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Is ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ Film Criticism?

Is 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' Film Criticism?

Another day, another impossibly complicated supercut that someone must have spent months cutting for no discernible reason whatsoever. The one that just got passed to me compiles all nine-plus seasons of the seminal movie mocking series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” into one 14-minute montage, a single joke from each of almost 200 movies. Here is that impossibly complicated montage:

Watching (and chuckling at) this video made me think back on the years (and years and years) I spent (and continue to spend) watching “Mystery Science Theater.” Out of 198 episodes, I’ve probably seen half — and I’ve probably seen a quarter of that half more than once (and I’ve probably seen a few of that quarter so many times I could almost transcribe their screenplays from memory). Which got me wondering: is “Mystery Science Theater” a form of film criticism?

Okay, yes, obviously: “MST3K” is not film criticism per se. Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, and the rest of the Satellite of Love crew didn’t once riff on something from the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movies list. Their thoughts on “I Accuse My Parents” were never published in Film CommentThey never went on lengthy digressions about the mise-en-scene in Bert I. Gordon films or the use of music and sound in Coleman Francis movies. They sat in front of cardboard cutouts of movie theater seats and cracked jokes.

In those jokes, though, I believe there’s something like criticism. They teased Bert I. Gordon’s mise-en-scene and Coleman Francis’ sound, and if you were paying attention — as all good film critics must — you would see the way “MST3K” was doing more than transmuting blunders into humor. They were critiquing and evaluating, observing and commenting, preserving and cataloguing. The collective “MST3K” writing staff had as perceptive an eye and ear for cinema as anyone I’ve ever met. Wikipedia, which has never been wrong about anything ever, says that film criticism is “is the analysis and evaluation of films, individually and collectively.” If you add the words “using humor” to the end of that sentence, you’ve got a fairly effective definition of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” as well.

Granted, if you currently believe that film criticism is suffering through something like “The Snark Ages,” you’ll want to disagree with me, and strongly. But I think you can learn a lot about how — or how not — to make a movie by watching “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” I certainly did. But what do you think? I leave the ultimate answer to this question in your hands (of fate).

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