MST3K: Project Moonbase | Varied Celluloid

MST3K: Project Moonbase

Posted by Josh Samford On February - 25 - 2011

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Project Moonbase (1990)
Director: Kevin Murphy (???)
Writers: Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, Paul Chaplin, etc.
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and J. Elvis Weinstein



The Plot: Joel Hodgson is an employee at Gizmonic Institute when the evil Dr. Forrester shoots him into outer space on the Satellite of Love. Here he is forced to endure bad movies on a weekly basis. Thankfully Joel was able to build himself a few robotic friends to help him deal with these bad movies. Among these robots are Gypsy who runs the ship, cam-bot who watches their every action and of course the wise-cracking Crow and Tom Servo who help him riff on the movies as they watch them. In this episode, Joel and his robot friends take in some classic science fiction! First up we watch some shorts that deal primarily with rocket men flying around and displaying their wooden stage-style acting. Afterwards, we watch Project Moonbase which is a science fiction film dealing with a crew of astronauts heading to the moon in order to colonize it. However, not everyone on-board the station is everything that they appear to be!

The Review
If there is one thing to be said, the Project Moonbase episode of Mystery Science Theater truly showcases many of the things that made the show such a special experience. They were known primarily for their episodes which featured “classic” pieces of science fiction from the 40’s-50’s and in that regard Project Moonbase makes for a episode that really personifies the entire show. Not only do we watch the bland scifi action yarn Project Moonbase, but we also enjoy a couple of shorts before-hand, something else the show was known to do from time to time. The shorts appear to be taken from the Commando Cody series, better known as Radar Men From the Moon. I actually have some familiarity with the Commando Cody series, from watching the unofficial sequel to Radar Men… called Zombies of the Stratosphere, but neither series appears to fit in the pantheon of great science fiction. Audiences who were alive during the 90’s might also have some vague familiarity with the serial as well, due to the familiar look of its superhero character who was later referenced heavily in the design of the 1991 superhero action yarn The Rocketeer. Radar Men… typifies everything that these serials were best known for, cheap stories with more cheap thrills and a ridiculously over the top cliffhanger ending at the conclusion to every episode. Joel and the bots have some great fun with these and keep their riffing on point as per their usual.
Project Moonbase itself isn’t so terribly far off from what a lot of films did during this time and era, but it appears that the budget or experience just wasn’t there in order to make a successful or believable science fiction flick. Although the acting is of a professional grade and some of the production values can be halfway decent, so much of Project Moonbase comes off as utterly cheesy. The flying effects within Radar Men From the Moon are better than almost anything you will see throughout Project Moonbase, which is pretty sad. There are numerous poor effects used throughout the movie, and not bad simply because of the time and era in which they were made… no, even in the 50’s you would have to admit that the special effects here are pretty awful. A favorite sequence of mine shows the astronauts being lowered down from their ships, but instead of being careful with their editing or doing a nifty in-camera special effect, they simply show a shot that features a very obviously clay figure being lifted down from the space ship only to be replaced by a human in the next shot. We aren’t talking Ray Harryheusen levels of detail either. The filmmakers were simply asking for it when trying to pass off this level of cheese.
As a general Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, Project Moonbase is full of hits and misses. From the four disc Volume XX box set, this would seem like the weakest entry for me. However, there are still a dozen jokes that work to perfection. Joel and the bots manage to reel off a number of classics while going through these very ordinary pieces of science fiction. The guys have fun making jokes about the apparent bathing caps and short-shorts that these astronauts are forced to wear, and another memorable moment features the guys pointing out the very MC Escher feel of the architecture used in the trippy space sequences, where we see characters on one side of a room quite literally walking on the wall while on the other side of the room another set of actors may be walking in a correct fashion. Jokes about “please don’t walk on the wall” signs being put up keeps things light hearted, and general laughs are had while the in-frame camera tricks become more incredibly obvious. Despite the lack of understanding for outer space gravity, the shots are all rather ordinary in their composition which is expected from such a bland film.


Host Segments and Special Features
Although the episode is generally standard, the host segments are at least fairly witty. There are some funny bits throughout though, including a funny bit involving water juggling with ping pong paddles. Sound strange? It is. A very odd bit of prop-comedy that really must be seen in order for it to make sense. After the guys notice how short some of the ties are on the male leads within Project Moonbase, they decide to show off some other futuristic ties, and of course there are disastrous results. As far as special features go with this disc, there is an interesting interview with Jeff Stonehouse, the director of photography for the show over several of the latter years. He discusses the things that changed when he came on board and his use of some different tools that really changed the look of Mystery Science Theater 3000 during the Scifi channel years.


The Conclusion
With such a poor feature film, the guys have a fun time. This isn’t one of the more wild or colorful features to ever grace MST3K, but the guys do their best to make the project as interesting as could be. Judging the original film, I have to go with a two out of five. Easily. However, as an episode of MST3K it fares better with a solid three out of five. Although, from the box set, it is a slight step down in quality from The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, it is still a funny episode!




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