Friday, September 17, 2010

MST3K #211 - First Spaceship On Venus

“Any interest I had for them getting safely off the planet has been completely erased by a miasma of boring technical stuff.” – Crow

Released in 1960. Starring Yoko Tani, Oldrick Lukes, Ignacy Machowski, Julius Ongewe. Written by a ton of East Germans. USA production by Hugo Grimaldi, and others. Directed by Kurt Maetzig. Color.

Original air date: December 29, 1990

Sitting through “First Spaceship on Venus” – both the film and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode – is a chore. Long stretches of thick dialogue, scenes where nothing happens and a general disinterest from Joel and the robots make this the low point of Season 2. I might have some disagreements from fans here. But the episode nearly puts me to sleep. It feels like a first season episode in the sparsity and low frequency of the riffing. The movie itself also benefits from a wide screen showing, which the show can’t provide, resulting in jarring jump cuts. But you can’t hit a home run (or at least a double) every episode. I think the writers were just biding their time until Godzilla showed up in the last two episodes of the season.

You’d think the episode would be a standout since it has much in common with the very successful Russo-Finnish films they covered in future seasons. It’s produced by Eastern Europeans, has a big budget, is poorly dubbed, and features some thinly veiled socialist realism. It even throws in some well-meaning propaganda at nuclear disarmament. Much of the problem lies in the dialogue. It’s not goofy, like we’ve seen in previous films (#210 “King Dinosaur” is a good example), but it’s plenty clunky. Lots and lots of technobabble, enough to make “Star Trek: The Next Generation” decipherable. And there are few breaks in between lines. The characters throw big words at each other almost constantly. This is the death knell for the episode’s riffing. Much of the time Joel and the bots just stare at the screen and when they speak, the humor is spotty.

“First Spaceship on Venus” is also not that terrible a movie. Like I mentioned before, it presents an anti-nuclear message and shows a hopeful future. An international cast of Germans, Japanese, Israelis and Africans make the spaceship’s cast. We’ll see this type of international cooperation and hopeful future in “Star Trek,” which this film somewhat resembles. While the film is overloaded with technical dialogue, there are some interesting ideas presented and you can tell the film’s scriptwriters really tried to include as much real science and theory as possible. To East German audiences in the 1960s, when communism made their lives a gray, fearful and repressive world, this colorful film must have been a transforming experience. But today, the film remains dreadfully dull and slow-moving.

Like many films show on MST3K, “First Spaceship on Venus” opens with an excited narrator throwing tons of plot our way: it’s sometime in the future (probably 1970) and wreckage from a Venusian spaceship is found to include messages that are deemed undecipherable. A crack team of international scientists are quickly dispatched on the Earth’s first interplanetary mission. On the way to Venus, the crew discovers the messages might indicate a possible invasion of Earth by Venus. Landing on the second planet, they discover an advanced civilization undone by its own science.

The jokes and riffs are not the best here, but there are a few memorable moments. Joel has fun doing the voice of the little robot on the ship, who’s head resembles Twiki from “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” As a result, we get a lot of “beedee, beedee, beedee” from Joel, which is funny. Joel also gives Servo an adjustment on his sarcasm sequencer, which is a running gag throughout the episode. Sometimes Servo’s sarcastic comments are funny, often times not. It does make his head explode at the conclusion of the show.

The astronauts’ flight suits more than resembles teddy bears, to which Servo sings “This is the time the teddy bears fly to Venus.” At the end, when the ship is thrown off the planet leaving three crew members behind, the African pilot, who previously was a rock of strength, screams like a girl and freaks out. Understandable, sure, but surprising and strangely out of place in context of the film. “At least he’s taking it like a man,” Joel says. Later, when one crew woman is trying to contact those left behind: “Um, there’s an angry black gentleman on line one,” Crow says.

My favorite jokes are when one character sees his Japanese former flame, saying her name Sumiko. Crow quickly says “I will as soon as I get a lawyer.” And at the film’s denouement, one scientist says they still have a lot of work to do, “Like covering the whole thing up,” Joel inserts.

The sketches are also less than inspired this time around. Crow and Servo’s robot creation, which only speaks in foam, is a dud. As is the bizarre gorilla visit. The send-up of old Kraft commercials is amusing, except most people don’t remember the originals. The junk drawer invention exchanges make it look like the writers are running out of ideas.

I can’t say much else about the episode. It’s boring as hell and that’s about it. I’d consider watching “First Spaceship on Venus” uncut, in wide screen, and in better quality. It might play a whole lot better. At least we know that the Japanese monster movies will make their MST3K debut in the next episode. It’s about to get a lot more exciting.

Rating: **

Side note: This episode is available on the Shout! Factory box set “20th Anniversary,” which is really #13 in the DVD release series.

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