April 15, 2011

MST3K The Movie (1996)

of a pumpkinThe Geek Year is 1996

It is pretty common for there to be moments in Hollywood film making where the product being produced is an absolute flesh-burning piece of hurt that puts all involved in straight-jackets an even takes people's lives. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie was one of those experiences for the creators/writers/actors/etc (who all happened to be the same people).

Oddly, the resulting product, while only partially resembling the television show on which it was based, is a wonderful thing, full of wit and whimsy and, for me, wonderful memories.

MST3K was a show I initially started watching in 1990 because it had a 'talking reindeer with a funny voice in the corner'. My young, eight year old mind couldn't really process the deep, worldly comedy of MST3K but I was obsessed with it all the same.

Twenty years later and I am still watching MST3K on a nightly basis: it helps put me to sleep. When the day is rough and I need to relax, the voices of Joel/Mike, Crow, Tom Servo, Gypsy, Magic Voice, and Dr. F and TV's Frank help me escape and laugh.

1996 was the height of MST3K mania. It was wildly popular on Comedy Central (a lot of people don't know but Comedy Central was essentially launched and maintained by MST3K until their model of programming changed), conventions were happening, college circuits existed, books were published, and television specials were produced.

And somewhere in this mania was a film, a simple 74 minute film based on the TV show, that drove the innovative show runners mad (for full satiric examples, watch Season 7's episode The Incredible Melting Man), evaded, due to heavy editing and studio demands, the heart of the show, and fudged with the concept. If MST3K: The TV Show is the main event in the DC Universe, as an example, then MST3K: The Movie is almost an Elseworlds entry. . .something MST3K but not.

But, once again, the Movie is a consistent reminder of joy for me as I was young (about 14 or 15) and didn't read into things very much. To me, seeing MST3K: The Movie was a gift from heaven. Well, it almost wasn't because, along with the endless editing/content nightmares, MST3K: The Movie was slaughtered in distribution, only opening in 26 theaters. That's 26 theaters in the entire WORLD!

Living in Tampa, Florida, we naturally didn't get MST3K: The Movie in the local cinema (or art house) since Tampa folks consider motor home sculpture art and take pride in having the world's largest Confederate flag. No, no. . .I'd have to travel about three or four hours away to see the movie and, I figured, it would take some serious pleading to get my parents to take me.

It didn't. My parents are awesome. They knew I loved MST3K and they agreed, on the spot, to drive four hours away (I couldn't tell you the name of the town now) to a small art house in the middle of nowhere Florida, to see MST3K: The Movie while they saw Cold Comfort Farm or something.

The art house I went to was MST3K'd out. They offered a set of trading cards that I still own and cherish (see below):

And they had a full set of MST3K pins, in which my parents agreed to get me two (I believe they were expensive):

I got the Crow and Gypsy pins and I had them until 2005 when I gave them, foolishly, to the then love of my life Lauren who was also a massive MST3K fan. She cheated on me, dumped me, and took the pins with her. May they be maintained with the utmost care. Despair, you're soaking in it (as the MST3K bots would love to say).

Anyways, armed with two awesome pins, nine awesome cards, and the euphoria of seeing MST3K: The Movie in a theater (something not many folks can claim to say they've done), I entered the 10 row theater and sat down on the aisle, ready to enjoy the show.

No one came. Of the maybe 100 seats in the theater, there were only about 10 people there. What was great was that they were all couples. I was too young to think this was sweet but, looking back, I liked the idea of two kindred souls enjoying something smart and funny together. It's almost like the fusion of like-minds connecting with this very impressive individuals making you think puppets are three-dimensional and real.

The crowd, as small as it was, was fantastic. We all pointed at the screen when we saw the hidden MANOS reference. We all snickered at Crow's antics, Servo's deadpan, Gypsy's squeaky voice, and the somewhat mainstream but still hilarious one-liners that were coming at a break neck pace.

My most memorable moment, though, was when the end credits rolled. Unlike most films, Mike and the 'Bots went into the theater to review the credits (as only they can). The crowd had this energy about them like we DID NOT want the experience to end. We held onto those three or four minutes until the very end. No one even stirred. In fact, and I've never seen this before, the crowd just stayed seated as the lights came on. We literally didn't want this to stop.

Lot's of amazing, more important things have happened to me since then, but no matter how many times I've seen it, MST3K: The Movie perseveres, mainly because even if the jokes lose their edge after so much exposure, that special 'something' has never worn off.


  1. Sounds like one awesome event and experience, Will. I have a number of fond memories with MST3K. Usually, they were my Sunday dinners with my wife's family with this on the TV. Never did see the film, but since it's on DVD, I'll Netflix the film. Thanks for sharing, Will.

  2. I believe we had this discussion once before, but I was able to experience MST3K: The Movie at that art house theater in Tempe in 1996. I was a huge fan back then, but my fondest MST3K memories happened a few years later. Your post has sparked those memories. Thank you very much for this post.

  3. Le0pard13. . .you have never seen the movie????? Where is your geek card. Hand it over.

    Luis: Oh yeah! So crazy you were watching it in my future home while I was watching it in my now former home (for those who don't know, I've lived in Tampa, Florida and everywhere in the Valley, including Tempe, Arizona).

    That's mucho cool. Did you say you were the only one in there or was it packed?


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