Saturday, December 8, 2007

Mystery Science Theater 3000 does Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Bad Christmas movie fun continues!

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection - The Essentials (Manos, the Hands of Fate / Santa Claus Conquers the Martians). Best Brains, Inc. Rhino Home Video (2004).

In continuation of our Santa Claus Conquers the Martians theme, I recently goaded the whole household into watching the film with the Mystery Science Theater commentary. Consensus is that as punishment I won't be allowed dessert for a week.

Just in case you don't know, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a long-running television show featuring atrocious movies. The show's hosts (one guy and two robot puppets) do skits making fun of the film and, during the film itself, appear as silhouettes at the bottom of the screen and offer merciless heckling full of in-jokes and obscure pop culture references. As a free bonus, I'll add a bit to your geek knowledge: taking a text you didn't write (such as a web page) and interspersing it with your own snide comments is known as MSTing in honor of this show.

To be honest, I am a tad disappointed. Even though this is apparently considered one of the greatest Mystery Science Theater episodes, the heckling just didn't seem that funny. Perhaps it's because I had already seen this movie twice; after all, one can only watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians so many times before getting sick of it. Nonetheless, I can't help but think they missed several opportunities to hurl some serious barbs. I don't believe they even once made fun of the martians' shoe polish makeup. They were also surprisingly sparse on the jokes about Pia Zadora, who plays young Girmar in the film.

The movie, in case you care, is about a group of martians, led by Kimar (King Martian), who decide they need to kidnap Santa Claus and bring him to Mars so their children can learn to be children again instead of watching TV all the time. (Do you think that trick would work here on Earth?) The Martians travel to Earth; unable to find Santa, they ask two kids, Billy and Betty, for directions, and then kidnap them to prevent them from alerting "the authorities." With few further incidents, they seize Santa.

Playing villain is Voldar, a snarly Martian with a moustache not quite large enough to twirl. Guilty of trying to preserve Martian culture, Voldar will do any underhanded deed to stop Santa from spreading Christmas joy, even stooping as low as sabotaging Santa's workshop!

Nonetheless, I did laugh out loud a number of times while watching this, particularly when they invented their own lyrics to the theme song, "Hooray for Santy Claus," or when they made ax-murder noises during a scene in which Santa laughs maniacally for no reason. The skits are reasonably funny, especially the one in which they sing their own Christmas carol, "Let's Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas."

I got this film as part of a two-DVD set; the other featured film is possibly the show's most famous episode, in which they watch "Manos" The Hands of Fate, an empty yet incomprehensible film about a vacationing family that encounters an evil cult. The movie fills a long hour and a half or so with lots and lots of slowly paced footage of fields going by a car window. The commentary on this one is hilarious. I laughed the whole way through, but I would definitely have to rank this among the worst movies I have ever seen.

But as for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, as I'll reveal later on, I may be the only person on Earth who thinks this premise has serious storytelling potential. If only the movie had a competent writer and a skilled director and the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster, it could be so bad it's good.
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