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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Hamlet

(US DVD: 21 Jun 2011)

A Note of Apology from Pearl Forrester:


I don’t mind saying that I look back on my accomplishments—Lawgiver on an ape-ruled world, ruler of Qatar, inventor of various Evil with a capital “E” doomsday devices—with a sense of pride.  As the most recent in a long line of mad scientist Forresters (barring some space/time continuum hooey involving my son), I’ve accomplished more than most.  And yet, there’s the gnawing realization that I’ll be known for only one thing: showing bad movies to those cornfed idiots up on the Satellite of Love.


I know, I know, it’s the family business and all. Forresters long before me were engaging in one variant of this experiment or another. Yet I have to ask myself what value the work of my ancestors holds in a world where people actually choose to watch bad movies for fun? I mean, watching a SyFy Original for a couple of hours shakes me to my core and gives me a real crisis of faith. A retelling of Moby Dick involving a prehistoric whale and a mad submarine captain? They would have run me out on a rail from the Mad Scientists’ Guild for simply showing the trailer of that abomination on the SOL. There are limits!


All those movies I showed Joel, Mike, and the robots: what was it all for? No. No, it’s best not to think that way. I was a woman—a pioneering woman—in and of my time, and I won’t let doubts bring my sense of self-worth crashing down. I mean, I had some really bad movies. I really stuck it to those guys.


And we had fun. I won’t deny that they made me laugh from time to time, clever little clueless moppets that they were. So in a way, I was giving joy at the same time I was giving misery. Still, there was that one time I might have overplayed my hand. Oh, the boys thought they had me. I’ve always been a sucker for three-card monte, and I couldn’t resist. When I lost, though, they got to pick the film for that night. “Hamlet!” they cried, as if no one could pollute the Bard’s great works. Little did they know that I had a little gem filmed for German television in 1960. It was wrong, to be sure, but I’m not known for being nice (evil, remember?).


That was one English-dubbed slog, though. For me, for them, for anyone who came within 50 yards of that heaping helping of Danish ennui. I mean, 20 minutes into this one, and you start to side with every snotty high school student who ever rolled their eyes at a “thee” or “thou”. Oh, this Hamlet tries. It stars Maximilian Schell as Hamlet, and the set design is chock-full of shadows, curtains, and stone furniture. Kind of like a play Ingmar Bergman might have staged in art school (see guys, yet another reminder that you aren’t the only ones who can sling around a film reference!). Or, as Mike, Tom, and Servo put it, “San Quentin Prison presents Shakespeare!”.


It would be difficult to call this Hamlet bad, even though it’s still plodding even after I trimmed it down to fit the crew’s union-mandated 90-minute viewing window. It’s still Shakespeare, even if some of the dubbing (Ricardo Montalbán as the voice of Claudius?) makes my head spin, so it’s not godawful. But it’s sad how many of the play’s subtleties disappear. Add to that the production’s minimalist personality, and there’s not a lot to work with. The crew are reduced to pot shots at some of the costuming choices, and I can’t blame them. The sight of Hamlet’s father’s ghost gliding around in a spangled cape that would make Liberace proud evokes a call of “Ladies and Gentlemen, Patti Labelle!” The sight of Queen Gertrude’s hair is greeted with “Hail, Queen Dilbert’s Boss”. The sight of multiple black-clad, betighted men is dubbed “a herd of Hamlets”. Ophelia’s famous descent into madness is shrewdly judged as “She’s trying to Section-8 her way out of the movie”.


Of course, there’s also Hamlet’s reluctance to kill Claudius, and I admit I (being a get-to-the-point kind of evil gal) shared Mike and the bots’ frustration at Hamlet’s tendency to talk about the act, rather than performing it. “Is there a word in the English language he hasn’t said?” sums it up pretty well.


So I cut too much from a film that didn’t have much going for it to begin with, leaving my test subjects with the occasional inspired one-liner. The EKG charts from this one are pretty much a flat line, and I’m pretty sure that if that Interstellar Human Rights Tribunal had gotten access to the footage of this one, I’d never have gotten off.  Not without releasing my latest mutant virus onto the judges and jury, anyway…


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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Gunslinger

(US DVD: 21 Jun 2011)

For all my complaints about my son Clayton (and I’ve had remarkably few since I killed him), he made a much better choice when he showed Roger Corman’s 1956 Gunslinger. Starring a pre-My Three Sons Beverly Garland, it’s the not-so-thrilling tale of a sheriff’s widow who dons a badge and vows vengeance against those responsible for killing her man.  admire her pluck, although I’m not sure she ever does figure out who ordered the killing. Oh well, I guess it’s no surprise that the “right” (a matter of perspective, I suppose, when you’re in the biz like I am) people end up dead in the end.  Oh, and there’s the small matter of John Ireland playing Cane Miro, a hit man hired to kill her, although the two end up falling in love.


This one has the usual early Corman charm that’s like sunlight to the SOL crew’s tortured brains. The mileage they get out of the simple fact that Cane’s door opens the wrong way leads to countless (and I’m not too proud to admit, funny) jokes about how he lives out in the hall instead of in a room. And Cane’s ability to disappear and reappear in strange places leads Joel and the bots to a little mental exercise on the idea of quantum linear superposition, as if Cane were the Wild West version of the X-Men’s Nightcrawler. It must have done my dear finally-departed Clayton’s heart proud to see his subjects responding to the movie in such inspired acts of psychic defense. 


It’s yet another grim reminder, though, of the brash cruelties I inflicted with Hamlet. To view or not to view? In retrospect, it’s not such a hard question to answer, although I’m sure good ol’ wishy washy Hamlet would have still taken three hours to make up his mind about that one, too.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Hamlet

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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Gunslinger

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Andrew Gilstrap is a freelance writer living in South Carolina, where he's able to endure the few weeks each year that it's actually freezing (swearing a vow that if he ever moves, it'll be even farther south). Aging into a fine curmudgeon whose idea of heaven is 40 tree-covered acres away from the world, he increasingly wishes he were part of a pair of twins, just so he could try being the kinda evil one on for size. Musically, he's always scouring records for that one moment that makes him feel like he's never heard music before, but he long ago realized he needs to keep his copies of John Prine, Crowded House, the Replacements, Kate Bush, and Tom Waits within easy reach.


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