FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS on MST3K: retrospective review
FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS seems like a near-perfect fit for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. Despite the show’s reputation for ribbing the worst cinematic atrocities on the planet, MST3K is often most entertaining when addressing a film that is technically competent, even watchable in its own right, but marred by dated attitudes, heavy-handed messaging, and/or overdone melodrama. This is why ROCKETSHIP X-M worked so well on the show: with no papier-mâché sets at which to hurl verbal bricks, the crew of the Satellite of Love instead offered up trenchant remarks regarding its 1950s world view, particularly the “white male reality” underlying the film’s attitude toward women. FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS is essentially a German-Polish variation on ROCKETSHIP X-M: filmed in 1960 as Der Schweigende Stern (“The Silent Star”), it offers bigger production values, including widescreen color photography and 4-track stereo sound, but its overly serious tone, heavy handed anti-nuclear message, and occasional soap opera melodrama cry out for the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 treatment. As funny as the results are, however, they are not quite as funny as they might have been.
One of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000’s most beneficial services is that it occasionally allows you to view films that you either want or feel obligated to see, while providing a laugh track to help you through the longueurs. With its elaborate sets, imaginative production design, and sometimes trippy special effects, THE SILENT STAR, in its original form, is visually interesting enough to warrant attention, and on-screen wisecracks from Joel, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo are just the thing to lighten up the dreadfully humorless tone of the original. What prevents this episode from reaching the absolute zenith of hilarity is that FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS is presented in its truncated American version.
Given the MST3K format, with Joel Hodgson and his robot pals hurling peanut gallery insults at the screen, it was probably necessary to use the English-language version, but the bad dubbing – combined with the faded, pan-and-scan print – makes FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS look and sound like a cheap sci-fi flick – an obvious target that deserves to be pilloried, as opposed to a near-miss redeemed by MST’s 3Klaugh-alone camaraderie. Also, the shorter cut (79 minutes) deletes several potentially hilarious scenes: melodramatic moments meant to add weight to the story (such as one character’s suggestion that the ship’s lone female astronaut should be making babies instead of risking her life – “white male reality” indeed!), along with a pro-Soviet subtext that would have been rife for riffing.
Even so, the Americanized version of FIRST SPACE SHIP offers plenty of opportunity for enjoyable nonsense. The pressurized space suits and other technology draw the inevitable – and perfectly appropriate – reference to the old Major Matt Mason toy line, while the ridiculous outfit worn inside the ship is likened to a teddy bear. The Venusian atmosphere, with its swirling gaseous colors is compared to “creamy nugget.” When one character foolishly manages to get himself run over by a harmless-looking robot, the doctor’s diagnosis of “internal injuries” sounds a bit too much like “eternal injuries,” prompting Joel to remark “Even in the afterlife?”
The interstitial segments (which could sometimes be hit and miss on MST3K) are enlivened by a running gag in which Tom Servo has had his “Sarcasm Sequencer” turned up. After 90 minutes of excessive iron (“Ooo, sign me up for more of that!”), the joke pays off when his head goes up in an explosive puff of smoke. (Don’t worry – he recovers.)
Rare for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, the episode ends with Crow T. Robot expressing some deserved praise for the film: “I liked the international flavor, and it had a lot of action”. There is no doubt that FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS deserves the MST3K treatment, but it is nice to hear a small acknowledgement that the film is not totally bereft of positive qualities. If you want to watch this film straight up, then checked out the subtitled version under the title THE SILENT STAR is the way to go. In its truncated and dubbed form, MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 is the only way to go.
The episode is available on DVD as part of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION box set, which also includes LASERBLAST, WEREWOLF, and FUTURE WAR. It is also available as VOD through Netflix Instant Viewing.
Click here to read a review of the original European version, titled THE SILENT STAR, which ran as part of Cinefantastique’s 50th anniversary tribute to the horror, fantasy, and science fiction films of 1960.
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: Season 3, Episode 11 – FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS (air date: December 29, 1990). Cast: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Jim Mallon, Frank Conniff, Crist Ballas, Michael J. Nelson