BOOK REVIEW: “The Mystery Science Theater Amazing Colossal Episode Guide” (1996)

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“In Japan, there is a class of children who are, well, special. They’re better than the average citizen. They dwell in a world of wealth, privilege, and influence few adults ever dream of attaining. These are the monster children. The merest, most remote chance encounter with a monster sweeps the child into the inner circle of Japanese military and government security and strategic planning. The child in this movie, Kenny, is immediately listened to and his advice is heeded, his orders carried out to the letter. Whisked along on helicopters, rushed to disaster scenes in motorcades, guarded with the very lives of the elite security forces, the monster child is a treasure to the Japanese matched only by the emperor and his family. Scolded only with his best interests in mind, the monster boy feels free to capriciously break the rules and put others in mortal danger, because he knows that his protectors would rather be crushed to death than let a single hair on the monster boy’s head be put out of place. Be it Guiron, Baragon, Megalon, Zigra, Mothra, Gaos, Maus, Gamera, Blacula, Hardrock, Coco, or Joe, one stupid encounter with a creature over ten feet tall ensures the lucky Japanese boy a life of leisure, glamour, adventure, fame, and great fortune.”
---Kevin “Tom Servo” Murphy

It took years before I could read that without breaking out laughing. I don’t know why, but there’s just something about Kevin Murphy’s highly articulate screeds that just cracks me up. Maybe it’s because I can picture Tom Servo working himself into a lather saying the same things, maybe it’s just that I find Gamera movies endlessly hilarious. Who can say?

When I mentioned to a somewhat stolid friend of mine recently that I was going to review “The Mystery Science Theater Amazing Colossal Episode Guide,” he derisively insinuated that I shouldn’t be doing such a thing, as Republibot has higher standards than that. “We really don’t,” I said, “You just generally like us, so you assume we have high standards. Sites you don’t like, you say have low standards, but really that’s got nothing to do with reality, we’re just a bunch of geeks.”

“But it’s not even science fiction!”

“It’s a show with a space ship and sapient robots.”

“But they’re puppets!”

“Yoda was a puppet.”

“That’s….that’s different. That was serious. MST3k isn’t serious.”

“Ah, now we come to the meat of it,” I said.

“The Mystery Science Theater Amazing Colossal Episode Guide” (Hereafter to be called “MST3k: The Book,” since that’s what they actually call it everywhere except the cover) came out in 1996 when the show's future was in doubt. They’d done seven seasons, one on a local station that no one will talk about, and six on Comedy Central. For whatever reason, the network was balking at a seventh year, the budget was up in the air, no contracts were signed, and that stupid “MST3k: The Movie” project was underway amidst some serious misgivings. Basically no one knew what the future would hold.

So they cranked out this book. In essence, it’s a capsule review of every movie they ever did on the show (Frequently a deliberately inaccurate one), a brief outline of the sketches, and the observations of those who worked on the episode. The wry way they describe the sketches are pretty funny, but the observations - like the one I cited above - are really the main attraction. Since they spent such a lot of time and energy insulting films, it’s easy to forget that the cast and crew probably had unexpressed thoughts about what they were doing, and some of ‘em are darn hilarious. The “Monster Children” bit is easily my favorite, but there are other good ones as well.

That’s not to say it’s the best book I’ve ever read, nor even the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of painfully bad films, of course. There are a number of caveats. At a mere 173 pages, the book feels pretty padded out. The introductions - plural - take nineteen pages, and that’s every bit as tedious as it sounds. A four-page explanation of the concept of the show is supposed to be funny, but it’s not, and it’s superfluous. By my very liberal count, I’d say about 113 pages in MST3k: The Book are actually *about* the show itself, the rest - roughly a third of the thing! - is basically filler.

Some of it is interesting, some of it is horribly tedious, and a lot of it smacks of Dave Barry’s old “My editor says I have to fill up six inches of newsprint or I won’t get paid” kind of thing. Except that Dave admitted that, they don’t here. Though they probably would if anyone had mentioned it to ‘em.

Of course the book became more-or-less obsolete almost as soon as it hit the stands: MST3k: The Movie came out very shortly thereafter, Comedy Central signed an entirely-lame seven-episode seventh season deal, and then they got cancelled. Then they got picked up by Skiffy for three more years. Then they got cancelled. Again. For good that time. The review format used in the book was continued during the Sci Fi Channel years online, and those old pages can be viewed here http://www.mst3kinfo.com/archives.html if you’re interested in reading jokes about jokes (And who isn’t?) but are too cheap or lazy to buy MST3k: The Book (And again, who isn’t?) Just to be clear: none of the book's content is on the website and of course none of the website's content is in this book, as that would require a time machine. Or a second edition.

Basically, were it not so funny, I’d be pretty frustrated by its various shortcomings. Is it a must-have? No. Is it a must-miss? No. If you’re a fan of the show, and you don’t already have it, it’s probably worth a buck or two at a gar(b)age sale. If you’re not a fan, probably you should sit this dance out. Either way, it won’t change your life, but it’s a pleasant enough way to wile away an afternoon, provided you skip the interminable and un-funny introductions.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS BOOK?

I think so. There’s a very minor bit of profanity - all of it pretty funny - and some interesting bits about how they, themselves, were repulsed at some of the more heinous aspects of the films they criticized. It’s a fun read and, come on, it’s a puppet show. How bad could it be? (“Meet The Feebles” notwithstanding, of course)

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