Mystery Science Theater 3000: Beginning of the End

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Beginning of the End
Beginning of the End (a 1957 giant grasshopper film by Bert I. Gordon and today's target of Mystery Science Theater 3000's silhouetted peanut gallery) opens with a 30-second shot of a car driving towards the camera. "Well, is something gonna happen?" inquires Crow T. Robot. A tiny speck in the distance, it very, very gradually becomes larger while mindless marching band-type music plays on the soundtrack. "We'll start the movie as soon as our ride gets here," says Mike Nelson. "Man, that car radio is loud," says Tom Servo. And, as the car finally makes its way to the foreground, Mike notes, "Y'know, ol' Bert I. sure doesn't skimp on the opening." On the level of pure craftsmanship, these four jokes are impeccable: Crow sets up the dilemma, Mike and Crow creatively riff on it, and then Mike delivers one final kicker before moving on to the next scene. But on another level, these 30 seconds are representative of a common problem faced by the MST3K crew: not every movie can be as mesmerizingly surreal as Manos: The Hands of Fate, as flamboyantly cheesy as Space Mutiny or contain a single, perfect target, like a bloated Joe Don Baker in Mitchell. No, some movies are so flat, grey and blandly efficient that they can't even rise to the level of incompetence. The Beginning of the End climaxes with a bevy of giant grasshoppers invading Chicago, and the special effects are so awful (one shot features several grasshoppers simply climbing a two-dimensional picture of a skyscraper) that the MST3K silhouettes are right at home ― at times, all they need to do is throw in a perfectly-timed chuckle and it feels perfectly cathartic. But before that we have to spend a lot of time on boring bureaucratic drama with white-haired, deep-voiced scientist/lug Peter Graves sharing an awkward lack of chemistry with bland journalist Peggie Castle. Suffice to say, this episode has its lulls, and MST3K is always at its best when it has a higher-quality bad movie than this to help it along, but you have to give them credit: any of us can throw a few snide comments at a cheesy shot of a grasshopper climbing a postcard image of a building, but to mine consistent laughs out of such an unremarkable piece of Z-grade flotsam is somewhat miraculous. If it doesn't always make a silk purse from a sow's ear, MST3K can at least be trusted to turn them into a pleasant piece of black velvet. Unlike a previous release from Rhino Home Video that featured the uncut movie, this disc contains no extras, which, come to think of it, might not be such a bad thing. (Shout! Factory)