In the not too distant past, somewhere in cyberspace, Joel Hodgson and over 48,000 of his friends raised $5,764,229 via a phenomenally successful Kickstarter campaign to relaunch the Satellite of Love back into orbit where it had last been sighted in August 1999 when the final episode Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was broadcast, featuring Mario Bava’s 1968 comic book inspired oddity Danger: Diabolik.
A show which had traditionally been produced for a meagre budget, previous homes had been the Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota based KTMA, the Comedy Channel, Comedy Central and the US Sci-Fi Channel for the eighth, ninth and tenth seasons, a handful of those episodes having been licensed for broadcast on the UK Sci-Fi Channel, first screened late on Saturday nights to bamboozle audiences who staggered home inebriated to be discover bizarre B-movies mocked by silhouetted robots.
The premise of the show was simple, as was reflected in the rustic approach to sets, costumes and effects, as hapless test subjects (Hodgson’s Joel Robinson then Michael J Nelson’s Mike Nelson) were kidnapped by members of the Forrester family (Trace Beaulieu’s Doctor Clayton Forrester then Mary Jo Pehl as his mother Pearl) and forced to watch a series of terrible movies to gauge their reactions.
In order to defend themselves and preserve their sanity, Robinson and Nelson made merciless fun of the films along with their mechanical pals Crow T Robot and Tom Servo while Gypsy managed both the running of the ship and taking care of the boys. For those with an affection for and awareness of the cheesiness of what sometimes passes for science fiction cinema, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was an endless source of amusement in the form of one-liners, vicious put-downs, ridiculous cultural references and musical pastiches.
The rights to the show having been reacquired by Hodgson, the Kickstarter campaign allowed him to produce a full new season maintaining full creative control without the requirement that a studio approve content in order that the original the style and tone could be preserved, although a broadcast network was simultaneously being sought and it was soon announced that Netflix would stream the new episodes alongside selected earlier adventures.
Released to backers ahead of official distribution, the first episode sees space trucker Jonah Heston (actor and comedian Jonah Ray) captured by Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), daughter of Doctor Clayton Forrester, preparing to revive his mad experiments with her own “liquid video technology” assisted by Max (comedian, actor and voice artist Patton Oswalt) and their skeleton crew, all before the opening credits have even rolled.
Trapped on board the Satellite of Love, Jonah, Crow, Tom and Gypsy (now voiced by Hampton Yount, Baron Vaughn and Rebecca Hanson) are forced to watch the 1961 science fiction giant monster horror Reptilicus; despite it being the American language version directed by Sidney W Pink rather than Poul Bang’s Danish original, the crew are understandably dismayed.
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and it’s this movie,” they observe as the narrative arrives in Copenhagen, Reptilicus largely failing to live up to the billing of “a story that would terrorise the world,” with a frozen lump of prehistoric flesh excavated during oil drilling thawed out and regenerated to become a less than impressive puppet challenged by bad acting, terrible dialogue and an inordinate amount of stock footage of the Danish armed forces – “cheaper than extras and less busy.”
Proving that bad movies are not confined to any one country, Reptilicus is undeniably a Scandinavian attempt to capture the might of Godzilla much as Britain did with Gorgo in 1960, a film already verbally savaged by Mike and the bots to within an inch of its scaly life in the ninth season; despite the less than impressive titular beast bearing more resemblance to the Skarasen of Terror of the Zygons, it’s still a better film than Shin Godzilla.
Mystery Science Theatre 3000 has always been a variable show as not all bad movies are suitable for the kind of mockery which translates to the screen and even within the strongest episodes the jokes are at best hit and miss but Reptilicus plays well in the format, lively, colourful and as ambitious as it is lacklustre, perfect fodder for those on the Satellite of Love and below in Moon 13 who use it against them.
A veteran of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog as well as her own series The Guild, Day is a multi-talented natural entertainer who fits perfectly into the slightly demented requirements of Kinga, while the awkward performance of the bequiffed Oswalt is fully believable as “TV’s Son of TV’s Frank” (Frank Conniff), eternally abused lab assistant of Doctor Forrester.
As the ostensible lead it is upon Ray that the most pressure falls, and to fill the hot seat in the front row of the cinema requires a broad and flexible skillset which he demonstrates brilliantly in a globe spanning kaiju checklist musical number which is the undoubted highlight of the opening episode, supported of course by Tom, Crow and even Gypsy.
Visually the show ties seamlessly with the original episodes; while the elements may be composited and enhanced digitally the style of the modelwork is as endearingly make-do and mend and outdated as twenty years ago while the variety of references remains diverse and eclectic, from The Twilight Zone to The Wicker Man, Glen Miller to the Village People, Heart’s Ann Wilson to Tilda Swinton, and with notable guests from other science fiction franchises and cameos from former cast members the new episodes will satisfy fan expectation.
Further experiments will feature the Cry Wilderness (Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, 1987), The Time Travellers (Ib Melchior, 1964) Avalanche (Corey Allen, 1978) The Beast of Hollow Mountain (Edward Nassour and Ismael Rodríguez, 1956) Starcrash (Luigi Cozzi, 1978) The Land that Time Forgot (Kevin Connor, 1974) The Loves of Hercules (Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, 1960) Yongary, Monster from the Deep (Ki-duk Kim, 1967) Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (Héctor Olivera, 1985), Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (Charles B Griffith, 1989) Carnival Magic (Al Adamson, 1981), The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (Rossano Brazzi, 1966) and At the Earth’s Core (Kevin Connor, 1976).
Season Eleven of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is available on Netflix from Friday 14th April