Published on August 5th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie 
Summary: Based on the classic television series, this big screen version is confusingly shorter than its episodic brethren. Mike, Crow, and Tom are irreverent smartasses but there's not much replay value here.
PG-13 | 73 min.
Director: Jim Mallon | Screenplay: Jim Mallon, Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Mary Jo Pehl, Paul Chaplin, Bridget Jones (based on the television series created by Joel Hodgson)
Starring: Michael J. Nelson
Studio: Comedy Central Films, Best Brains | Distribution: Gramercy Pictures, Universal Pictures
Since the home video market exploded in the 1980’s, sitting around and making fun of movies with friends has become an American pastime on par with playing little league baseball. If you’re a serious film buff, it’s hard to beat a good night of ripping awful cinema apart with your buddies gathered around the tube.
Now imagine watching a movie where the characters do exactly that and you’re stuck sitting behind them keeping your mouth shut…
Since the late-’80s, the gang of nerds at Mystery Science Theater 3000 have made a living off of cracking on campy Hollywood flicks. With their trademark smart-ass sense of humor, the peanut gallery at MST3K always have something to say–of course it helps when the insults are pre-written in advance.
I’ve never been an avid follower of the show but it was certainly ahead of its time and features a fantastic premise for a television series. The small crew of the spaceship Satellite of Love are forced to watch terrible movies by a team of sadistic mad scientists. That very basic plot is also the storyline for Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, a big screen adaptation produced in 1996, toward the end of the series’s run.
The film’s cast features only a few names, most notably Michael J. Nelson who plays Mike Nelson, the S.O.L.’s lone human inhabitant. He’s joined onboard by several wisecracking robots including Crow (voiced by Trace Beaulieu), Servo (Kevin Murphy), and Gypsy (Jim Mallon, who also directed the film). Each of the characters are funny and endearing in their own everyman way but newcomers to the series will find little in the way of depth as virtually no background is given on any of them.
MST3K: The Movie is all about though, is allowing its characters to riff on a cheesy film, hoping the audience will laugh along with them. The film-within-the-film they skewer in this adaptation is the 1955 Universal Pictures sci-fi release This Island Earth. My first problem with MST3K: The Movie is that the movie they spend nearly-80 minutes nitpicking is actually not even a terrible one–despite being billed as such by the ship’s crew.
This film’s credits bill seven writers as contributing to its screenplay, leading to some well constructed jabs at This Island Earth‘s expense but when you realize how much writing was done, it does take away from the improvisational vibe of the classic series. Mike and his two viewing companions are definitely funny–with very few of their jokes falling flat. They are essentially Statler & Waldorf dressed in spacesuits, finding something sarcastic to say to nearly every moment of the movie they’re watching.
In addition to ripping on a shortened version of This Island Earth, the movie is broken up by segments where the guys attempt to escape their fate aboard the S.O.L. and generally complain about their lives on the ship. These segments drag the film each time they come up because the funniest parts of MST3K: The Movie happen in the ship’s screening room. It’s amusing to hear their takes on the campy dialogue and action of This Island Earth but makes for a bit of an awkward watch unless you’re watching the film alone. After all, if you make your own jokes regarding the sci-fi classic you’ll miss the cast’s but if you’re totally silent you’ll probably feel left out of the fun.
Another confusing thing about this movie is its length. A typical episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 runs 90+ minutes, however MST3K: The Movie clocks in at a ridiculous 75 minutes. Also, This Island Earth is 87 minutes long, meaning the film was severely edited to be included within this movie. This leads to MST3K: The Movie zooming by and not really feeling like a motion picture at all.
One of the movie’s greatest moments comes during the end credits though, as Mike, Crow, and Servo pick on their own crew with some jokes that genuinely feel spontaneous. It’s not often that you’ll find yourself sitting through a credit roll, let alone laughing during them sans a blooper reel.
In the end, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie lives up to the show’s reputation with some very funny lines being dropped by its cast, but I’m not sure a big screen version was necessary. Also, I felt the movie had very little replay value since its entirely based on a comedic gimmick. I could easily think of worse ways to spend my life than sitting aboard the Satellite of Love and doing what I do on Earth with my own buddies though!