MST3K: Fugitive Alien (1991)
Starring: Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Kevin Murphy

The Plot: In the not-too-distant future, Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgeson) is abducted by his boss at Gizmonic institute and shot into outer space. His boss, Dr. Forrester, then sends Joel the very worst movies that he can find in order to document his reactions. Joel, who has built two robot friends named Crow and Tom Servo, does his best to improve this bad situation by having a good time and riffing on the movies with his robot pals. In this episode, Dr. Forrester forces Joel to watch yet another Japanese television program that has been edited for American audiences. Fugitive Alien tells the story of Ken, a “Starwolf” from the planet Valnastar. Apparently being a Starwolf revolves around warfare, and when Ken refuses to kill an innocent child he is shot off into outer space. While floating in space, Ken is picked up by the starship Bacchus 3 which originates from Earth. The crew don’t know what to make of Ken at first, but throughout their journeys in space they will have to learn to trust this alien.

The Review
Within the legacy left behind by Mystery Science Theater 3000, one area in which they did some good is in how they brought a small amount of notoriety to both Sandy Frank and the butchering he did on various Japanese films and television products. The most notable example of the MST3K/Sandy Frank combination would obviously be when the MST3K crew tackled the original Gamera series. However, the crew upon the Satellite of Love were not finished with Sandy Frank nor the way he liked to distort Japanese genre cinema. The group would revisit Sandy Frank waters with “movies” such as Time of the Apes and the Fugitive Alien series that we are talking about today. Fugitive Alien is another title within the Sandy Frank library that was ported from an entirely different format and edited an absurd amount in order to create a feature length science fiction title. The meddling inevitably resulted in extremely confusing plots that were as episodic in their nature as one could possibly expect. Thus, Fugitive Alien was born and few audiences could be very happy about this situation. Thankfully, the MST3K were able to make this into a moderately watchable episode, even though it is far from being a classic of the series.

Similar to both Time of the Apes, Master Ninja, and Mighty Jack, Fugitive Alien was indeed constructed from the remains of a discarded television show. Made up of 26 episodes, Star Wolf was actually a Japanese television program that was in turn based upon a series of science fiction books by American novelist Edmond Hamilton. There was certainly an American influence on the series, but it seems that Sandy Frank and his cohorts added even more “Americanisms” throughout the duration of this “film.” Similar to these other episodes which were based upon television projects, you ultimately can’t blame the movies or the original filmmakers. They couldn’t help that their projects would be bastardized by foreign distributors. Still, the way the original series is displayed in this ffilm, few audiences should find themselves jumping in line to discover this older Japanese oddity. After watching this condensed version, I had decided that I would rather listen to August Ragone, who gives another insightful interview on this DVD, talk for two hours about seventies-era Japanese television than actually sit down and watch the Star Wolf television program. Yet, then I saw the sequel which seemed to get the more interesting section of the series, and my curiosity was piqued. Unfortunately, this first Fugitive Alien title is a boring and nearly-nonsensical mess of a movie.

Indeed, this is not the most fun episode of MST3K that audiences are going to find. The jokes are there, but some of these riffs seemed to have lost their sting. The episode seems to wander at times, similar to the plot of the movie, and nothing seems terribly consistent during this episode. Yet, this is still MST3K, so even when things are “off” they are still fairly decent. The original television series featured the famous Japanese actor Jo Shishido, and as one might expect, there are a few continually referenced jokes made about his puffy cheeks. I commend the gents for not going overboard, as his cheeks are fairly obvious targets, but to be honest I fully expected them to make it a bigger running meme throughout the show than it was. Talk about your characters who are rife for riffing! Easy or not, when you see Jo Shishido, you have to make a few Chipmunk jokes! Although it isn’t consistent or dense, the riffing is still fairly solid. Most of the problems come from the less-than-clear plot and how completely uninvolved it is. Believe it or not, the best episodes of MST3K usually feature movies that are at least interesting. Manos, Mitchell, Prince of Space, and Future War are all terrible movies, but they aren’t so bad that you can’t watch them without the MST3K crew. You can watch any of those movies and laugh at them on their own merit. You can follow the stories, you can keep track of the characters, and everything remains crystal clear. Sure, there’s a story to Fugitive Alien, but it meanders around so much that you can be forgiven if you completely forget what it is.

Overall, the bumper segments in this episode are actually quite solid. We all know that the segments revolving around the MST crew can be a bit campy, but this episode does manage to find a very interesting balance. The invention exchange, a segment that each episode started with for several seasons, is pretty solid. Dr. Forrester devises a device that will apply nose/eye drops at the same time, and disastrous effects obviously come about because of this. Joel on the other hand crafts a nice little pun as he creates the world’s first “musical chair.” Yeah, they took a lawn chair and dressed it up like a child’s first xylophone. A great segment indeed, and one of the better invention exchanges of this box set. Another fun oddity from the episode comes from future host Mike Nelson, who pops up doing his Jack Perkins impersonation. Perkins was a reporter who was probably best known as the voice of A&E’s Biography program, but now Mike Nelson’s parody of the man is probably nearly as popular as the man himself. Nelson would bring this character back when MST3K was ported into the syndicated format as The Mystery Science Theater Hour. Although the movie featured in this episode isn’t that great, the skits surrounding it are indeed quite solid.

The Conclusion
I believe I have made all the points I need to make about Fugitive Alien. I did not find myself entirely absorbed by this episode, and truly I found myself bored with it throughout many segments of the movie. Still, when the riffing is on, it helps, and the host segments are dynamite. I give it a three out of five, but thankfully the next episode steps things up quite a bit.