1/9/07

706 Laserblast

(1978, SciFi, color)

Faaaar oooouuuut!

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

An alien laser cannon/medallion combination corrupts a desert-dwelling teen.

Summary:

Are you ready for some football?A thin green man with a gaudy necklace and a laser cannon on his arm runs into the desert. An alien ship flies over. It drops onto the dunes ahead of him, disgorging two stop-motion extraterrestrials. The green man takes a pot shot or two from behind a tuft of sagebrush, missing by a mile. The aliens (looking like shell-less turtles with large posteriors) see him and set their phasers to “disintegrate.” They fly off, leaving behind the gun, the necklace, and a man-shaped pattern of ash in the sand.

Unenthusiastic desert surfer dude Billy wakes to find his mom sneaking away to Acapulco. In a scene mostly bereft of dialogue (most of the film is bereft of dialogue) he glowers disapprovingly and drives away in a utility van. Slovenly pothead deputies pull him over and give him a ticket. He drops by his girlfriend’s house, where her hallucinating grandfather (Keenan Wynn) accuses him of being a government spy. He leaves to buy a Coke at a nearby gas station, where he encounters teen bully Chuck and his irritating sidekick Froggy (Eddie Deezen). They goad him into racing Chuck’s convertible. Billy tries to accept, but his van won’t start. Chuck and Froggy drive off, jeering.

Billy wanders into the desert, where he finds the laser cannon and medallion. He tries on the cannon, dancing around and shouting “pow” like a sugar-high five-year-old. He tries on the medallion, and the cannon goes off, frying an innocent sagebrush. He dances around some more, blasting the scenery left and right.

Meanwhile, a man in a polyester suit drives a sinister black car into town. He tips a gas station attendant and asks for the location of the nearest hotel.

Also meanwhile, the turtle aliens get a call from their leader. They view footage of Billy jumping around in the desert with the laser cannon, and turn their spaceship around.

Billy’s girlfriend Kathy rides out on her moped to meet him. She spends hours searching his campsite. Turns out he was hiding in his van, waiting for her to come close enough to pounce. They giggle and roll around for a while, and then it’s time to go to someone’s birthday party. They spend hours more at the party, relaxing by the side of the pool while the depressed birthday girl downs fistfuls of sheet cake. After several lifetimes worth of party footage, Chuck and Froggy try to force themselves on Kathy. Billy defends her honor with a tennis racket, and they drive off into the night.

Meanwhile, the man in the polyester suit investigates mysterious scorch marks in the desert.

That night, Billy dons the laser cannon, medallion, and a lot of green makeup to blow up Chuck’s convertible.

Also meanwhile, the turtle aliens watch film footage recycled from earlier scenes.

The next morning, the sheriff and his stupid pothead deputies share a burrito and greet the man in the polyester suit. Suit Man shows them an impressive wallet photo, and they talk briefly about something vague.

Also, also meanwhile, Billy has a lump on his chest, right where the bulbous alien medallion touches it. Kathy drives him to see the doctor (Roddy McDowall). The doctor removes the hardish lump and drives all day and into the night to get it examined by a lab technician. That night, Billy dons green makeup, laser cannon, etc. to blow him up en route.

The cops pick up Billy the next day. The man in the polyester suite questions him, inspects the hole in his chest, and lets him go. Apparently they found the hard chest lump in the wreckage of the doctor’s car. Suit Man takes it to be examined by the lab technician. The technician runs a number of tests, and discovers something vague.

That night, Billy dons…you know…and blows up the stupid pothead deputies.

The next day, he drives out into the desert with his girlfriend. They make love in extreme close-up. She gets dressed while he sleeps, and finds his gaudy alien medallion mixed up in their clothes. She puts it on him, turning him green and murderous. She runs away screaming.

Meanwhile, the man in the polyester suit pays her crazy grandpa a visit. They talk briefly about something vague.

Murderous green Billy wanders the desert with his cannon. Vigilante cops in a light plane try to gun him down. Billy discovers he is bulletproof, and guns them down instead. Chuck and Froggy drive past in a newly acquired vintage car. He blows them up as well. A heavily stoned hippie picks him up in a van. Billy blows up a Star Wars billboard as they drive past. The hippie exclaims, “Faaaar oooouuuut!” Billy blows him up too.

Suddenly, Billy is on foot again, blowing up mailboxes in a deserted city. Kathy shows up with the man in the polyester suit. (How they found him is never explained. Something in the man’s briefcase beeps occasionally, but that may not even be connected.) The big-butted stop-motion turtle aliens blast Billy from the top of a nearby building, and then fly away. Kathy weeps and embraces her poor fried lover.

Introduction:

Rollin' on the riiiiiivveeeerrrr!Tom and Crow tie up Mike and demonstrate the “Thunderdome Joke.” This involves waiting until someone mentions a thunderdome in a disparaging manner, and then saying, “Can’t we just get Beyond Thunderdome?”

Host Segment One:

Mike frees himself and tries to send Tom and Crow to their rooms, but the power fails. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester’s funding has been cut. He’s packing up to move in with his mother. He releases Umbilicus and cuts the Satellite of Love free. Mike and the ‘Bots complain that doing so will cause their orbit to decay and eventually bring about their fiery deaths. Dr. Forrester knows this, but doesn’t seem to care. Tom discovers the Satellite of Love has a warp drive. They engage it and fly into space just as Dr. Forrester begins their last movie.

Host Segment Two:

A satellite named Monad finds its way onto the bridge. He accosts Crow, declaring him imperfect and worthy of destruction. Crow invites him to “smooch my imperfect butt!” Mike and Tom arrive to tease Monad mercilessly. Mike throws him out the airlock.

Host Segment Three:

The Satellite runs into a field of star babies, one of which needs changing. Mike sends Tom and Crow out the airlock with a giant diaper and talks them through the process. They jettison the soiled diaper into space.

Host Segment Four:

The Satellite comes dangerously close to a black hole, which threatens to collapse all matter on board. Tom and Crow panic until Gypsy cries, “Mike can help us. He’s reasonably smart, and his arms work and everything.” Mike shows up dressed as Captain Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager. He babbles pseudo-scientific nonsense until the danger has passed. Tom and Crow find him strangely attractive, at least until he starts celebrating with a rowdy rendition of Proud Mary, sung in as high a falsetto as his voice will allow.

Host Segment Five:

The Satellite crashes into the edge of the universe. They gain all knowledge and wisdom, transforming themselves into beings of pure energy. They leave the Satellite to play in the boundless reaches of space. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester slowly ages in a series of scenes copied from 2001: A Space Odyssey. On his deathbed, he looks up at giant monolithic videocassette labeled “The Worst Movie Ever Made” and turns into star baby. Pearl catches him in her arms, crying, “A chance to start again!” “Oh poopy!” says Star Baby Forrester.

Stinger:

Faaaar oooouuuut!

Thoughts:

A murderous green frolic.In 1918, Russian film pioneer Lev Kuleshov performed a famous experiment in which he transposed footage of film star Ivan Mozzhukhin with footage of a plate of soup, a little girl playing, and a coffin. In each case, audiences praised Mozzhukhin for looking hungry, tender, or bereaved, as the situation demanded. In reality Kuleshov used the same shot of Mozzhukhin’s blank face three times. Thereafter, the use of editing to imply meaning that does not exist in the film’s individual parts has been called the “Kuleshov Effect.”

Laserblast might have been salvageable with a decent editor. It’s a painful film, but not an inept one. The sparse script explains nothing, lending it a “powdered movie, just add story” feel, but that’s probably a good thing—all possible explanations are probably insultingly puerile. It has real actors in it (Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, and Eddie Deezen) and though they’re not in starring roles, they’re prominent enough to make an impact if properly used. There’s the occasional technical goof (most notably, we catch several glimpses of the camera crew) but overall the movie manages a dreamy, sunstroke feel. Tone is a hard thing to capture, so the filmmakers must have been doing something right. A good editor could have transposed some scenes to give them focus, cut and shortened others, and turned the whole thing into, well, not a good movie, but a compelling one. Its current form is about as exciting as staring at Mozzhukhin’s blank face for ninety minutes. We spend the entire time wondering what he’s looking at.

By the end of the short seventh season, the folks at Best Brains knew their show was going to be canceled. The host segments reflect this. Host segment five is a fitting end for what they thought would be the end of the MST3K. The giant videocassette is just the right touch. The others focus mainly on Mike and the ‘Bots journey to the edge of the Universe. The tedious and unfunny “Beyond the Thunderdome” joke is the worst of them. The hilarious “Mike as Janeway” sketch is the best by far. The others fall somewhere in between.

Facing a dearth of content and an incomprehensible story, the Satellite crew pulls off a minor miracle by making this movie watchable at all. When the first green man wanders through the desert with the laser cannon on his arm, Mike calls him, “Edward CD-Playerhands.” During the unappealing intercourse, Crow says, “This movie means two things to me—sheet cake and back fat.” During yet another extended scene of Chuck and Froggy riding around in the desert, Tom says, “J.D. Power & Associates ranked these guys ‘Most Loathsome In Their Class.’” Everyone blurts out “Are you ready for some football?” whenever the hairy pothead deputy is onscreen. During the lengthy closing credits, they look up Laserblast in Leonard Maltin’s movie guide. Apparently, Mr. Maltin puts it on an equal footing with Amadeus, Marathon Man, Unforgiven, and The Great Santini. Laserblast is an important episode to watch in the continuity of the show, and Mike and the ‘Bots mostly make up for the empty film. It’s worth watching at least once.