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Savant generally stays away from comedy discs from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 folks, for a number of reasons. The old TV show could always be guaranteed to lift one's spirits a bit, but with few exceptions the basic joke of lobbing snarky one-liners at helpless old B-pictures tended to run dry after awhile. The attitude that film history (of the Public Domain variety) could be made the patsy for merciless razzing grew sour, especially when the MST3K boys became vandals, lobbing spitballs at movies that deserved recognition, not derision. The Sci-Fi picture Rocketship X-M comes to mind, a solid picture whose only crime is to become a bit dated. The same goes for the MST Theatrical release that assaulted This Island Earth, finding few laughs while desecrating a genuine classic. "All in good fun" eventually becomes a spectacle of Clever Wiseasses Pissing on the Efforts of Good Filmmakers. Where's the glory in that?
The galloping Philistinism in our culture eventually left MST3K far behind. By the time the original show succumbed to disinterest, they'd lampoon anything they could get their hands on. One of the last shows tried to rib a chopped-up, dull copy of Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik. Real hipsters knew that Diabolik was a gem just emerging from undeserved obscurity; MST seemed a bunch of jerks as they treated it like just another victim for the comedy mill.
I see this attitude spilling over into the film business every day. At a studio mix session for a classic English Sci-Fi film, a film preservationist clearly didn't care whether it was complete or transferred at a proper aspect ratio, as it "wasn't worth the effort". Dividing old films into sacred cows and losers fit for the target range is pretty pathetic. It's a Wonderful Life was Public Domain and Our Town still is; why not turn them into insipid comedy shows?
Of course MST3K was funny, often hilariously so. At its best it codified the age-old bored-guy habit of slinging sassy remarks at the Tee Vee into performance art. The really successful targets were short subjects, especially terminally idiotic educational films. I remember laughing so hard at an MST assault on a "boy's and girl's rodeo" short that I thought I'd dislodged several internal organs. 1
With the demise of the Mystery Science Theater, its principal writing and performing talent regrouped to carry on the format, usually without a silhouetted presence in the film frame. In general the efforts have been weaker, suffering from a generalized pointlessness. Last time out I reviewed a grilling of Roger Corman's Little Shop of Horrors, a movie 50 times funnier than the attempt to subvert it with comedy potshots. Apparently the producers could access the movie, and that's all that mattered.
RiffTrax: Missile to the Moon is actually fairly amusing, if only intermittently funny. The assembled smarty-pants squad of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett are fine comedians, but they aren't anywhere near as hyper as they were fifteen years ago. Their best material takes cues from the lame acting and non-sequitur dialogue in the film, a 1959 no-budget semi-remake of the matinee groaner Cat Women of the Moon. My July 22, 2000 review of a straight Wade Williams release of Missile to the Moon wasn't exactly reverential either -- some pictures like this one seem to exist to allow later generations to shake their heads in disbelief at pitiful sets, embarrassing dramatics and cornball relationships.
To their credit, the Rifftrax boys indulge in only two or three fart jokes. They make good backhanded observances of the asinine jealousy among the moon girls, and the various catfights that ensue. They also have fun with the Gumby-like Rock Men, stone monsters that attack so slowly, one has time to play a game of chess before strolling away to safety. But the comedy doesn't even scratch the surface of the movie. There are no jokes about the Space Babes Subgenre, where hunky earthmen continually discover planets inhabited by all-female colonies of over-aged showgirls. They mention the fake desert backdrop but not the giant crease that runs through its center. When the show is over the comedy faucet just runs out ... and we're not thirsting for more. If this is good Sophomoric comedy, its for the Sophomores that never opened their books.
Legend Films released a colorized version of this film just a year ago, but has stuck with the original B&W for this DVD of Rifftracks: Missile to the Moon. Their source element is not the best. Although the 1959 release was composed for 1:85 and would matte off quite well to 1:78, the presentation is the usual flat full frame. The image is cleaner, but a bit softer and lighter than the old Wade Williams transfer -- it has a few splice jumps but not as many as the older disc.
Collectors will be happy to note that the added clean original soundtrack allows viewing of Rifftracks: Missile to the Moon in an un-Riffed version. Which, at the bargain list price, makes the disc a reasonable buy.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
1. Now, am I just showing my insensitivity toward the finer points of idiotic educational films? Ummm .... yes!
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2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.