Space Mutiny (1988) (part 1 of 7)
Ah, Space Mutiny. Truly the stuff of legendary awfulness. Reportedly, the movie was filmed in South Africa, and if that’s true, that would make it only the second worst thing to originate in that country.
If you’ve seen the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring this movie, you already know what I mean. And if you haven’t, then do yourself a favor and watch it. After you read this recap, of course.
MST3k’s take on Space Mutiny is easily one of their best and most fondly remembered episodes. But there is a catch with a lot of episodes of MST3k (one happily avoided now that it’s been partially reincarnated as RiffTrax – PLUG!): They often had to substantially edit movies to fit them into the show’s running time.
So I’ve always wondered, what was left out of Space Mutiny? Would any of its incomprehensible scenes make some amount of sense, however slight, in the context of the uncut film? Or would it be one of those occasions where the MST3k gang actually helped out the film, cutting pointless filler in order to keep their own commentary from dragging?
Alas, I tried for years to obtain a VHS copy of the film without much luck, so I was left to wonder for over a decade. Then one day, I learned that this fabled piece of cinematic sci-fi dreck was at long last being released on DVD. Needless to say, I couldn’t get my order in fast enough.
So this will be something of a dual-purpose recap. First and foremost, of course, will be the standard dissection of all the absurdities and inanities of the film proper. But at the same time—and this will be of greater interest to people closely familiar with the MST3k treatment—I’m going to attempt to evaluate whether the movie stands up better in its complete form, or if it’s somehow even worse.
Two things are notable about the DVD cover. First, it’s one of the few examples of a cover that actually mocks the movie inside. The front cover reads, “It’s Hilarious… But Not On Purpose.” I have to admit, it does take some of the fun out of ripping into a movie when you start out playing catch-up with the video box.
Second, the back cover contains not one, but two references to the MST3k episode, which just goes to show how much this movie owes to Best Brains for saving it from obscurity.
The movie kicks off with opening credits made by people whose ambition apparently far outstripped their competence. In 1988, computer graphics technology was just getting to the point where it was ready to be commonly used in films. Unfortunately, this movie was not made using 1988 computer graphics technology. 1978 technology is more like it.
Apart from the title of the movie, which comes up in a fairly aesthetic set of shaded metallic letters framed in red, the rest of the titles are pure black-and-white CRT crapola. Worse, they tried to get artsy with the credits, attempting to have them “whoosh” in from one side or the other, sometimes both. Unfortunately, they also used 1978 scaling technologies, so the letters in close-up are horrifically blocky.
This culminates in what’s supposed to be a giant “W”, resolving into the credit for producer David Winters, but it turns out to be, well, pretty much what he had coming for the job he did on this movie.
Amusingly, the credits for the actors forego the attempts at graphical flashiness that accompany every other title (including the word “Starring”). When it comes to the cast, their names appear in the plainest, most ordinary font possible. You have to wonder if the guys who did the titles were trying to warn us about something here.
The movie proper opens with pretentious narration, which I don’t think anyone should find the least bit surprising. In brief, the narrator tells us the story of a generational spacecraft called the Southern Sun, or, as I like to call it, Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet Ship B. Trust me, the events of this movie make a lot more sense if you think of the characters as descendants of the most useless third of their homeworld’s population.
Actually, as sci-fi premises go, they could have picked worse. The idea of a spaceship on a journey that will take generations (something only briefly even discussed on Star Trek: Voyager) has enough fertile ground for plenty of original storytelling. That being said, the whole concept of a generational ship carries with it a necessary premise: The colonists have to be putting themselves through this because A) they only have one place to go, and B) there’s no other way to get there.
But as we’ll quickly see, the section of galaxy the Southern Sun is cruising through is more built-up than the northern suburbs of Dallas. People come and go from the ship pretty much as they please, and fleets of friends and enemies alike spring up everywhere. As a result, these colonists, stodgily remaining on the Southern Sun for a journey that won’t end in their lifetimes, begin to look pretty retarded.
And doubly retarded is the notion that anyone would need to go to all the trouble of staging a mutiny just to get off the ship. A “space” mutiny, if you will.
Speaking of which, let’s meet our main villain and future space mutineer, Elijah Kalgan. He’s played by the late John Phillip Law, whose most famous role, ironically enough, was as an angel. I’m sure he wished that “no memory” thing applied to this movie as well. He’s stalking around what will be the all-purpose set for at least half the movie: a random industrial factory.
Trailing behind Kalgan is a man in orange fiberglass armor, who bears quite a resemblance to a young Ricky Schroeder. This entirely unthreatening fellow is for some reason credited as “Kalgan’s Bodyguard”, even though he never actually does anything resembling the job description. Kalgan plants a plastic explosive (which is credible enough as a low-budget prop, I guess) on one of the many large pieces of rusting machinery in the room.
Cut to the bridge of the Southern Sun, which is filled with the customary uniformed officers sitting at computer consoles. Lt. Lemont, a woman with dark, frizzy hair, listens patiently as a mix of computerish and human voices inform her that a shuttle is arriving. Onboard this shuttle is a group of refugees known as Bellerians.
Lt. Lemont acknowledges this chatter not at all, apart from pressing a couple of buttons. The reason for the strange lack of interaction—in this scene, and many others throughout the film—is obvious when you finally figure it out: the Bellerians are not actually part of this movie.
Watch carefully. Apart from a handful of spliced-in bits involving one character, the scenes involving the Bellerians have no connection to, and involve no other characters from, the rest of the movie.
I can only speculate as to the motives behind this, but I see two possibilities: one, they shot extra footage to patch over some of the more glaring plot holes in the movie, and two, they were trying to add sexual overtones to the movie, because the original effort just wasn’t cutting it. But that’s getting a bit ahead of things.