What I'm Watching: Mystery Science Theater 3000 - Experiment 1101 - Reptilicus
Longtime readers of Trisk will be well aware of my love for MST3K. It is one of the greatest influences on why I do this, and my love of wonderfully bad movies.
So when they started their Kickstarter over a year ago, I knew I had to toss some money their way, and watching the fundraising efforts, and the telethon, was some of the most joyfully emotional times I had that year.
It has been a LONG wait since then, but the time is finally here, and after over 15 years, the show has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, or a Time Lord regenerating, and has returned.
The official release isn't until April 14th, when Netflix drops the entire season on us, but as a special reward to most of the Kickstarter backers, the MST3K crew dropped the first episode early, for just 24 hours, so we could see it before almost anyone else.
Now, since the show isn't available to the general public just yet, I am going to try and avoid too many spoilers, and stick to just my general thoughts, because there truly are some wonderful surprises. But since this show was so formative to me and this site, it was absolutely worth talking it up. Also, keep in mind I stayed up 'til 3am to watch it immediately when it became available, and only got a few hours sleep afterwards, so I'm a bit rambly and punchy, but wanted to get my thoughts out there while they were fresh.
In short, MST3K IS BACK BABY.
Jonah Ray, as Jonah Heston, is a great addition to the show, and perfectly follows in the jumpsuits of Joel and Mike before him as the human face of the crew of the Satellite of Love. He is friendly, charming, and most importantly, funny.
The riffing is rapid fire (Joel Hodgson described it during an update on how things were going as their being a high volume of riffs and I was not disappointed). It almost comes TOO fast, almost, but that just means there's more rewatchability to catch all the jokes.
As is to be expected, I was concerned about the new voices of Crow and Servo, but Hampton Yount's Crow is pitch perfect. There are moments where it sounds exactly like the Crow of old, but still distinctly his own. Baron Vaughn's Servo is more its own thing, and that's not bad. It's just *different* and my stubborn ass just needs time to get used to it, which I know I will. Especially since Servo still likes breaking into random song. I've heard Baron singing in various clips online, and I knew at least THAT part of the show was in great hands.
Which is another highlight of the show. It is still VERY musical, with the gang breaking out into random musical ditties during the movie, either because of a line of dialogue, or some silly music in the movie's score that inspires them to randomness or to remember a similar song, and some other wonderful surprises. Going hard with music in the first episode was a solid choice, because it almost lets the fans know this is still very MST3K. And while the voices need some getting used to for me, there are moments and lines where the personalities are nailed PERFECTLY and I know Crow and Servo are in good hands.
The setup for the show is still the same, paying homage to the 10 previous seasons, while also forging ahead, and building upon the universe of MST3K. In fact, the show actually drops a few things here and there that could come back in big ways as plot points further down the road. I know some folks aren't fans of the ongoing storyline of the Scifi Channel's first season, and I don't want them to go THAT far into ongoing plots, but having some threads bubble along here and there would be very cool indeed.
Felicia Day as the latest Forrester to torment some poor blue collar schlub is deliciously evil. I'm naturally used to her playing the goofy, geeky girl, and aside from a turn as Charlie Bradbury's evil half on an episode of Supernatural (Which was wonderful), she's rarely had the chance to spread her wings into other types of characters, and while the mad science angle still has her in familiar territory, the type of character is wholly different, and she's great at it.
And Patton Oswalt as TV's Son of TV's Frank is just as great as her assistant, and so perfectly cast as TV's Frank's progeny, if that is indeed what he is. He captures Frank Contiff's spirit perfectly, while still doing his own thing.
In short, the entire cast could not be any more spot on, and I look forward to seeing more chemistry between everyone as the show goes on.
As for the movie itself, well, Reptilicus is terrible, right? In fact, it's so terrible, I was cracking up at 4am in the pitch darkness and startled my dog, the *movie itself* was so laughably terrible for a moment.
But the transition is not perfect. Now, keep in mind a lot of these are going to be "This is new and different and I hate change!" and I'm sure they'll either tweak things or I'll shut the hell up and learn to love it, but I'm adjusting for now. First of all, something about the sets and lighting make everything on the SOL bridge feel too smooth and clean. I'm very used to that background being very cluttered with the kitbashing construction they did on the earlier shows. And now with the show in HD, it would be fun to pick over all the details, but it feels lacking. Again, not bad, just different. They actually make up for a lot of that in the new door sequence, which is a wonderfully cluttered sequence, and might actually answer 'how does he eat and sleep??'.
And in a very minor nitpick, I wish the shadowrama was a little larger. I feel like the movie is too much of the focus, and while I don't want to cover it up completely, it seems like the crew is pushed too much aside. It's harder to focus on and see what the gang is doing when they're so small and crammed over in the corner. But that doesn't affect the riffs, I just wish I could see them a little more and easier.
Which is the important thing. The jokes are solid, almost from start to finish. It's MST3K at a very solid level. I got a bunch of good laughs, it was a lot of fun, and any of my minor nits don't diminish from that. There's even a few classic MST3K riff callbacks.
Even with my few moments that didn't quite work for me, I still very much want to sit down and rewatch the episode a few more times, if just to get everyone's voices to settle down in my head, and catch more of the jokes.
The first episode had a few tiny stumbles, but was largely great and funny, from riffs to host segments, and the perfectly low budget feel of a lot of the effects and sets. As slick as the bridge looks, Jonah's little asteroid tugboat is so perfectly MST3K in style. For all the minor hiccups, there's 13 more episodes to come, and I am sure the first episode isn't the best we're going to get out of this first season. It is a rock solid start that gets the ball rolling. It may be a little different, but it's still very VERY good, and that just means...
MST3K is back, baby!