‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXXII’ Gets ‘Marooned’ With Bad Cinema

Despite what seems a one-note premise, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 legacy has thrived because of the deep love and relationship the cast has with movies.

This 32nd set of Mystery Science Theater episodes actually contains something fairly rare: a couple of movies that the Satellite of Love crew feel somewhat bad about tackling. So often, the films to which Joel, Kevin, and the bots are subjected are awful in a multitude of ways, often the products of shoestring budgets by quick-buck hucksters. Occasionally, though, something slips through the cracks which, in its day, had an actual budget, actual actors, and something approaching an actual story.

Space Travelers is just such a film. Originally titled Marooned, this serious big-budget film from 1969 took a twisted course over several decades in which it was renamed and essentially neglected. Like nearly any film that crosses the MST3K screen, it’s remarkably free of dramatic tension, despite its tale of astronauts stranded in orbit. But that’s not because of a lack of talent, since it features Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, Lee Grant, and Robert Crenna leading a pack of solid character actors. Plus, it was directed by Robert Sturges, who later made his name with The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, and Bad Day at Black Rock. Marooned even won an Academy Award for special effects.

As such, Joel and the bots have to recalibrate their jokes for the occasion, so one of the episode’s running gags focuses not on anything bad about Gene Hackman’s acting, but on its awesomeness — even when he’s laying around doing nothing or not even in the scene at all. Plus, they show admirable restraint by waiting around thirty minutes to make their first Major Tom/”Space Oddity” joke. That said, there’s plenty to riff on here. The film is slow, strangely relying on nearly 20 minutes of stock rocket launch footage to start the film, and definitely a product of its time.

In the newly filmed introduction, Frank Conniff is upfront recalls the crew’s doubts about taking the film on. The bonus featurette Marooned: A Forgotten Odyssey also provides a good lesson in how a film like Marooned can get into MST3K hands via lapsed rights and renaming via a budget distribution company.

In a similar vein, the MST3K cast fondly remember 1957’s Italian-filmed Hercules from their days as matinee-haunting kids. Starring a very beefcake-y Steve Reeves as Hercules, the film kicked off a string of 19 Hercules films such as Hercules Unchained, Hercules and the Captive Women, and Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules. Its hodgepodge of Greek mythology brings together Orpheus, Ulysses, Jason, Laertes, Castor, Pollux, and pretty much anyone else you can remember from your dog-eared copy of Hamilton’s Mythology. We even get the Amazons, fulfilling some weird combo role as fearsome warriors, man-starved women, and sirens trying to lure the Greeks to their deaths on the rocks. Due to time constraints, a lot is chopped out of this MST3K presentation of the film (such as the rather pivotal escape from the Amazons), making the film appear more amateurish than it really was.

Like the Space Travelers disc, the bonus features for Hercules continue a long tradition of Shout! Factory MST3K discs: they’re actually interesting and informative. “Barnum of Baltimore” introduces us to Joseph E. Levine, who initially made his name by bringing over foreign properties like Godzilla and Hercules, but who ultimately produced The Graduate and A Bridge Too Far.

The set’s other two films, San Francisco International and Radar Secret Service, are more standard MST3K fare. San Francisco International (1970) is a made-for-TV film/pilot about an attempted plane robbery, stocked to the gills with premium ’70s personalities like Pernell Roberts (who would be replaced by Lloyd Bridges when SFI became a short-lived series) and Robert Sorrells (who suffers horribly at SoL hands). It really hits its stride towards the end when Kevin and the bots start riffing on all of the federal crimes the characters are committing. Radar Secret Service is a 1950 block of nonsense about secret agents who use radar in all sorts of impractical and impossible ways to catch a gang of uranium smugglers.

After 32 volumes, you’d think that there’d be nothing interesting for the MST3K series left to say, no matter what movie they’re ridiculing. After all, once you’ve seen one silhouetted group taking down a bad movie, you’re pretty much down with the concept. However, as the bonus features continually prove, there are always stories in the background, either in the MST3K crew’s relationship with the films or with the unexpected place that some of these films and names might have in film history.

RATING 7 / 10
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