Stinger Review

For the episode's stinger, I would've elected to go with the scientist saying without irony, after the nuclear blast, that they had brought civilization to the planet. But since this likely wouldn't have fit, the selected stinger suffices. A showcase for Bert I. Gordon's horrendous editing, it shows a woman screaming into the camera before cutting to a man staggering in an open field and then collapsing (with no accompanying scream). The jarring jump cut doesn't even make much sense in context, making it a perfect ending scene for the episode.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

S02E09 - The Hellcats


While investigate a crime boss that uses a biker gang to run drugs for him, a detective is killed by one of the crime boss's lackeys. The detective's brother, a sergeant in the army, later returns from active duty and learns of his brother death. Vowing revenge against the crime boss, the sergeant goes undercover with his brother's fiancee as a biking couple to join the Hellcats, the biker gang that the crime boss employs for his drug runs.

Movie Review

The third biker film that MST3K aired in its second season, The Hellcats proves to be the worst of the lot. Yes, even worse than The Sidehackers, the film that broke its generic story with a hideous rape sequence. How does this movie pull of such a magnificent feat? Heavy instances of padding and a thoroughly muddled story certainly contribute, as well as some thoroughly uninteresting characters.

Perhaps the biggest problem that Hellcats has is that it has no idea what kind of story it wants to tell. Does it want to tell a revenge tale about a marine trying to find who killed his detective brother? Or does it want to focus on a biker gang's illicit lifestyle? This movie has no idea what it wants to focus on, so it creates an uneven mishmash of both ideas. And even then the movie has no idea how to properly flesh out the narrative of any of the two, so it falls back on the trope that the remaining run time can be padded with unnecessary picnics and extended shots of motorcycles. While the padding isn't as bad as some previous films on this show, it's still egregious.

And the little bit of actual plot that can be found amidst the padding? Almost incomprehensible. Oh, yes, the overall story idea can be followed well enough, but the way it is executed is head-scratching. How did the marine and his brother's girlfriend infiltrate the gang so easily? Why did the biker gang's girlfriend choose the latter to ride with her on a drug run after knowing her for such a short time? Hell, why did she fall in love with the former so quickly? These are just a few of the nagging questions that remain after this mess of a film finishes with its prerequisite indie rock song no one has ever heard of.

And let's not forget about the characters, which might as well be represented by cardboard cutouts. The marine is played by Ross Hagen, who has the dubious "honor" of also being the lead in Sidehackers, and he is just as gruff and unlikable in Hellcats. His companion, his brother's girlfriend, at least isn't a blond bimbo who can't take care of herself, but she still does little beyond getting caught and acting tough with generic girl power. The bikers are the typical morons that make you question how they have eluded the police for so long, and the main villains - the crime lord and his henchmen - are stereotypes (they killed the crime lord's girlfriend for no reason, for Christ's sake!). At least there was no annoying comic relief this time around.

Overall, Hellcats is a complete waste of time in every regard, and the reason that there's so little to say about it is because it's too bland to really merit any kind of serious thought. Again, it is worse than Sidehackers, which is quite a feat.

MST3K Review

Yikes! What happened here? Usually over the course of an MST3K episode, there are at least several moments here and there that save an episode without a strong riffing script, but for this episode such moments were very few and far between. Apparently most of the Best Brains staff were out of town when this episode was being written, which explains why the jokes are not up to the usual wittiness that the second season has established. In fact, if it weren't for the smooth flow of the riffs, this episode could've fit right in with season one. It's still a moderately enjoyable episode, but definitely one of the worst in the series so far, definitely on par with the equally forgettable The Mad Monster.

Stinger Review

The stinger seems to have the same lack of effort as the episode's riffing, since it's more "huh?" than bizarre. In the stinger, we see the aftermath of a trumpeter being tossed into a river: his screams at his friends incomprehensibly before running out of the river. The lack of clarity in his words (try to make out any word other than "human," I dare you) is likely the reason for its selection as a stinger, but a man screaming something incoherent is not itself bizarre, just an example of poor sound quality. I'm not sure what other scene could've been selected as the stinger, but this one doesn't really do it for me, especially compared to the previous episodes' stingers.