Well, May 25th was actually our anniversary, but I’ve been busy. I’m working again. The dog ate the flowers I got for you. C’mon baby, let me in! There’s crickets out here.
Ahem…This post marks the one year anniversary (a bit late) of the Random Movie Review experiment, so I thought it might be a good time to reflect on how the old RMRs are doing. I’ve tried to come up with something new, not that writing movie reviews is new, nor is reviewing random movies. But I haven’t seen anybody else doing them the way I do them.
Every once in a while I’ll Google Random Movie Review just to check. There are some (occasionally quite good) writers doing reviews that they call “Random Movie Review” or some variation, but either they don’t explain their randomness or they’ll start with “So and so’s new movie just came out so I thought I’d check out his earlier work.” Something like that. So far I haven’t seen anyone else actually picking movies completely at random. There probably is somebody else doing it, but I haven’t seen them. In the first year I’ve done 35 movies (including one guest written by Miss Demure Restraint, stay tuned for another one – or two). That’s pretty close to 1.5 movies a week. I figure if I keep going at this rate I will review every movie ever made by the time I’m 9,387 years old. That’s if they stop making new movies. Which they probably will when the earth shifts on it’s axis, Planet X crashes into us, or zombies take over. Zombies make boring movies. Have you seen An American Carol?
So what do y’all think of the old RMRs? Are you enjoying them? Do you hate them? Do you wish I would go back to writing about WalMart? (Kinda tough to do since I don’t work there anymore.) In some ways I feel like there’s been a bit of “mission creep” happening here on le blog. I started the thing to write about my life. Now my life is in transition, and I don’t know what to say about it. I haven’t given up on the personal stuff. Maybe I’m taking a break. I’m not really sure.
But I love the RMR project. In some ways maybe it’s saved my life, or my sanity. I love seeing what the next movie’s going to be. What Sting calls the sacred geometry of chance. I love when something great comes up, like Blade Runner or This Is Spinal Tap. I love the really bad stuff too, like Zombie Lake or Mutual Appreciation. I hope folks out there are liking the reviews. They do seem to get quite a few views. As always, I would like more comments **nudge nudge** Love ’em, hate ’em. Let me know.
OK, on to our 36th RMR:
To paraphrase Country songwriter Tom T. Hall, in a few of my posts I have casually mentioned the fact that I like Mystery Science Theater 3000, the TV show from 1988 to 1999 that lovingly mocked bad movies. Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later; two of my movie obsessions have combined! One of my random movie gizmos (in this case flixflip) has led me to the 1969 movie Marooned, which was MSTified in Episode 0401 as Space Travelers. We’ll get to that later. First, the original Marooned, unMSTificated and as originally released in 1969:
Gregory Peck – Charles Keith – Chief of Manned Space
Richard Crenna – Jim Pruett – Spacecraft Commander
David Janssen – Ted Dougherty – Senior Astronaut
James Franciscus – Clayton Stone – Science Systems Astronaut
Gene Hackman – Buzz Lloyd – Apollo Guidance Pilot
Lee Grant – Celia Pruett
Mariette Hartley – Betty Lloyd
USA – 11 December 1969
Sweden – 13 February 1970
Finland – 27 February 1970
West Germany – 27 February 1970
France – 11 March 1970
Denmark – 30 March 1970
1970 Hugo Awards – Best Dramatic Presentation (Nominated)
The word “marooned” is just one of those words that automatically brings a sense of dread – unlike Maroon 5, which just brings a sense of bad music and skinny jeans. It’s a word that goes back to the days when dread pirates and other sailors would abandon the captain that they’ve just overthrown on a deserted island to die. It’s one of those punishments from ye olde pirate stories, along with keelhauling and walking the plank. Arr! I be gettin’ off track again, I do.
Marooned is a movie that came out in 1969, four months after the first actual moon landing. For my younger fervent readers, let me explain something. There was a time when the government of this country did big things like sending people to other planets. OK, well…planet. OK…technically not a planet, but shut up, my point is we used to do big shit. Then, after a few trips back to the moon we decided to spend the next 20 years wasting money on the space shuttle. Now we don’t even do that anymore.
But, back in the late 60s and early 70s we not only still had a space program that was worth two shits, but visionary writers like Gene Roddenberry and Arthur C. Clarke envisioned a future when we would continue to boldly go into space, to explore strange new worlds, blah blah blah. Well, that ship sailed…or more accurately, stopped sailing.
That is, if you believe that we actually did put a man on the moon in the first place. But even if we didn’t, at least we had the stones as a country to make everybody think we did. Now we can’t even pull off a decent hoax anymore. Well, I take that back. The whole “George W. Bush is president” thing was a pretty good hoax.
But I digress.
Marooned does a pretty good job of making the danger that astronauts faced seem quite real. The mission in the film isn’t a moon shot, it’s a long term mission to dock with a space station and live there for seven months in preparation for longer missions to other planets.
The film doesn’t specify when it’s set, but it appears to be set in the present day of 1969 or in the not too distant future. One of the astronauts refers to the moon shots in the past and bemoans the fact that he won’t get a chance to go to Mars because he’s too old. The astronauts are returning from a grueling five months on the space station, the mission has been cut short because the astronauts are suffering from fatigue and making costly mistakes, this fatigue will factor into the problems that they are about to have in their return to Earth.
After they are separated from the space station, their retro rockets inexplicably fail to fire, leaving the three astronauts in orbit around the earth but basically stranded. If you will, marooned. Back in Houston the rocket scientists try to come up with a way to rescue the astronauts before their oxygen runs out in a couple of days. They eventually decide to send up an experimental ship that looks like a precursor to those damned space shuttles.
All the actors do a good job. It’s great to see Gregory Peck as the Chief, with his commanding voice and Mt. Rushmore face, you just know you can follow him into combat. Richard Crenna and James Franciscus were more known for their TV work, but they are fine here.
In his second appearance here in the Random Movie Reviews, a young Gene Hackman is excellent as the most unhinged of the astronauts. Lee Grant and Mariette Hartley are a couple of faves from the 70s and they do the best they can with the thankless job of playing the astronaut’s wives. Hartley actually says the following line entirely without irony: “The best thing is for us girls to keep our feelings to ourselves and let the men get on with their jobs.” Well, it was the 60s. Fortunately, Ms. Hartley would go on to better things, like working with James Garner and having two belly buttons.
Some may find the film a little slow at times, and I don’t disagree. It was a different era in terms of film editing and pacing, but there are three countdown scenes in the movie and they go on far too long although some of the technical dialogue is at least unintentionally amusing: “This one’s gonna light on your toes.” “We have a problem with the liftoff on the KS system, but Fido’s prepared to back it up.”
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
If you can get past the prefeminist attitude and the occasional slowness, Marooned is not a bad ride.
Random Quote Whore Quote:
Marooned is a daguerreotypic, winning, nose of a movie! Gregory Peck is empowered!!!
So, I’ve been thinking for a while that I might want to start a series of reviews of the MST3K episodes I’ve seen and/or have in my collection. Not sure if I want to do that and how I should go about it.
First of all, they wouldn’t really be reviews because – for any true MSTie – even a lesser episode is better than 99% of anything else on TV. However, some episodes rise to a higher standard than others, so many fans on various MSTical sites have used the five star system to rate episodes. That’s boring, but as you will see below I have – for this post anyway – used that framework with a little Misplaced Boy twist. Also, there are numerous sites that explain in detail all the culture references that the merry band of writers (known as the “Best Brains”) threw in to their riffs, so I’m not going to do that. I’ll just highlight the stuff that makes me giggle.
Now, I’m fully aware that some of you are shaking your heads and saying one of two things:
1. “I hate MST3K and consider it to be a waste of time, video, and precious 1s and 0s.”
2. “What the freaking freak is an MST3K? Please explain, Joe.”
OK, nothing I can do will change the opinions of those who hold with #1. I still respect you and hope you will afford me the same courtesy. If you haven’t already done so, you may ignore the rest of this post. I’ll catch you on the next one. For the others, here’s a brief explanation:
In the not too distant past, 1988, a little show started on a local Minneapolis station. The premise of the show was that a pair of evil scientists sent one of their employees into space to be their little lab rat subject for a bizarre experiment.
“The Mads,” as they came to be known, wanted to see how many bad movies the human mind could absorb before madness takes it’s toll. Unfortunately for them (but not for us) their victim, Joel Robinson was resourceful and made some robot friends out of spare parts he found around the ship (which he ironically dubbed “The Satellite of Love”). These robots not only helped Joel keep his sanity, but they refined the concept of “movie riffing” to a new level.
Riffing. We’ve all done it with our friends, especially when watching something particularly awful. I have a beloved memory from one night in 1984 when I was in Costa Rica with a missions group. At the house or church we were staying at, somebody found a TV and they were playing one of the Airport movies. The movie was dubbed into Spanish of course, which was funny enough by itself to hear fluent Spanish coming out of all these American B-list actors, but then some of us started to make up our own dialogue.
Well, this is pretty much the level of respect that Joel and the Bots showed the fearfully bad movies that they were shown. Like Penn Gillette used to say in promos for the show after it transferred to Comedy Central, it was like watching a hilariously bad movie with three of your funniest friends.
Over the years, the personnel changed somewhat. Joel fled the SOL and was replaced by Mike “Son of Nel” “Destroyer of Worlds” Nelson. The Mads changed too, but the new ones were just as mad…and funny. A few of the shows have been released on video, but most of them are in murky legal territory because of the rights of the original movies. Fortunately because MSTies taped the episodes and kept circulating the tapes, these episodes can be found by private sellers and on the YouTubes.
So, turn down your lights (where applicable). We’ve got movie sign!!!
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Space Travelers
First Broadcast: 6 June 1992 – Comedy Central
Host Segments Directed by:
At this point I can hear some of you saying, “Wait a minute, Joe, my little vacuum flower. Didn’t you just say that MST3K mocked bad movies? Didn’t I see an Academy Award up there? And didn’t you give it a Cambot? The Misplaced Boy equivalent of a 6.5?” Yes, you are correct. This is the rare exception. Marooned was a big movie with good actors, and it was the only Oscar winning movie that the Best Brains spoofed. The fact that Marooned was featured on MST3K has actually been a sore spot among some sci-fi fans. Reportedly Dennis Miller was so scarred by it that he turned to the Dark Side, fell in love with George W. Bush, and became a right wing lugnut who is no longer funny.
You must bear in mind a couple of things. The Oscar was for special effects, not writing, acting, or editing…three things that Joel and the bots find plenty to make fun of.
Also, the movie that they are technically riffing is Space Travelers. What happened was that for a while in the 80s, the rights to Marooned got away from Columbia and a company called Film Ventures got ahold of it. Film Ventures, known in some circles as “Film Vultures,” was a company that acquired the rights to old movies or TV shows and repackaged them with shoddy music, new title sequences, and sometimes new names, hence Marooned becomes Space Travelers. Film Ventures’ level of professionalism was such that one commenter on an MST3K fan site pointed out that during the new titles the earth is actually spinning the wrong direction. Nice.
Let’s face it though, as earnest as the movie is, the slow pacing as well as the 60s styles and attitudes provides plenty to make fun of. Running gags on this episode include Crow’s killer Peck impersonation, Joel and Crow confusing James Franciscus with Tony Franciosa (he was the Finder of Lost Loves you know), and how good Gene Hackman is – even in scenes he’s not in.
When Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank (or as Joel calls them this week, “The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday”) call, The Mads are upset that the 1991 Bruce Willis vehicle The Last Boy Scout is tanking at the box office. As TV’s Frank says, “Many of us in the industry have taken note of its lackluster domestic performance.” They see this as a genuine setback to the forces of evil. They then briefly get lost in reverie thinking about Bruce Willis’ wonderfully evil recording The Return of Bruno.
***Sigh*** I miss pretentious people in LA referring to themselves as members of “the industry.” I’ll be back soon to make fun of them again in person.
In the first five seasons of the show, Joel and the Mads had an “invention exchange.” They would trade ideas for improvements of current items (turning the recumbent bike into the recomfy bike) or entirely new ideas like microwave Faith Popcorn. In this edition, Joel has invented the Dollaroid©. Gypsy poses for a picture, says “Richard Basehart” (Gypsy loves her some Richard Basehart), and voilà! No more need to come up with identification so that a retail establishment will accept your money. Your identification is right on your money!
The Mads invention is a topical one: Facial tissue with actual celebrity faces. Frank has a Kleenex box full of Republican hopefuls in the upcoming 1992 election, but unfortunately he is more allergic to Pat Buchanan than he thought. Dr. F on the other hand is sneezing at the line of Star Search comedy competition runner-ups. Achoo!
Ah, yes. Star Search. I forgot that Sinbad and Rick Ducommun started on Star Search. And what the hell is a Geechy Guy? Interestingly enough, unlike the giant, steaming lump of mediocrity that is American Idol, quite a few people with actual talent appeared on Star Search. But I digress. Regarding the inventions: I can actually think of a more appropriate tissue for Pat Buchanan’s face; and as far as putting your face on US money, now you can actually do it. You can do it for fun, like I did below, or even for reals. So, as always the Brains were ahead of their time.
Finally, everybody solves their little problems and lights the candle, and the movie starts. As Tom says, “Let the carnage begin.”
J&tBs have a lot of fun with the technobabble spoken during the many countdown sequences, adding their own lines such as “Word up,” “That’s a Yahtzee,” and reacting to the NASA folks saying “negative” so much by saying, “Always with the negative waves.” “Roger” and “Mark” are always being talked about, and at one point Joel answers the question “Do you read?” with “Well, I read Final Exit, that’s gonna come in handy.”
Along with Crow’s killer Peck, another actor that gets a lot of grief is the late David Janssen. He is portrayed by J&tBs as constantly worrying about the one-armed man and needing a drink. I’m not sure if Janssen was really an alcoholic or if he just played one on TV, but he is best known as the original Fugitive.
As Tom is constantly pointing out to Crow and Joel, James Franciscus was an entirely different person from Tony Franciosa (who was the Finder of Lost Loves you know). Other than Marooned, James Franciscus was possibly best known for playing a blind detective on a TV show in the 70s. When you think about it, some of our most beloved TV crime fighters have had disabilities, for example: Paralyzed (Ironside), overweight (Cannon), or mentally retarded (Dog the Bounty Hunter).
Finder of Lost Loves actually seemed like an interesting premise for a detective show, and I remember trying to watch it…once. Like all Aaron Spelling shows, however, it was hopelessly unwatchable. Unlike most of Spellings other shows, it only lasted one season. Again, for some of my younger readers, I may need to explain how television worked in the 70s and 80s. Back then they used to write scripts, hire actors to act in them, and carefully craft a drama or comedy series. It wasn’t as easy to produce quality programming as it is today when all they need to do is find some inbred alligator wrestlers or sleazy pawn shop owners and turn them loose in front of cameras. We really do live in a Golden Age, don’t we?
In their second host segment, J&tBs enlighten us about the many contributions that the space program has brought to our lives. Invaluable items such as vitamins, spats, frozen fish sticks, both Scooby and Scrappy Doo, and of course Bradford, Winton, and Chicken Marsalis. Space: Enjoy some today.
My favorite part is when J&tBs reenact the movie in a host segment sketch:
Joel: “Roger on that glory hold, sir.”
Other fave lines: “Is [writer] Mayo Simon related to Lillian Hellman?” *
As astronaut Stone looks like he’s working on a crossword puzzle: “What’s a four letter word for “fiery death?”
“This bites, Houston. Over.”
One character’s last words according to Joel: “Either that matte painting goes or I do.”
The episode ends with Joel having a little fun with his set of action figures that includes James Franciscus, Tony Franciosa, and Burl Ives. So jealous…I want a Burl Ives action figure. You know what a huge Burl Ives fan I am.
Now for my rating:
The MSTplaced Boy Dollaroid© Scale
Instead of a rating from one to five stars, I decided to take a cue from Joel’s Dollaroid© invention from this episode and design a set of dollar bills with the kissers of our heroes on them. A so-so episode will get a $1 bill with Tom Servo’s lady-killing mug on it:
A slightly better episode will get Crow on a fiver:
A middle of the road episode will get Mike on a ten:
Then, Gypsy will pop out of an ATM machine for a better episode:
And the best of the best will be granted Joel on a fitty:
All things considered, if you’ve never watched MST3K before, this would be a pretty good episode to start with. It’s not a hopelessly inept movie like Manos or The Wild World of Batwoman, and The Brains do a good job of making it funny. Not all the jokes retrofire and Tom goes full Pesci once too often. I’m giving it a ten:
So there it is, my 36th RMR and my first (and possibly only) MST3K review. Please let me know what you think. Should I do more?
I welcome all comments.
You can watch MST3K 0401 – Space Travelers via the YouTube link right here: