MST3K: Time of the Apes (1991, original air date)
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy

The Plot: Joel Robinson is trapped on the Satellite of Love with a group of robot friends who he has created. This crew of misfits are forced by the evil Dr. Forrester to endure many incredibly bad movies. The only thing that makes this process bearable is the fact that they riff and crack jokes during the entire ordeal. This week’s feature film that the crew must survive is the Japanese sci fi feature Time of the Apes. The basic story is as follows: Johnny and his sister Caroline are two adventurous young ones who are having a blast when they get to visit their uncle’s scientific laboratory. This laboratory has a specialty in animal health, but they have recently been moving into cryogenics. When a massive earthquake erupts mid-tour, Johnny, his sister, and their tour guide Catherine, all jump inside of separate cryogenic pods which are then activated. The three end up forgotten in time and when they finally awake they appear to be several hundred years in the future, and apes have taken over the world. Scared and frightened, the group initially escapes from a group of the apes and heads off into the jungle. Here they run into the only other known human, Goto. A wild man who actually strikes fear into the hearts of the outnumbering apes. Goto is actually quite gentle as it turns out, and is relatively misunderstood. He takes in his human confidants and the group struggles to stay together and survive while in the time of the apes!

The Review
Although they never had the cultural impact of Star Wars or Star Trek, the Planet of the Apes movies certainly developed a core audience that would help carry them through a near-endless series of sequels. During their heyday, the Planet movies were a fixture in the filmic lexicon, and a large part of American pop culture. As with anything that excels, it didn’t take long for opportunistic filmmakers to get on board and do their best to rip off this series. To blatantly rip off the Planet movies within the American film market would have lead to a film that was easily spotted, and likely would have lead to a big fat lawsuit. That didn’t stop foreign enterprises from doing their best to capitalize on the Apes movies, however, and it didn’t take Joel and the bots long to find Time of the Apes. A Japanese takeoff on the Planet movies, Time of the Apes is invariably cheaper in all regards and ultimately the much lesser film.

August Ragone, known Kaiju (Japanese monster movie) expert, has an introduction for the movie in the special features section of the DVD that actually explains all of the background information regarding Time of the Apes. In it, he explains that Time of the Apes was originally a television series that had more than twenty episodes. Sandy Frank, known distributor of the Gamera movies, then tried to condense the entire series into a simple ninety minute feature. It seems understandable that the film would become slightly incoherent, but the movie is surprisingly linear in its narrative. One has to imagine that each episode was a direct continuation from its previous, because surprisingly the movie doesn’t come across as terribly episodic. That doesn’t mean that the actual content of the plot is all that engaging, heavens no. Although we have a general game of cat and mouse being played throughout the movie, with our heroes escaping the clutches of the apes at every turn, the audience could care less. The characters that we have are dubbed in such poor regard that they either come across as annoying, or completely uninteresting.

The boredom that comes from the plot of Time of the Apes is only made slightly more tolerable by the ridiculousness of both the dubbing, and the characters that are created by the poor American adoption process. Sometimes it is the little things that make an unenjoyable movie like this a more tolerable experience. The characters all having English names is a part of this process, and leads to multiple laughs throughout. The odd reactions and dialogue choices from the English translation are a huge part of this film’s unintentional hilarity, and the MST3K crew regularly have fun with this throughout the duration of the movie. One of my favorite reoccurring jokes throughout comes when young Johnny is told by his mother that he should be careful at the laboratory that they plan to visit. Johnny’s very simple, and utterly bizarre, reply is “I don’t care!” Afterward, he simply runs off. Joel and the bots apparently loved this reply as well, because they hang onto it throughout the entire movie and continually use it as riffing material whenever little Johnny says almost anything.

What would MST3K be without their running jokes? A whole lot less entertaining, I suppose. Thankfully, Time of the Apes solidifies itself as a memorable episode when Joel and company find several reoccurring gags to reference throughout the movie. The “I don’t care” line is but one of many that pops up throughout the movie. With walking and talking apes being a large part of the movie, it only seemed inevitable that there would be some “flinging poop” jokes made. The MST3K crew take this concept into warp speed though and deliver numerous fecal matter related jokes during the movie. Other running gags focus on the special FX, which are even worse than the original Planet of the Apes movies in regards to lacking chin movement when characters speak. The crew also have a good time generally poking fun at distributor Sandy Frank. In fact, the guys even come up with a Sandy Frank theme song, which would go well when compiled with their Gamera and Master Ninja theme songs. When the guys turn up writing music, you know you are in for a fairly entertaining episode.

The Conclusion
While not the best episode of the era, Time of the Apes is definitely a solid piece of entertainment. A funny and entirely memorable episode of MST3K that is built around a fairly tedious Japanese ape movie. Definitely give it a look. It is available on the Shout Factory! Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume 22 box set and is yet another fine inclusion into their vast MST3K library. I give the movie a solid 4 out of five. Had the movie been slightly more bizarre, this would have been a all-time classic.