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MST3K: Gamera vs. Zigra

Posted by Josh Samford On August - 26 - 2011

MST3K: Gamera vs. Zigra (1991)
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy.

The Plot: Joel Robinson and his robotic friends Crow and Tom Servo are stuck in outer space aboard the Satellite of Love where they are forced, by the evil Dr. Forrester, to watch very bad movies. The crew try to make the most of the flicks that are presented to them by continually cracking jokes while the movies play on for the audience at home. This time out the crew take on their very last Gamera film! The giant turtle doesn’t seem interested in going out quietly however, as he invites along the gigantic water monster Zigra along for the ride! The plot revolves around Zigra, the aforementioned water-based creature from outer space who looks to enslave all of mankind. Zigra has the ability to hypnotize any creature it comes in contact with and after kidnapping a female astronaut from the moon, the monster heads to the earth and looks to use this brainwashed young woman in order to further his goals of world domination. While this is going on, a group of kids based in a water park that best resembles Seaworld are soon on the case and look to put an end to Zigra’s nefarious plans! Their secret weapon? The one and only Gamera, friend to all children!

The Review
This review marks our final foray into the world of MST3K vs Gamera, the box set from Shout! Factory that celebrates the brilliant gatherings between these two parties. As has been previously discussed in these reviews (starting with Gamera, then followed by Gamera vs. Barugon, Gamera vs. Gaos, Gamera vs. Guiron and finally our film today), the history that Mystery Science Theater shares with this gigantic turtle is actually quite immense. The beast has been around since the inception of MST3K as a show and has lead to some of the most memorable moments in this show’s history. Who could forget the Gamera theme song? Or Gamera spinning on that bar like an Olympic athlete in the show’s opening? Gamera vs. Zigra is treated as a celebration in this final episode, as the cast and crew make it a point to announce that it would be their final Gamera episode (something they are very excited about!), and they go out on top. Unfortunately, Gamera vs. Zigra is most certainly another lackluster Gamera outing.

The Gamera series, as it evolved, seemed to continue in a spiral (either for the positive or negative, depending on your point of view) into a world of progressive strangeness. Each subsequent film after Gamera vs. Gaos seemed to find director Yuasa taking the series into as strange of waters as he could. During Gamera vs. Gaos when you saw the giant blood-filled bird feeder make its appearance, you knew you weren’t dealing with a series concerned with following the rules of conventional filmmaking. At least this time, as opposed to the situation with Gamera vs. Guiron, Yuasa decided to keep this movie based on planet earth. However, in placing his film around a Seaworld-esque location Yuasa does manage to craft a rather wacky childlike feeling for the majority of the picture. Gamera has long been said to be a series dominated by a fanbase of children, and the setting for Gamera vs. Zigra reinforces this feeling. It’s as if the entire world that Gamera lives in is a theme park just waiting to be wrecked. Like most Gamera titles though, there is more fixation on the children characters than there is on explosive rubber suited monster action. As always though, the final act doesn’t let us down.

The kids are, as always, the focus here and these characters are every bit as annoying as the other children that have popped up in these American distributions. It’s funny that even though the child actors are dubbed over completely, we still get the idea that they can’t act. Although I’m sure it’s slightly more tolerable in the Japanese language, the performances from the children (especially the smallest child) show no kind of emotional reaction to anything going on around them. The older child of the two that we are saddled with through the majority of the picture is actually dubbed over as “Kenny”, which is the same name given to the young boy from the original Gamera. Despite this fact, I never picked up on any references made towards that original character and when Gamera first shows up it doesn’t turn out to be a reunion. Sure, Gamera does ultimately go pretty far out of his way to save these kids throughout the movie, but the last time we saw him he actually traveled to a distant planet for two lone earth kids that he most certainly did not know!

Zigra as a villain is a bit weak, in my opinion. Sure, he gives Gamera a hard time for most of the picture but all bad guys in these movies do that! Honestly though, a fish monster? Did the Gamera series really need this? I do like the fact that he is able to brainwash his enemies and sends human beings to do his bidding, but overall he’s the sort of character that you expect Gamera to crush quite easily. As we watch Gamera going into battle with this oversized Goblin Shark, we as an audience expect Gamera to take him and suplex this fish-monster into a mountain. While the overall design is well done and the plot is handled well enough that I found myself engaged by the back and forth plotting of Zigra, the lack of monster mayhem really hurts the movie. Thankfully we have the MST3K crew along for the ride providing some really fun commentary. Although their work isn’t as on-point as it was in the Guiron episode, this is another fine outing for the guys (or guy and robot, as it were).

The Conclusion
Sure, it doesn’t go out with a bang, but it is a fun way to end a fantastic series. The episode features a watchable monster movie and many great laughs. Certainly worth a look and just another reason (of many) to pick up this fine collection. A three out of five, check it out!

MST3K: Gamera vs. Barugon

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 19 - 2011

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Gamera vs. Barugon (1991)
Director: Jef Maynard
Writers: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy

The Plot: Joel Robinson and his robotic friends Crow and Tom Servo are stuck in outer space aboard the Satellite of Love where they are forced, by the evil Dr. Forrester, to watch very bad movies. The crew try to make the most of the flicks that presented to them by continually cracking jokes while the movies play on for the audience at home. After the events of the previous film Gamera, the giant turtle of the same name escapes from his missile and heads back towards earth where he soon feasts upon an electrical plant. Meanwhile, we watch as some mafioso types head out into the jungle in order to find a particular “oval” which could be worth a fortune to them. However, this is no regular “oval”, it is in fact the ancient monster Barugon! When the creature finally hatches all hope for mankind will rest on the massive shell of Gamera the giant monster!

The Review
Continuing on through the epic “MST3K vs. Gamera box set from Shout Factory, the second film in the series marks another triumphant return to form for the MST3K cast. In one of the most divergent films in the Gamera series, and one of the few not directed by Gamera icon Noriaki Yuasa (this film was directed by Shigeo Tanaka), Joel and company find a lot of fun to be had at the expense of our most beloved tortoise. With Gamera vs. Barugon the quality of the riffing seems to find a steady increase over the original episode and the movie itself seems to work even better due mainly to it seeming to be a slightly “lesser” Gamera movie. While I won’t go out and speak for the hardcore Kaiju fans who know everything there is to know about these movies, a lack of Gamera or any of his typical traits might lead this one to holding a rather strange torch within the lineage of these movies. However, that ultimately leads to a very entertaining episode of Mystery Science Theater that features some fun host segments and plenty of referencing towards the original Gamera episode reviewed previously.

Veteran director Shigeo Tanaka, who was better known than Yuasa and who was given a larger budget than the original film, took on the Gamera series in this second entry. Although I know little about the director myself, I will applaud some of his work here and say he definitely steps up to the plate with his film and creates an even more visually creative space for Gamera and Barugon to run around in. The first major divergence from the previous Gamera is obviously first and foremost the fact that this film is in color while the original was in black and white. Still, Tanaka does a lot more than throw a little bit of color onto the palette. There are a number of impressive shots throughout the movie and at nearly all moments we are consumed by a rather epic vision, which seems suitable for a movie about two giant monsters fighting one another. Right from the start we’re introduced to Gamera as he heads back toward earth, directly picking up where the previous film left off and we watch as begins a quick tirade of destruction. Tanaka seems to promise us a rather grand and destruction filled sequel as we watch on with Gamera shooting his flames in a much more directly visual presentation of the giant turtle creature than what had been seen previously. However, in an epic bait and switch move Tanaka introduces us to Gamera but then sets him on the sidelines for almost the entire duration of the movie. Afterward our story focuses primarily on Barugon and the intense destruction that this monster looks to devastate the world with.

Barugon, by his design, is actually quite similar to Gamera himself. Both walk on all fours and have a very distinctive “animal” look in opposition to other Kaiju beasts such as the famed Godzilla who was much more anthropomorphic. Their differences of course come primarily in their superpowers, which are both quite epic. Gamera of course has the ability to absorb and spit fire, as well as fly by sucking his head/legs inside of his shell and firing rockets from the holes. In the case of Barugon, his power was created as an exact opposition to Gamera’s famous fire breathing antics. Barugon is a monster who has two main powers. The first, and most ridiculous, is that he can somehow shoot forth a rainbow out of his backside which is somehow a destructive force to anything it touches. Secondly, he shoots a projectile tongue-like weapon from his mouth, similar to one of Ridley Scott’s Alien, only this tongue of his shoots forth an ice storm that freezes anything in his way. So, it becomes easy to see what the producers were really hoping for with this one. You take two polar opposites and set them up against one another in the most gargantuan battle of giant rubber-suited monsters that this world has ever seen! Unfortunately, by sidelining Gamera for nearly the entire movie it really hurts audience members who had grown attached to the beast throughout the course of the previous movie.

The distinct lack of Gamera is certainly a big issue with this movie. The lack of children, for whom Gamera is always a friend to, is also another lacking element. Some however might count that as a positive. One can only hope that while our cameras here were steadily watching Barugon for almost the entire duration of this film, in some alternate dimension there was another Gamera movie being made where our giant turtle friend was then coerced into his climactic showdown with Barugon by a very simple Japanese boy. Unfortunately, one can only guess at what the original contents of this film were as this version, distributed by Sandy Frank, is missing roughly 14 minutes worth of additional footage. While its doubtful that there’s much more additional Gamera footage in the original cut, the spliced together feel of Gamera vs. Barugon shows a lack of affection from the distributors. Apparently the film was originally picked up by American International Pictures and originally featured a different English dub soundtrack, but this version became less available as the Sandy Frank version took over as the most popular amongst television studios who were looking to buy up cheap content. The AIP print also exorcized the additional 14 minutes worth of footage but one wonders if the dubbing could have at least been better on that print because the one we’re stuck with here is pretty awful even for Kaiju fare.

The Conclusion
There’s really not a whole lot to say. This is a weaker Gamera film but is an incredibly entertaining piece of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The riffing is top notch and the guys rarely relent as they continually point out the campy atmosphere of the movie. A lot of fun is had and this marks another impressive addition to the excellent MST3K vs. Gamera box set. It gets a four out of five!

MST3K: Hamlet

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 1 - 2011

Hamlet (1961 / 1999)
Director: Kevin Murphy
Writers: Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Mary Jo Pehl
Starring: Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Mary Jo Pehl

The Plot: Mike Nelson is trapped on the Sattelite of Love in outer space with his several robot pals and they are forced to regularly endure many bad movies. The only thing that makes this process bearable is the fact that they riff and crack jokes during the entire ordeal. When Pearl, the evil woman who forces Mike to watch these movies, loses a quick bet with Mike – he gets to choose the movie this week! When he chooses any theatrical version of Hamlet that Pearl wishes, he doesn’t realize that in 1961 there was a German television film made retelling Shakespeare’s incredibly popular play. What follows is the classic story of Hamlet, the Danish tragedy, only told in a very different way than the traditional.

The Review
Hamlet is one of those episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I have a great deal of familiarity with. I unfortunately tuned into the series during its final days on what is now the SyFy network. During the final year or so of it being aired, the channel seemed to rerun the same six or seven episodes on a weekly basis and one of those episodes just so happened to be Hamlet. I’ll be brutally honest with you right now, when I first watched this episode… I loathed it. Now, after looking online, it seems that I am not the only one who has listed it amongst the very worst episodes within the MST3K catalog. Yet, no matter how much I despised the episode, I never blamed the riffing. Although my opinion has most certainly softened towards this episode, I still contend that the very worst aspect of this episode has nothing to do with the riffing from Mike and the bots.

Without question, the main problems with this episode arise from the fact that Shakespeare’s work simply doesn’t translate into the easiest thing to lampoon. The dialogue is very much in the old English form of speaking and it is nearly impossible for Mike and the bots to actually pick out lines of dialogue in order to tag their riffs on top of. Let’s be totally honest here, in the majority of Shakespearean plays we have to pick out a word or two that we actually recognize in order to make heads or tails of what is going on anyway. You take that situation and confound it even more by adding a really muddy English dub for audio, and you have a great portion of inaudible dialogue that these guys were supposed to somehow make fun of. The guys are forced to make mostly visual jokes and find the occasional sentence that will be entirely obvious for the audience to also pick out and run with. However, most of the jokes are centered around the long and intricate monologs given by Hamlet himself, which obviously bores Mike and the bots as much as it does the audience.

The actual quality of this Hamlet production isn’t that bad. I think if this were in its native German, this could possibly be one of the more interesting productions of a Shakespearean play for the cinema. No matter what antagonism you may hold for the movie because it made for a terrible episode of MST3K, there’s no question that this is a visually creative little film. The sets throughout the movie are all designed incredibly sparse and bring to life the theatrical background of the play. It looks very stripped down and features completely black backgrounds, with very Gothic and archaic dressing within the foreground. The general look gives the movie a bleak, depressing and slightly disturbing atmosphere, which may very well translate into a very watchable version of this Shakespearean classic. Although Hamlet has always been a very dark and morbid story, without even trying this production gives it the truly horrific tone that it probably deserves.

Maximillian Schell seems expressive in the role and although we never get to hear his actual performance, he seems to get inside of his character and performs up to the task. Although I doubt this, even in its original language, would bump Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet off the mantle, I think it could very well be an interesting twist on the familiar story. Still, even though it’s nearly impossible to produce a laugh riot from a film like this, that doesn’t stop Mike and the Bots from succeeding in coming up with many jokes along the way. As the film progresses to the point of nausea, during the final act, Mike and company seem to step things up and show their overall frustration with the film as this sections makes for the most entertaining portion of the movie.

The Conclusion
Nowhere near being one of the best examples of MST3K wit, this isn’t nearly the horrible experience I remembered it being from having seen it my first time on television. Overall, even bad Mystery Science… is still going to be pretty good. I give the episode a 2 out of five.





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