Saturday, October 9, 2010

S03E05 - Stranded in Space


An astronaut is returning back to Earth when his ship undergoes a catastrophic failure that sends him and the ship reeling. When he awakens, he finds himself on what he initially believes to be Earth but quickly discovers is a completely different planet: Terra, a twin planet opposite Earth. With Terra under the control of a ruthless government known as the Perfect Order, he tries to figure out a way off Terra so he can return home before he is captured and killed for his disruptive presence.

Movie Review

Compared to some of the previous dreck that has appeared on MST3K, this episode's offering, a made-for-TV movie called Stranded in Space (originally entitled The Stranger) is not that bad. In fact, I dare say it's mildly entertaining, at least to a point. Unfortunately, that doesn't save the movie entirely from itself, as it still displays the familiar poor production values, flat acting, and flimsy plot characteristic of bad movies, only this time on the budget of a TV special.

The basic idea behind Stranded in Space is mildly clever, if a bit contrived. The idea of an astronaut getting stranded on a planet similar to Earth's except for several key differences is an intriguing one that could be entertaining if well written. Unfortunately, this movie left out the "well written" part. The biggest pill to swallow is that the alien planet, Terra, is in the same orbit as Earth around the sun, except it is completely opposite it. How the astronaut's ship managed to get lost enough to reach Terra is a big pill to swallow, not to mention Earth's astronomers somehow missing an entire planet sitting conveniently Earth's own orbit (the farthest planet, Pluto, was discovered in 1930, for god's sake!). And even if that pill is swallowed, there still has to be more room to swallow the idea that Terra is like a mirror world to Earth, with most inhabitants being left-handed and all the continents forming exactly the same, but mirrored. Oh, but Terra has three moons to Earth's one; I guess something had to be alien on this "alien" planet.

And boy, do they try their best to look alien (note the sarcasm) on Terra. Everything on Terra looks exactly like the Earthly 1970s with a few small touches here to make sure people remember that they are watching a distant planet instead of Earth. Of course, I can understand what the creators were going for - Terra is exactly like Earth, only mirrored in some ways and run by a totalitarian government called the Perfect Order - but the cheap production values really go a long way to making suspension of belief difficult. Many of the sets in this movie look like they were ripped directly from 70s TV sitcoms, and the number of Chrysler cars rolling throughout does make one wonder how Plymouth managed to get a production plant on a distant alien world.

Aside from the TV-budget effects, there is really nothing else of interest to discuss with this bland piece of cardboard of a film. The acting is flimsy and unmemorable, the plot is typical TV pulp, and the characters are broadly painted stereotypes with little motivation beyond contrivances. The only thing really of note is the ending, which is the expected setup for a TV series that never materialized after this "pilot" movie, and even then it's barely worth discussing. Admittedly the premise of an "alien" astronaut on the run from an evil world government and trying to get back home could make for an interesting series, but judging by how bland everything is in this movie, the world was likely better off not seeing the results of a failed Fugitive meets Logan's Run series.

MST3K Review

After the disappointment of Gamera vs Barugon, Joel and the bots returned to form in this episode. It doesn't approach the level of greatness of the first three episodes of season three, but the riffs were much better this time around than the previous episode and more consistently funny. Not a classic episode, but definitely entertaining.

Stinger Review

Admittedly, I'm a little puzzled by the selection of this stinger, in which the protagonist of the film is struck by a peeved woman while the two of them are sitting in a car. A woman hitting a guy isn't inherently weird, and the way she hit him wasn't that bizarre, either. Unfortunately, the movie is so generic that this was likely the best thing that Best Brains could've used, so I can't really fault them for choosing it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

S03E04 - Gamera vs. Barugon


A gang of treasure hunters travels to the South Pacific to search for a cave where a giant opal was hidden years earlier. The natives that guard the cave warn them not to take anything, but the giant opal is found and taken back to Japan. On the way, the opal hatches to reveal that it is in fact an egg containing Barugon, a monstrous lizard, which immediately goes on a rampage across the country. To make matters worse, Gamera has escaped from the rocket he had been sealed in and has returned to Earth.

Movie Review

Agh! A Gamera movie! Keep it away! Keep it away! Don't let Kenny speak, please...oh, Kenny isn't in this movie? That's excellent news, because it means the quality of the film is automatically bumped up by several points. Unfortunately, it still doesn't fix some major flaws with this film that prevent it from being silly but enjoyable flick in the vein of Godzilla vs. Megalon.

As alluded to in the previous paragraph, Kenny is joyfully absent in this installment in Daiei's ripoff of Toho's famous giant lizard. In fact, Gamera vs. Barugon is apparently the only film in the series that doesn't feature any annoying kids running around, making it more "adult" than the other films. However, the movie is still rife with issues aside from an irritating kid protagonist, one of the biggest being it can hardly be called a Gamera film. I mean, since when is the titular creature in the movie only present for a grand total of ten minutes of screen time?

Yes, the giant turtle shows up in a few scenes at the movie's beginning, briefly in the movie's middle, and then in the eponymous brawl at the end. Aside from that, Gamera vs. Barugon's story is about a group of jewel thieves, a South Pacific tribe, and their interactions with the giant monster Barugon, who should really have the top billing in the movie since he appears far more than Gamera. In fact, Gamera's appearance in the movie feels shoehorned, as if the movie makers decided that the people vs. Barugon conflict wasn't good enough and said, "Screw it, put Gamera in." And that's just what happens right at the end: when all hope is lost Gamera appears, defeats Barugon, and then that's the end of the conflict. Whoopee.

Special mention has to be made of Barugon here, since he is the primary monster featured in this movie. Another Daiei ripoff (this time of Toho's similar Baragon monster), Barugon is a giant lizard that can shoot cold from its tongue and a deadly rainbow from the scales on its back. This itself isn't worth discussing, since this is a kaiju flick, after all, but the suit used for Barugon is incredibly bad. The lizard's back legs are especially fake-looking, since they don't look like lizard legs at all but human legs - it's actually sad to see the human actor in the Barugon suit crawl on his hands and knees so obviously.

Beyond the fact that this Gamera movie is really not a Gamera movie and the other monster looks terrible, there really isn't that much else to say about this movie. The dubbing is, as expected, terrible. The human side of the story is contrived and dull with a bland love interest forced in. The lone highlight from the human portion of the tale comes from when the bad guy gets eaten by Barugon, though it's hardly enough to offset the rest of the dullness. And the final monster fight is barely worth the five minutes that it lasts and actually ends up being more boring that Gamera's lone rampage through Japan in the first film Gamera.

Though Gamera vs. Barugon doesn't have the vile Kenny or his ilk, it remains a bland piece of cinema with little going for it and doesn't even have the goofy charm of some other kaiju films.

MST3K Review

After three straight home runs this season, there was bound to be a strike in the episode quality eventually, and this movie ends up being that strike. While the jokes are funny and amusing, the writing and delivery isn't up to part with the previous episodes and the riffing comes across as muted. Perhaps having another Gamera film riffed so closely after the first one had drained Joel and the bots' creativity, which had happened with the season two Godzilla flicks. Though the riffing isn't as disappointing as that found in Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, it's still not up to the standards that the show has set up so far.

Stinger Review

For this film's stinger, a scene involving one of the opal hunters laughing crazily is selected. A bit of a disappointing selection, as it isn't really that memorable despite being a little awkwardly presented. A better stinger may have been the scene where the main girl protagonist sucks blood out of her male companion's arm wound, an act that looks entirely non-innocent with the selected camera angle.