Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXI: MST3K vs. Gamera

BY Will SloanPublished Jul 25, 2011

The armchair revolutionary in me would like to regard Mystery Science Theater 3000 as fundamentally radical. With "entertainment journalism" expanding its sinister campaign to dull our critical instincts with its paid or unpaid advertising/propaganda for whatever the Hollywood corporate apparatus tells us we should like ("The Harry Potter series goes out in wizardly fashion!"), the snarky silhouettes implicitly tell us that we don't have to accept the entertainment foisted upon us and, in fact, we can express our free-thinking disapproval. When the peanut gallery gets its hands on a truly cynical, awful film that has no respect for its audience (Monster A Go-Go or Hobgoblins), their righteous indignation can feel cathartic. If there's a problem with this approach, it's that big-budget drek was out of MST3K's financial reach, and so the Satellite of Love usually matched wits with low-budget, independent cheese, and an unfortunate side-effect of MST3K's mandate to make fun of "cheesy movies, the worst we can find (la la la)" is that labels like "cheesy" and "worst" create a paradigm in which all movies on the show are automatically "bad," a dismissal that could blind us to films' charms just because they don't conform to what a "normal" movie should be. Are Japanese monster movies, for example, "bad" just because their special effects aren't realistic? Shout! Factory's recent releases of all the Gamera the Giant Flying Turtle movies in pristine DVDs was a revelation, showing that some of these movies, when seen in restored, widescreen transfers, have a certain tacky, Day-Glo visual splendour. With the otherworldly sight of two rubber monsters battling on a riotously colourful, intricately detailed model city, the better Gamera movies are flagrantly artificial pop art. Of course, they're also extremely silly, as MST3K writer/performer Frank Conniff says in the DVD extras: "regardless of what your personal thoughts are about Japanese monster movies, whenever we had the opportunity to do one, we couldn't not do it, because, in terms of cheesy movies, they're very much something that audiences really enjoy and are really fun." What's likeable about the episodes on the five-disc MST3K vs. Gamera is how unexpectedly gentle they are, with Hodgson's laidback presence giving most of the ribbing a somewhat affectionate quality (especially compared to the more acerbic humour of the later Mike Nelson episodes). There's nothing mean-spirited about Tom Servo's observation, "You know, guys, it just dawned on me how weird this film is, y'know? Kinda goofy," when Gamera performs a gymnastic spin on a pole in Gamera vs. Guiron, and there's a certain joy to their singing-along to the film's ludicrous theme song. Maybe the fairer, if less subversive, way to approach this set is that MST3K was the '90s equivalent of old horror movie shows that played on regional TV, with Servo, Crow and Joel/Mike the contemporary equivalents of hosts like Svenghoulie and Vampira, albeit significantly wittier and more critical equivalents. DVD extras include a short documentary about MST3K and Gamera, featuring interviews with cast members Hodgson, Conniff, Trace Beaulieu and Josh Weinstein. Other extras include trailers and a history of the Gamera series.
(Shout! Factory)

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