Wednesday, November 30, 2005


In an interesting departure from our usual fare, last night we watched one of the original community television versions of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The movie was 'Phase IV', a film about yet another war between man and ant. It was made in 1974, and thus inevitably results in everyone being dead or enslaved by the end of the film. Honestly, it's amazing that we made it to the 80s with such remorseless nihilism on every cinema screen. No wonder Star Wars did so well in 1977 - it was the only film that decade to have most of the cast still free and breathing by the closing credits.

The movie featured a lot of very long, unnarrated scenes of ants scurrying about on their anty business, and the print JC downloaded from the Digital Archive Project was badly pixilated and blurry, so half the time we felt like we were watching a collabrative project made by Ed Wood and Andy Warhol.

Also, being made in 1974, it was rather loose with the concept of plot. Apparently an alignment of the planets, which has been used to explain everything from World War III to the success of Steve Guttenberg, has this time caused ants to forgo their interspecies conflicts and unite to form a better, antier world. Woe to any humans, such as scientists Lesko and Hobbs, who get in their way.

Lesko and Hobbs have a fighting chance, however, because along with increased intelligence, the ants have also developed a taste for methods of killing so baroque that they would shame a James Bond villain. Rather than just swarming into the scientists' geodesic dome en masse and eating them, the ants build a circle of mica-based mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto the dome, raising the temperature within to uncomfortable but not fatal levels! The fiends! Faced with such villainy, the scientists use sound waves to damage the mirrors, rather than just, say, running outside in sturdy boots and kicking them over.

In due course Lesko (who is young and American and therefore good) and Hobbs (who is old and British and therefore bad) are joined by Kendra, a young woman whose main role seems to be as a human display stand for some long, lustrous hippie hair and a pair of frayed bellbottoms. In the end she and Lesko are the only characters to survive, and there is an implication that they will be forced to endure many hours of joyless, passionless sex according to the inscrutable will of their new ant masters.

Pehaps Lesko for one welcomes his new insect overlords. We don't know. We don't see his face in the final scene, but his slumped posture suggests that he's tired already.

The KTMA MST3Ks look like rather bad fan versions of the later episodes, largely because of the inexperienced actors, total lack of budget, and the fact that Mike Nelson had not yet joined the writing team. Crow looks like a bug-eyed proto version of himself, but Servo is just weird; he has the wrong colour, the wrong voice, the wrong height, the wrong movements and the wrong attitude. He's not so much the 'well-read chick magnet' as the 'barely-animate fire hydrant'. And Gypsy just looks ghoulish.

ktma versions of crow, joel and servo

Still, there were some nice lines, even if they were not as rapid fire as they would later become. A favourite from Crow:

"That ant looks kinda thin. Must be a carpenter ant."

Ba boom tish.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent review, Blanders!

For the record, one of my favourite lines was "You can't beat 'Off' in the desert".

But when you say "...lusterous hippie hair...", surely you mean "Lustrous"? Meaning "shiny"?

Although, I could believe that "lusterous" was 70s hippy-speak for "inspires lust in the beholder"? (As in "Whoa! Lusterous! She could smoke my joint anytime!").

And did you notice that Gypsy seems to have had a sex change between this series and the next?

Looking forward to your review of "The Robot vs The Aztec Mummy".

8:59 AM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

Yes. Yes I did mean 'lustrous'. Damn you very much.

9:39 AM  

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