It’s less than a week from the premiere of the eleventh season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so if you’re like me you’re pretty excited to see what happens. Thankfully, Kickstarter backers past a certain level got to see an advance screening of the pilot episode over the weekend, and since I was unable to wait another week to watch it, I caved and booted it up. I’ll try to keep a ton of major spoilers out of this review, since this is technically a pre-screening, but be warned – there will be a few in here. You may have a number of questions now – Did Joel an co. recapture the Magic? Is Jonah a good host? Are the bots more than a shadow of their former selves? are the riffs pretty good? are there celebrity cameos? If you’d like me to answer yes to all the above – you’re in luck!
On the host front, you couldn’t find a better fit than Jonah Ray as Jonah Heston. I’ve been a fan of his for a number of years largely due to his many podcast adventures on the Nerdist Podcast alongside Chris Hardwick and Matt Mira. While real life Jonah be be sort of curmudgeonly and grumpy, Jonah Heston is very cheerful and peppy – much like both of his predecessors. Considering that the entire point of the show is a group of mad scientists basically trying to drive a guy crazy, having the host be happy makes it that much more fun. The bots are also back in full force, with all of the voice actors doing a great job. The one jarring difference is that Gypsy, the sole female member of the Satellite of Love now has an actual female voice, rather than a husky voice provided by a guy for comic relief.
We do see a bit of the circumstances that lead to Jonah being on board the Satellite of Love (which is now tethered to a moon-base on the dark side of the moon), but they don’t dwell on it. there is no mention as to how any of the bots came back, or what happened to Mike Nelson, the previous host. Honestly, this is a show that doesn’t need to be bogged down with exposition, so I wouldn’t care too much if we never find out – keep in mind “Just repeat to yourself “It’s just a show, I should really just relax”.
What we do know is that Jonah Heston is an employee of Gizmonics institute, and is in charge of delivering a cargo of asteroids harvested from deep space. Co-workers apparently talk him up to be one of, if not THE best at what he does, with his only downfall being a rebellious streak. He is minding his own business when a distress call rings through the airwaves. Our new “mads” headed up by Kinga Forester (daughter of Clayton Forester and Granddaughter of Pearl Forester) have concocted a plan to shanghai a good Samaritan, just like himself, and force him to be the new test subject for a new iteration of the Mystery Science Theater experiments.
The first experiment – a bad monster flick called Reptilicus.
Repticilus is a 1961 “kaiju” movie in the same mold as Godzilla made by Danish filmmakers that really had no business trying to make such a film. In many ways, its like a lot of the early Hammer science fiction and Monster films, notably Quatermass and X: The Unknown, in that the main characters are scientists and they are fighting a monster that they do not understand. These films from nearly a decade prior had great acting for this sort of film, and cutting edge special effects – this one – Not so much. Honestly the entire films down down around the shoddy special effects and film quality of the monster itself – a creature that has been realized as a bad puppet with perhaps a single string making it’s head writhe around.
These scenes are notably inferior to other scenes to where it almost looks like an entirely different movie has been spliced in. One of the funnier riffs involves this disparity where someone exclaims that “it’s raining tar” due to the large amount of film imperfections on that given scene. Reptilicus becomes unintentionally hilarious when he starts eating people, an effect realized through a terrible mat overlay as far as I could tell, and his acidic green slime attacks. Sometimes less is more with films like this – a lesson learned from 1954’s Gojira (Godzilla) in spades. that film barely shows the titular monster so you’re never left to face the fact that he’s a dude in a suit – Reptilicus however overstays his welcome.
I am left VERY happy with this new season so far. I think my only quibbles with this new version of MST3K is that some of the riffs are slightly too rapid fire – some scenes go from riff to riff without any real time to breathe. The good news is that the writing is pretty solid, so one never really gets too tired of the jokes. Also, this first episode is also pretty sparse on interaction between the SOL crew and the “Mads” – we see some some good interactions at the beginning, involving an invention exchange, and some pretty solid banter, but they disappear soon after.
I’m really looking forward to more MST3K, it really feels weird having new episodes considering I think I was in high school when it was still on in the past. Much like the revival of Doctor Who, there are some changes – some that won’t please everyone, but this is in every way classic MST3K. Welcome back, hope you stay a while!