Why Mystery Science Theater 3000 Should Not Return

Believe me, I am a fan. This show has weaved itself in and out of my life since its days on the “Comedy Channel.” I wasn’t big on Strangers with Candy or Kids in the Hall. For me, Comedy Central in its first decade was all about South Park and Mystery Science Theater 3000. As a kid, the show struck me as not only incredibly silly and accessible, but also as something sophisticated. For me, it was my first real example of “adult humor.” Not adult in the South Park way, but in the sense that so many of the jokes went over my head.  The jokes were either funny observations of something ridiculous on screen, or a reference that went way over my head as a child. Revisiting the show as an adult not only brings back the nostalgic memories of that delightful set, funny robots, and goofy mad scientists, but it also deepens my appreciation for the writers. The jokes are smart, varied, and cover a wide range of topics. It is also, obviously, steeped in 90s cultures, with many references likely slipping by younger fans that have discovered the show through YouTube. Age test: If you catch the reference to MCI when a character makes a phone call, you know what I’m talking about.

That being said, it seems that the obvious conclusion would be for me to donate daily to the fund raising campaign, started by MST3K creator Joel Hodgson, to bring back the show. My initial reaction was surprise. I thought it might happen, but I could not believe it was true. My second reaction was a resounding “NO.” I am not surprised that Joel wants to bring the show back, but what did surprise me was the overwhelming support this campaign seems to have drawn.

From what I have seen, I appear to be completely in the minority on this one. I do not want the show to come back. Before any animosity is flung my way like a small present from Professor Bobo, let me explain my reasoning.

Let’s start with the superficial reasons. At the time of this writing, a few new cast members have been announced. Not surprisingly, none of the original cast has signed on to return. Yes, Joel Hodgson is helming this return, but at this stage it appears that even he will not be seen on camera. Therefore we have new mads, a new victim on the Satellite of Love, and new voices for the bots. Of course I’ll be the first to admit, new characters and voices are not a problem for this show. The last few seasons looked nothing like the first few, and I strongly believe MST3K never jumped the shark. I love Joel episodes. I love Mike episodes. I love Dr. Forrester episodes. I love Pearl episodes. However, a new cast for the show after some fifteen years of being off the air seems too jarring and unnecessary.

My second reason acts more of an indictment of pop culture and the community that loves this show. Why are film and TV enthusiasts so adamantly against and so vocally opposed to the barrage of reboots and remakes in film over the past several years so blindly willing to give this a pass? Despite the fact that it is marketed to us as a “return,” let’s call it what it is: a MST3K reboot. To me, this is another example of a relic that worked perfectly in its own Sitz im Leben, which is now being dragged into our often, but not always, modern-era of creativity-devoid entertainment.

Tying into this point is my third and final argument. Why can we not allow great entertainment of the past to stay in the past? It’s not as if this gem of a show was cut short in its early days. MST3K enjoyed ten seasons of nearly 200 episodes on three networks, a feature length film, a complete cast change, the honor of being one of the most popular cult-T.V shows of all time, and ended its run with a proper final episode. Nothing in that list of accomplishments suggests that the show was cheated out of potential or cut short. Just because the show was bookended with a beginning and a definitive end does not diminish its impact or worth. Nostalgia has been wildly popular in the pop culture conscience for several years. One reason for that, I believe, is that those of us who love this kind of stuff are starved for truly great new material, thus we look back to the past. Of course, people of my generation are getting older and we, like previous generations, like to reminisce and swear adamantly that our stuff was better.

I may or may not watch the reboot of MST3K when it happens. Honestly, I have not decided. I suppose that if I was 100% committed to my principles, I would not. However, morbid curiosity may win the day. In the meantime, I will simply wish Joel the best of luck and continue to enjoy classic episodes of the show while I continue to find new forms of zany, creative, and joy-filled entertainment.

Am I way off here? Respond below or feel free to email me at fromthedeskandshelf@gmail.com

 

-Andrew

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Weekly Screening Write-Up: The Last Broadcast

Lastbroadcast

About The Series:

The Weekly Screening Write-Up is an ongoing series for my blog. The purpose is to review briefly, at minimum, one film a week. In order to keep it interesting, I have imposed two pieces of criteria on myself for this entry. I will only write on films that I have viewed for the first time. I will not discuss films that I have purchased. I will describe the manner in which I watched the film and give a brief review.

TITLE:

The Last Broadcast (1998)

Horror/Found Footage

DIRECTORS:

Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler

**MAJOR SPOILERS**

SYNOPSIS:

(From IMDB.com) “Bristling with equipment, two enthusiastic local access cable TV producers recruit an assistant and venture into a forest in search of the mythical and horrifying Jersey Devil. Days later, only one of the trio emerges. He becomes the prime suspect in the disappearances of the other two. However, a local filmmaker examines extensive footage found at the scene and arrives at a different conclusion.”

REVIEW & THOUGHTS:

Immediately, The Last Broadcast succeeds on two fronts. First, the movie does a good job of building suspense and mystery with its narrative. Unfortunately, it also manages to completely destroy the buildup with one of the most nonsensical endings ever put to videotape (yes videotape, this was not recorded on film).

The Last Broadcast begins interestingly enough. It is a found footage movie from the late 90s, but whereas The Blair Witch Project aimed for authenticity, it is clear that this film is manufactured with subpar sets and costumes, typically of news reports and police officers. The premise is perfect for a horror/mystery movie. A group of people venture into the woods, only one comes out. The others (expect for one) are found brutally murdered. The lone survivor is charged and tried for the murders. All the evidence presented in the film points to the character Jim (the survivor). We the audience know (or should know) that he did not commit the murders, so the real intrigue begins as the creator of the “documentary” begins picking apart the evidence piece by piece, slowly demonstrating that Jim could not have been the killer. In my opinion, the movie functions quite well to this point. You relate to the characters and want to discover who, or what, caused these murders.

Then, the entire movie crumbles with its twist ending. Skipping a few details, we learn that the person making the documentary, the person providing the voice-over, is in fact behind the murders. This on its face is not a particularly bad twist, however the execution is awful. The Last Broadcast bizarrely switches to a standard third-person perspective after the killer’s reveal, moving the film from a found footage to a standard format. It is unexpected to move from first-person perspective and interview format throughout the film, to seeing the killer holding a camcorder and speaking into it. This ruins the movie by completely pulling the viewer out of the experience of the found footage format. Overall, I thought the film had an interesting premise and a decent buildup, but the entire thing falls apart with the ending.

How I viewed it:

DVD through Netflix

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Weekly Screening Write-Up: Supercop

Supercop

About The Series:

The Weekly Screening Write-Up is an ongoing series for my blog. The purpose is to review briefly, at minimum, one film a week. In order to keep it interesting, I have imposed two pieces of criteria on myself for this entry. I will only write on films that I have viewed for the first time. I will not discuss films that I have purchased. I will describe the manner in which I watched the film and give a brief review.

TITLE:

Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)

Action/Crime/Martial Arts

DIRECTOR:

Stanley Tong

SYNOPSIS:

(From IMDB.com) “A Hong Kong detective teams up with his female Red Chinese counterpart to stop a Chinese drug czar.”

REVIEW & THOUGHTS:

With the lackluster Shanghai series and the needless Karate Kid remake, it is easy for modern audiences to forget that through the 1980s and 1990s, Jackie Chan was an action film star of par excellence. With the perfect combination of humor, masterfully choreographed fights, and breathtaking stunts, Jackie Chan films of the 80s and 90s remind one of the spectacle of actions movies. Long before the days of CGI and muscle bound “bros,” Jackie relied on talent and courage to create some of the most exhilarating scenes ever put to celluloid.

The story of Supercop is straightforward. Jackie is a Hong Kong cop (this was 1992 after all) who must go undercover to infiltrate a drug gang. Joining him is the equally impressive Michelle Yeoh, playing a Chinese cop. The movie is a thrill ride, as Jackie must convince the gang and his primary contact Panther that he is the real deal. Amazing action sequences and fantastic humor permeate the film throughout. Without a doubt, the highlight of the film involves a double-climax action sequence as Jackie moves from a thrilling helicopter ride through a Malaysian city, in which he was really hanging from a rope ladder on a helicopter 1,000 feet above ground without a safety net, to a fight on top of a moving train.

The film clocks in around the standard 90 minutes and does not feel drawn out at any point. Even the more expositional scenes do not detract from the entertainment value of the film. The fights and fast action remind one that MTV-style editing and CGI trickery is not required to create a thrilling action adventure. This is an action standard that I would highly recommend to anyone, especially if you are looking to get into martial arts films.

How I viewed it:

Instant watch on Netflix.

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Weekly Screening Write-Up: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausica_Of_The_Valley_Of_The_Wind_1984_1

About The Series:

The Weekly Screening Write-Up is an ongoing series for my blog. The purpose is to review briefly, at minimum, one film a week. In order to keep it interesting, I have imposed two pieces of criteria on myself for this entry. I will only write on films that I have viewed for the first time and, going along with that, it will not be a film that I own. I will describe the manner in which I watched the film and give a brief review.

TITLE:

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Animated

DIRECTOR:

Hayao Miyazaki

SYNOPSIS:

(From IMDB.com) “Warrior/pacifist Princess Nausicaä desperately struggles to prevent two warring nations from destroying themselves and their dying planet.”

REVIEW & THOUGHTS:

Nausicaä was great. The film holds an important place in history, as it served to demonstrate the quality and imagination that would come from Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Although early and pre-Ghibli, I found many of the reoccurring standards of Miyazaki’s work: themes of nature vs. humans, motivationally complex antagonists, complex characters, and well-imagined worlds with breath-taking animation. Our main character is a kind, anti-war, but assertive princess who I found to be a fantastic character. Her willingness to prevent a war that would plunge the world into further darkness was a driving point of the film and frankly, I enjoyed it. On another note, this movie’s vision of a dystopian future is absolutely amazing. A film in which the industrial world collapsed one thousand years prior makes it feel very alien yet familiar all at once.

I would say that this was one of Miyazaki’s most imaginative works, but that description could be applied across the board. Perhaps not quite as imaginative as Spirited Away or as adventurous as Castle in the Sky, but that is all debatable. I would certainly recommend this film to anyone, especially if they are new to Miyazaki’s films or Studio Ghibli in general. Also, it is nice to see animated films that are fill with complexity, rich themes, and serious issues while still maintaining a high level of entertainment and action. If you haven’t seen this masterpiece, check out the work of a master.

How I viewed the film:

2005 DVD rented from Netflix. The picture was not the best, but the recent Blu-Ray releases have spoiled me. I certainly hope to obtain the Blu-Ray of this one sometime this year.

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Weekly Screening Write-Up: The Legend of Hell House

Time to get back to it. That’s the phrase that I’ve been repeating to myself lately regarding this blog. With various commitments to work, writing, family life, etc, I, like so many, have fallen into the realm of not having enough time to write and post. Hopefully, with this new strategy, that will change. As you may know, my writings here alternate between pieces on Religion and my own reactions to movies. The Religion articles typically take long to produce as there is more depth to them.

Therefore, for this new series, I will focus on short film reviews that will be posted weekly. Because I watch a fair (read: excessive) amount of movies and television series, it should not be difficult to write up short reviews on a weekly basis.

So here it is, I present my new “Weekly Screening Write-Up!” I’ll write about one new movie a week and see what reactions or discussions such films produce. For the inaugural entry, let me quickly run through a horror classic.

 

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Director: John Hough

Written by: Richard Matheson (novel and screenplay)

Starring: Roddy McDowall, Gayle Hunnicutt, Clive Revill, and Pamela Franklin

Quick Plot Synopsis: 4 individuals, including a physicist, a psychic, and a previous occupant, spend a week in the notorious “Hell House,” a giant mansion that is reputed to be haunted. Previous occupants have either died, experienced horrific injuries, or suffered mental breakdowns. What is the horrifying secret of Hell House?

Reaction:

With the dozens of categories that one could label as a sub-genre of horror, one of my personal favorites just might be the “haunted house genre.” For me, it is the perfect format to demonstrate the art of subtlety, an outstanding and seemingly lost quality in horror films in general. Legend of Hell House fits perfectly into this category, following in the thread that began with The Old Dark House, moved into popcorn fare in the 1950s with The House on Haunted Hill, became psychological thrillers with The Haunting in 1963, and went big budget with Poltergeist in 1982. Tucked in 1970s is The Legend of Hell House, a film that relies on subtle noises and ghostly occurrences in order to build its tensions and scares. I thought the film worked very well. Of course some aspects were dated, but this did not distract from the tension of the story and believability of the characters. Because the film does not provide much “wow” factors of ghosts, the special effects remain minimalistic and therefore convincing. The nature of the ghost(s) within the film certainly contributed to the idea that the heroes were facing a malicious, evil presence. Also, because the characters are forced to stay an entire week in the house as opposed to the typical one night, we too feel their dread and growing paranoia as time passes. At an hour and a half, the film moves at a good pace and did not feel bogged down. I would certainly recommend this one to any horror fan.

Viewing Format:

I watched this on Netflix Instant Watch over the course of three evenings. I watched it on my smart phone with headphones. I normally do not advocate watching movies on phones, but this film’s sound design benefited from headphones.

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New Song Available!

Hi everyone! Just a quick note to let everyone know that I’ve posted a new song to my Sound Cloud. New articles will be coming soon (as you can imagine, it has been a very busy few weeks). In the meantime, please enjoy… the blues.

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Religion, Politics, Gay Marriage: A Reaction

It is a topic as old as civilization itself. The civic and the religious have been intertwined to varying degrees from the time of the city-states of the ancient Near East to the political landscape of the day. Here in the United States, we are particularly obsessive about either keeping God out or keeping God in government. For me peherersonally, I am of two minds regarding the subject. On the one hand, it is an important subject that I am deeply interested in, given my academic connection to the field of Religion and specifically, the Bible. On the other hand, the topic is so overplayed in the media with seemingly no progress made in the conversation on the subject, that a large part of me is just sick of hearing about it. Of course, with an election year looming over us Americans next year, I am sure the number of exchanges on the subject will increase.

So why do I bring this up now? If you have been following my blog, you have likely noticed that I do not discuss the political aspect of religion too often. I did post a quick note regarding the creationism debate from a year or so ago, noting how neither the founder of Answers in Genesis or Bill Nye are Biblical scholars, yet they insist on making a very public spectacle of the subject.

Indeed, nearly every time I hear of the Bible’s use within the public forum, I immediately want to take to Word and respond with a blog post; not out of some sense of pompousness, but because it is a subject of which I feel very deeply and have dedicated a significant portion of my adult life to in study.

We can all, hopefully, agree that the subject of religion and politics/government is very broad with more facets than is humanly possible to cover in even a full series of blog posts. However, one in particular remains my go-to: The use of the Old Testament, particularly the legal material, by Christians.

Honestly, I find it difficult to determine whether the use of the Old Testament by a Christian political figure is either laughable at its absurdity and complete lack of cohesion and understanding, or absolutely disgusting in its perversion of the text and groan inducing embarrassment at the lack of original thought and low-level comprehension of religion, history, and ancient languages.

Allow me extinguish at least one small political fire here. Reading my comments thus far would lead, I would think, the average person to assume that I am about to launch into a tirade against conservatives. Let me be clear: Politically speaking, Conservatives and Liberals both demonstrate plenty of ignorance on the Bible. Comments on the Bible from Mike Huckabee are just as asinine as comments from Bill Maher. Even on a personal level, I have engaged in conversation with people on all sides of the political spectrum that has caused me to exercise patience. Generally, fundamentalists and atheists (in my experience at least) approach the text in the same narrow, strict reading sense. The only difference is that the fundamentalist accepts the text outright, and the atheist rejects it outright, both with little to no understanding of historical context or development.

But yes, once again a politician has decided to use the Bible as the basis for his political agenda and world view. Is this problematic just as a prima facie case? No. Every human being has influences that guide his or her opinions and it just so happens that religious convictions fall into that category.

The most recent voice in this debate was that of former Governor Mike Huckabee. The article to which I am referring can be found here.

The article itself and the overall issue is one that honestly feels exhausting just thinking about all the issues and problems. I would like to (and may still) write a multi-part series on my position of gay marriage, focusing primarily on the theological side. For my purposes here, let me point out a few problems with Huckabee’s position.

First another quick note. One aspect of this debate that I will avoid completely is who is a Christian and who is not. Honestly, the debate is absurd. There is not and never has been through history, a settled list of criteria for what constitutes a Christian. Conservative, liberal, progressive, evangelical, etc…whatever label one wishes to ascribe to a person who claims to be a Christian is irrelevant, as anyone can claim to be a Christian. The more proper argument is “This person does X, Y, and Z, and that does not conform to my view of Christianity. Therefore, that person is not of my Christianity.”

Getting back to the topic at hand, here is the fundamental problem with Huckabee and others: He equates the protection of one group, activity, etc. as an attack on his own beliefs. Never mind his horrendous and narrow view of the Bible, his overall inconsistency and the fact that he misses it, completely baffles me. If he wants to associate a “gay lifestyle” with smoking and drinking, thus from his perspective being gay is a sin, then why does he not argue for bans on alcohol and smoking? If every state recognizes gay marriage, how does that infringe on his personal beliefs?

Huckabee also uses a method that is one of the worst appropriated by Christians (and mentioned before on this blog). Any time a Christian wants to back up his or her argument with something that he or she deems credible and authoritative, they seek out a provision from the biblical legal material. I find it both sad and infuriating that many Christians are quick to say that they are exempt from the commandments of Torah because Jesus “freed them from the law” or “fulfilled the Law,” but perfectly willing to cite from the Holiness code to ban or condemn some action. One final point: I will not point out the glaring problems with his analogy regarding the bacon-wrapped shrimp for Jewish deli owners or Muslims owning dogs, as plenty of other articles and commentators have done so.

Finally, one last word from the article. Huckabee stated, and I have heard this from others, that unless he gets a new version of scripture, he will not evolve on the matter. This is just poor theology. First, he must construct his own interpretation of Scripture for his position on gay marriage because there is nothing explicit throughout the Bible regarding the subject. Secondly, and again this is my opinion, one’s interpretation and view of Scripture should be an evolving thing, because we as human beings evolve intellectually, emotionally, and God willing, spiritually. Finally, to fit in my one snarky comment, perhaps the former Governor should become more familiar with the historical development, interpretation, and language of his current scriptures before declaring he would need a new version to change his mind.

I will end my discussion here. I hope that my position has been clear. As I mentioned at the beginning, writing on such a subject is difficult because of the complexities and magnitude of the subject. It is akin to digging for buried treasure, but without a map. Where does one even start?

As always, I welcome comments and feedback, either in the section below or directly through e-mail. Thank you again for reading. Let me leave off with a quote from the Jewish philosopher Maimonides:

“An ignorant man believes that the whole universe only exists for him: as if nothing else required any consideration. If, therefore, anything happens to him contrary to his expectation, he at once concludes that the whole universe is evil. If, however, he would take into consideration the whole universe, form an idea of it, and comprehend what a small portion he is of the Universe, he will find the truth. There are many… passages in the books of the prophets expressing the same idea.”

–   Andrew

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