Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lost Continent (1951) – MST3K Review

Don’t you hate it when you’re a super smart scientist and you proceed to loose a multi-million dollar rocket? Well these jokers do just that. After yelling “Doh!” they gather a team of specialists to find the rocket and collect information from its flight control systems to find out why it crashed. The team consists of Major Nolan (Cesar Romero) the ladies man pilot. Lt. Wilson (Chick Chandler), the cocky co-pilot. Dr. Rostov (John Hoyt), the scientist to created the faulty rocket. Sgt. Tatlow (Sid Melton) who provides comic relief. Dr. Phillips (Hugh Beaumont) is an expert at looking at Geiger Counters. Whit Bissell plays Dr. Briggs who has dead meat written across his forehead.

These guys sure aren’t the A-team and I doubt they’d make the C-team. They soon find that the rocket has crashed in a strange area of the Pacific where all electronics go screwy. They crash their plane and after talking insultingly to the natives find out that something crashed on the steepest mountain I’ve ever seen. After an extended climbing sequence the group reaches the top and sees ancient flora and fauna that should be dead. In other words: Dinosaurs! Can our heroes survive long enough to find the rocket on this Lost Continent?

Movie Review:
To say Sam Neufeld was a prolific director is a bit of an understatement. The man cranked out seven movies in 1951 alone. So the fact that Lost Continent isn’t very good is probably just something he had to live with. When you’re making that many movies, something’s got to give and in some cases everything gives.

Neufeld has been featured on MST3K a number of times and he seems to have the same problems. He has a story idea, he just can’t get it fleshed out enough to make full-length feature out of it. The result is padding – lots and lots of padding. The best film I’ve seen from his cannon is I Accuse My Parents and anyone who’s seen that may shudder at what we’ve got here.

But the thing is Lost Continent isn’t horrible, it’s just dull. The padding sinks a film that could have been fun and entertaining. It just seems that budget considerations and lack of time working on a script undermines the whole thing.

I’m willing to forgive a lot when you’ve got those types of working conditions. I can even forgive the painful comedy of Sid Melton, because some humor just doesn’t always translate across the decades. But a few things had to be painfully obvious even while filming this movie.

The endless climbing scenes. Someone, somewhere had to see those and say, “hey they’re climbing for 20 minutes of the 83 minute movie. That’s an eternity.” But no, we get to see every damn minute of it, and it’s not exciting or thrilling or engaging at all. The “mountain” looks too much like a set and the actors don’t look the least bit nervous. The whole thing just fails and goes on failing for twenty minutes. Then it’s followed by around ten minutes of wandering around a fake jungle set: just walking and talking, and camping and walking and talking and camping. The plot just stops dead as we get to see every last moment of the journey. Once the dinos finally pop up, one hour and five minutes into the episodes, you’re practically cheering, because something interesting is on screen.

Our stop motion friends inject a bit of life into the film as they chase around our heroes. You get carnivorous everything in this movie: meat eating saurapod, meat eating Triceratops and her shopping buddy, and a meat-eating pterodactyl. Um, yeah those first two types of dinosaurs ate plants, but whatever, maybe they evolved over the eons into carnivores. But where is the T-Rex? The one famous meat eater and he’s not in the movie?

The acting is functional. No one is fully engaged, so it’s not as bad as it could be. Whit Bissell is an old hand at his role and he does it really well. Hoyt plays the rogue Russian scientist who may or may not be on our side. Yeah it’s a plot point that pretty much goes nowhere, but he makes it work with his low-key acting.

Aside from that, the movie really lacks the adventurous spirit to make it work. It’s not fun, because all the fun parts require you to sit through nearly thirty minutes of padding (and I didn’t even tell you about the extended gathering the team sequence). It’s a rough film, will Season Two Joel and the bots be up for it?

Episode Review:
Lost Continent is a bit of a landmark episode. It created a two-word riff that would carry all through he Comedy Central years. Well, less a riff and more like a scar. Whenever a movie entered an extended sequence that repeated itself over a period of five or more minutes, someone would say “Rock Climbing”. It all started here with the 20-minute rock climbing sequence that nearly kills Joel and the bots.

For me this is the first test of the MST3K format. Most of the time the movie gave the riffers something to work with, but this may be the first film where they got such extended periods of nothing. As such, they haven’t worked out all the kinks yet. Later episodes would turn these moments into comic gold with a steady stream of riffs and riffs on riffs. But here Joel and bots seem almost overwhelmed by the banal sequence.

And then something clicks, you can almost feel it, suddenly they get giddy at the endless repetition and just go off the rails. The boys get angry at the film and humor gets funnier. As we watch someone climbing something for the 11th minute on end Joel stands up and yells “Who are you? Where are we?” Crow thinks that someone needed to tell the director about compressing time through editing. Tom just starts to cry.

Once our heroes reach the top of the mountain and start the extending walking and camping sequence, Joel and bots have had enough. They just let everyone have it and cheer when herbivores eat characters. When the stop motion menaces are romping around Crow says, “Brain the size of a walnut.” “Dinosaurs?” Joel asks. “No, the director.” Crow retorts.

The finale of the movie ends with the mountain crumbling and the survivors... wait for it… having to climb back down. The screams of agony from Joel and Bots are pretty funny. But things move a bit faster this time, and they have to dodge boulders. Tom, Crow and Joel do their best to dodge as well, offering some of the most active in theater shenanigans I’ve seen in an episode.

The host segments start off with Joel giving the bots a classic coach pep talk. The mad scientists then show off their mobile treadmill, for use outside. The huge irony is that a few years ago this very product was released on the market! There’s no time for Joel’s invention, so they jump right into the movie. At the first break, Hugh Beaumont visits the SOL, and is in full Leave it to Beaver mode, except now he’s a horseman of the apocalypse. It’s silly fun. The next break has Joel and the bots perform a skit about explorers talking down the native peoples. It gets a bit preachy actually. At the next break Joel and the bots see “a cool thing” out the window. We don’t get to see it, but it leads into a write-in contest. After the movie ends Joel and bots try to work through the pain and the Mads gloat at there success.

In the end this episode has its moments. The team at Best Brains hadn’t quite figured out how to handles these types of scenes, but by the time they reach SANDSTORM from Hercules Against the Moonmen or some of the painful films from Season Six (Starfighters is one long endless movie of nothing) they perfect the craft. Still it’s not a bad episode, but not one I reach for very often. I give it two carnivorous brontosauruses out of five.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Volume XVIII.

1 comment:

  1. This is yet another movie I recall from Saturday morning TV but which I haven't seen in MST3K. I do recall that it took everyone a very long time to get up to plateau, but as a kid I was pretty used to cheap 50s scifi in so much of which the exciting stuff doesn't happen until the last 20 minutes. Hey, there were dinosaurs and they were harder to come by back then.