Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hamlet on MST3K

If you never saw Mystery Science Theatre 3000, let me try to explain.  It's a rather zany concept about a man (a janitor, really) who was sent off in space by an evil scientist who is going to torture him by making him watch bad movies until he slowly goes insane.  To keep his sanity, the man (and his robot friends, whom he made from a gumball machine and lacrosse set) make fun of the movies.  The show ran a good 10 years, although in its later years with none of the original cast left it greatly suffered.  "Manos, The Hands Of Fate" gained fame on this show as people recognized it for the worst movie ever made.

Well.  In this particular episode, Mike (our human) wins a game with the evil scientist where he gets to pick his own movie.  "Just send me Hamlet," he says.  "It doesn't matter which one, they're all good."

Wrong!  Our mad scientist sends up a dubbed German version for him to suffer on.

As far as an MST3K episode goes, it's .... well, not good.  At all.  Most of their jokes fall incredibly flat, and they find almost no opportunity at all to riff on anything actually Shakespearean.  Lots of "Danish" jokes, stuff like that.

The movie is...equally bad.  For some strange reason, Gertrude looks like a space alien.  At one point they call her "Queen Dilbert's Boss" which might have been one of the funniest jokes of the episode (once you see her hair, you'll understand).  And the ghost as well looks very Martiany, with the big high plastic collar for no reason and the generic flowing robe.  Claudius' voice is done by Ricardo Montalban (and they do sneak in a "rich Corinthian leather" joke).  It's a rather odd combination, a German movie about Danes done with a Spanish accent.  Even more so when Hamlet is done with a German (Austrian?) accent.  Half way through the movie he started sounding like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and I could barely stand it.

With any filmed Hamlet it's interesting to see what they skip and what they emphasize.  There is no ghost in the queen's bedroom, for instance.  And during the climactic final scene, Claudius voluntarily drinks the poison (granted, he's already been stabbed at that point).   There's a bunch of others but I watched it on my ipod and didn't take notes, so it's hard to remember every little thing.  They did do a whole big repeating joke on Laertes' line about cutting Hamlet's throat in a church, which really made me appreciate a line I'd never noticed before.  Hamlet has a chance to kill Claudius at prayer (arguably, "in a church") and does not take it.  When asked the lengths that he would go to avenge his father, Laertes uses that as the example of how far he'd go.  (Laertes, by the way, is particularly terrible.  He looks like a blonde Meatloaf and acts worse.)

Still, there were times when I actually liked the actor playing Hamlet -- Maximillian Schell, who seems like he should be familiar to me but I can't place where.  Anyway, I liked the whole "where is Polonius" scene, as well as the final blood bath.  Keep in mind that we're talking about a movie that gets a 2 out of 10, and I'd give Hamlet himself maybe a 4, so it's not like he's rivalling Brannagh here.  I'm just looking for something good to say.

If you're into the MST3K idea we can talk about better episodes.  But once I realized this one existed, I had to watch it and blog about it.  Too geeky to miss. :)


sonneta said...

You didn't laugh at "Honey, where's the ear poison?" or "Night fever, night fever, we know how to do it" (as they are stately dancing) or "Now is the winter of our discontent-- oops, wrong play."

Yes, I did just recently watch this as well.

Craig said...

I remember when this one first aired--it didn't do much for me then, either. I think the show was just getting old and tired at that point; I seem to remember whole episodes where the "jokes" were mostly doing old-lady-from-Minnesota voices talking about "hot dishes" and so forth.

Now, if you've got "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," or "Fugitive Alien," or "Ten to the Moon," "Wild Rebels," "Warrior of the Lost World"...oh, yeah: fun times.