Monday, December 31, 2012

Outland (1981)

I saw this movie a long time ago. We’re talking back in sixth grade when I was watching anything sci-fi I could get my hands on. I remembered very little about it: people exploded and that there some guy injected himself with Kool Aid using a gun. I thought it was OK, but lacked the space battles and aliens that I craved. How does this measure up now?

O’Niel (Sean Connery) has just stared working on a mining colony on Jupiter’s moon Io. His job is to act as the sheriff for the corporate mining town, keeping the peace and making sure the miners don’t get themselves into too much trouble. Things start to go downhill almost immediately when three miners loose their marbles and kill themselves. O’Niel does a bit of digging and discovers that the miners are using a drug that increases their stamina, but slowly degrades their mind. He starts to track down the drug dealers and their source, but finds himself getting pulled into something more sinister - a conspiracy with some powerful people behind it. Now O’Niel is the target and dealing with family problems on top of it. Will the new sheriff in town be able to survive his tour into Outland?

Good Points:
  • The cast does a good job with the parts
  • The production design is a realistic used future
  • Director Peter Hyams builds the tension to a solid boiling point
Bad Points
  • The story will be familiar to anyone who’s watched High Noon
  • No aliens or spaceship battles
  • Anyone expecting an action movie will be disappointed
Transplanting a traditional western story into space works well, because all the elements slide into the genre easily enough. Connery brings a lot to the part, and provides it a nice balance of world weary and tough. Once you realize that this movie is a slow burn to the climax, it works really well. I recommend it to anyone looking for a neat sci fi flick for a movie night.

Scores (out of 5)
Visual: 4
Sound: 4
Music: 4
Script: 3
Acting: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total: 4

In Depth

To be honest I had forgotten all about this film. Then I ran into the title as I reviewed the filmography of film composer Jerry Goldsmith. I’ve been enjoying Mr. Goldsmith’s music lately and I was looking for film scores during his golden period, from around 1975 to 1985 or so. Outland popped up and it brought back a few dim memories, and IMDb did the rest.

What struck me first were the interior sets and overall design of the mining facility. The look is a gritty future, much like the starship Nostromo from Alien. It looks futuristic and yet well used and beat up. This goes for the sets, props and costumes. It creates a realistic environment that grounds the viewer and at the same time creates a bit of claustrophobia with the cramped living spaces and the overfull storage bay. It keeps the film from looking too dated (as apposed to the futuristic looks used in Logan’s Run or Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Sound design is well used in the film mixing the cold vacuum of space with a hum of electronics and machinery in the mining facility.

The score does a great job supporting the film. Goldsmith took a lean mean approach to the film, not really creating a true theme for Connery. He focuses instead on building tension and creating some excellent action music for the sequences when Connery hunts down the drug dealers. It is along the same lines as Capricorn One another film directed by Peter Hyams. You can classify it as more of a rhythmic and intense score than a melodic or sweeping score.

The script to Outland isn’t terribly original, being based off High Noon, but it utilizes the sci-fi setting pretty well. The idea of drugging the miners to give the more stamina and allowing them to get larger bonuses is intriguing. The conspiracy is believable, and shares some parallels to both Alien and Moon. But there are a few bizarre items revolving around the hit men that show up. These guys start off pretty intimidating, but they all end up making pretty stupid mistakes. You’d think men trained to kill in space would be a little more aware of their surroundings and understand that ballistic weapons may not be the best bet when confronting the target. The movie shows its western roots by not really focusing on the detective portion of the plot or the technological ideas. Instead it focuses on the sheriff and his building confrontation with the bad guys. This will disappoint those looking for a harder sci-fi or more police procedural bent.

Connery does a good job as the lead. When his wife leaves him and takes their son, you can tell he’s hurt deep, but it’s all boiling behind his tough exterior. That pressure builds as he digs deeper into the conspiracy. Connery’s performance shows all this with minimal dialogue and more with his face and eyes.

The supporting cast is solid as well with Frances Sternhagen stealing her scenes as the crotchety doctor. Her banter with Connery is excellent and you wish she was in Outland a bit more. Surprising me was Peter Boyle as the company rep for the mining corporation. I’m used to seeing him in comic roles, but here he’s a slimy jerk. With each appearance you like him less and less, and see just how oily the guy is. Boyle makes for a good toadie that you love to hate.

Peter Hyams builds the tension with skill. It starts out a little slow as he sets up the premise and creates the family situation. But once O’Niel starts digging into the case things get interesting. Hyams lets the action unfold organically, punctuating key scenes with foot chases and ambushes. The final confrontation with the hit men is where it gets good. Hyams uses editing to keep you on the edge of your seat. Keeping the pace of the hunt moving along and never letting the action get out of hand. It works well, and while it may not be a special effects spectacular it’s a solid climax.

For me, Outland fit the bill. It was entertaining and provided an interesting setting that you don’t see too much in sci-fi these days. It’s been forgotten and that’s a shame, because it’s worth checking out and revisiting. It’s nice to see practical effects and realistic sets in a sci-fi film. But it was also neat to see something a little more realistic in terms of setting. Fans of Connery will enjoy it as will anyone who’s looking for a nice piece of vintage 80’s sci-fi.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Santa Claus (1959) –MST3K Review

Ok, so just go along with this. Santa Claus (Jose Elias Moreno) lives in a huge castle on some clouds hovering above the earth with Merlin. Yeah, the wizard Merlin! He appears to spend most of his time wailing away on his huge pipe organ while watching an army of international children slave away in his toy factory while singing traditional songs of their nation. He's quite jolly even if he also has the deranged eyes of a serial killer when he laughs.

As Santa prepares for Christmas Eve, Satan, yes that Satan, sends his devilish minion Pitch (Jose Luis Aguirre) to earth to do evil and stop Santa. Pitch does his best to tempt the super-cute Lupita (Lupita Quezadas) to steal a doll, but she resists. Santa watches from his cloud castle and cheers her on. Pitch shifts his focus to three wicked boys who want to kidnap Santa. Nice kids. It all erupts into an epic throw-down between good and evil. And your brain will probably erupt too once you’ve seen Santa Claus.

Movie Review
This is one of those movies that is so insane, so beyond anything you can really imagine that my summary just can’t do it justice. I didn’t mention the bizarre song and dance number that opens the film, the mechanical reindeer, the hallucinations, the magic flower, the huge huge mouth, the eyeball on a tube, the manic organ playing… I have to stop now or else my brain will melt again. Let’s just put it this way, if you love odd, colorful, cheerful and yet disturbing films, run, don’t walk, and find a copy of Santa Claus.

Rumor has it that this film was made to introduce the concept of Santa Claus to Mexico. Previously, Christmas was closely connected to the actual birth of Christ as well as the nativity. Check out Disney’s Three Caballeros to see Mexican Christmas traditions in 1944. But a little over a decade later, Mexico needed Santa and director Rene Cardona was there.

Everything seems coordinated to add to the insanity. The plot, while it makes sense in a basic way is just all over the place with the Santa mythos: no North Pole, no Elves, no Rudolph, no Mrs. Claus, no Lee Majors. Instead it’s slave children, bizarre surveillance equipment, Merlin and mechanical reindeer that laugh horribly, oh so horribly. Where did these ideas come from? And why pit Satan directly against Santa? No clue, but it creates drama, that’s for sure.

The acting is broad to put it mildly. Everyone here is so over the top that they are nearing Everest. Only Lupita seems to be playing a normal little girl, not really acting, but just being herself. But Santa? Insane and jolly. Pitch? Insane and evil. Three bratty boys? Bratty with mild insanity. Merlin? Doddering and insane. You get the picture. Actually the kids are the best actors in the film, a real rarity, but when you are going against so much ham, well you have to look good.

Everything is bright and rich in color in this film. Pitch isn’t just red, he’s RED. The reindeer are WHITE. You get the idea. The sets in Santa’s castle are huge, gaudy and actually kind of impressive. The location filming for the earthly shenanigans works well enough. The whole film is competently filmed. Some scenes don’t make complete sense, but its because the version shown on MST3K is actually edited for time.

This is easily one of the oddest holiday movies I’ve ever seen. It’s like a glimpse into a fever dream of a Mexican kid who at too many candy canes before falling asleep. It’s perfect for Mike and the bots.

Episode Review

This movie is a big Christmas gift for MST3K crew. It’s so deliriously out there that the riffing practically writes itself. The whole thing just hums along with great line after great line. Really it’s one of my favorite riffing sessions by the crew.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. The opening sequence with Santa playing the organ and all the little children singing various songs from whatever country they are from gets blasted by all kinds of ethnic jokes. Some might find it offensive, but Mike and the bots go for everyone equally, even the American kids. The whole thing is so ridiculous that even when they get a bit mean, it’s still funny. And honestly this humor is nowhere near as aggressive as we saw in the Sci-fi channel years with the rants against Japan in Invasion of the Neptune Men or the Canada bashing in The Final Sacrifice.

After the musical portion of the film concludes, then the jokes switch back to commenting on the oddities before us. But this episode also provides plenty of naughty humor by the boys too, especially when the huge mouth makes an appearance. Really the movie is asking for it, but I’m always surprised when they throw in blatant innuendo.

But the guy who brings on the most hilarious lines is Pitch. With his skintight outfit, his gadding about and his over the top expressions he’s the prefect target. When he and Santa face off it’s the perfect fuel for the riffing fire and it’s hilarious stuff. Between Santa's deranged eyes and ponderous voice acting (thanks to a dubber who didn't know what he was getting into I suspect) you start to wonder if he really is the hero. But Pitch is so awful with his mug pulling and scampering, that he's no better. That leaves us with the teeth rotting stories about Lupita and the rich kid who never sees his parents. Ah, who am I kidding, this whole movie is wonderful riffing fodder.

For the host segments you get a solid set of laughs. First off Mike and the bots are preparing to go caroling, but a badly placed mug of hot chocolate creates disaster. Next, everyone exchanges gifts, even the mads, and it’s all very odd. At the first break, Mike and the bots are Santa Klaws a rock band with holiday cheer! After the next movie segment the bots contact Mikes family on Earth to warm his heart. For the next break you get one of my favorite songs from the series, “Merry Christmas… if that’s OK”. It’s all about how to be politically correct during the holidays. The finale has a snow day on the satellite and Pitch visits the Mads when Santa comes in for a wrestling match.

This is a holiday favorite in our house. Nonstop laughs, a bizarre film and combined with Jack Frost and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians it makes for a triple threat of MST3K Christmas goodness.

I give it five prancing Pitches out of five.

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

Santa offering a gift? Or thirsting for your soul... you decide.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tenchi Forever (1999)

As the 1990s closed Pioneer and AIC decided to conclude the Tenchi franchise. The previous television series Tenchi in Tokyo hadn’t been the hit they expected, and the previous film Daughter of Darkness wasn’t what fans had expected. So they figured it was time to retire the franchise with a final film, one that would wrap up all the lose ends of the television series Tenchi Universe and bring the decade to a close on a high note. Did they succeed?

One day as Tenchi (Matt Miller) is walking down the stairs from the family shrine he hears a strange voice. He walks into the forest and encounters a huge camellia tree. Before you can say “Don’t touch it” Tenchi touches it and disappears.

Six months later Ayeka (Jennifer Darling) and Ryoko (Petrea Burchard) are searching Tokyo for Tenchi. Sasami (Sherry Lynn) has returned to planet Jurai to find out some key information. Mihoshi (Rebecca Forstadt) and Kyone (Wendee Lee) head to the science academy to tap into the vast knowledge there so Washu (Kate T. Vogt) can use it to find Tenchi. Meanwhile Tenchi’s grandfather, Katsuhito (Bob Pappenbrook) has a secret that may tie to Tenchi’s fate. The entire time Tenchi finds himself living with a lovely young woman named Haruna (Debi Derrberry) who is completely dedicated to him. As happy as he is, he begins to feel that something is wrong. Can the gals find their lost love before they lose Tenchi Forever?

Good Points:
  • The shift in animation to make the characters older is effective
  • Tenchi’s relationship with Haruna is an interesting twist
  • Ryoko and Ayeka get some great scenes together 

Bad Points:
  • Didn’t we just see this movie… twice before?
  • Most of the other characters outside the love triangle are useless
  • This is a very poor conclusion to a series and franchise 

Judged as a film, this in an entertaining entry in the Tenchi franchise. But looking at it as the conclusion to the Tenchi legacy, it is pathetic. The story and visuals are directly borrowings from the previous two films and Tenchi in Tokyo. Nothing is resolved for the characters. Nothing is concluded in any satisfactory way. This is just another adventure for Tenchi and the gals. Should have been so much more than just OK.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 2
Total:  2

In Depth Review
Tenchi. Puzzled by his updated character design?
Obviously there are two ways to judge Tenchi Forever (or Tenchi in Love 2 as it was known in Japan), as a stand-alone adventure, or as the finale for a franchise that dominated Japanese anime throughout the 1990s. Let’ look at it as a straight film adventure for our characters.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is the change in animation style. At the end of the ‘90s animation company AIC was going through a bit of a switch up in their style. Part of this was related to the way computer animation and coloring was affecting the industry, and the result was a simpler design that ended up becoming the standard for the anime industry for the next decade and beyond. Tenchi Forever was one of the first times this was showcased, and it added a bit of a refreshing twist to the old character designs. Everyone looks a bit more mature here, giving us the feel that this story takes place a few years after the events of Tenchi in Love.

Haruna and Tenchi share breakfast in her world.
When Tenchi is pulled into Haruna’s alternate world, he looks a lot older, his little ponytail from the series turning into a full-fledged mane of hair. Even his clothing and the surrounding environment look a lot more realistic and current than most previous incarnations of the series. I also liked how Haruna’s world had a golden hue to it, making everything seem almost nostalgic. This is contracted to the real world, where blues are harsh and the colors more vivid. In addition to the costume changes for Tenchi, Ayeka and Ryoko are dressed a lot differently for their search in Tokyo.

Finally there is Haruna, who looks a lot more normal than any of the other girls in Tenchi’s harem. She has a sweet demeanor, and even wears a bow in her hair (reminding me strongly of Aeris from Final Fantasy 7). But there is a sadness and desperation in her face (and excellent vocal performance by Derryberry) that makes her an interesting character.

Tenchi sporting some serious hair in Haruna's reality.
Since most of Tenchi Forever occurs in real world settings (even the alternate world is based in reality) there is nothing really crazy in the animation or sound. The scope of Tenchi in Love or the creativity of Daughter of Darkness is missing here. But grounding the look and feel of the worlds in reality fits the story.

Mirroring this is the music used in the film. Most of it is typical drama scoring, using piano. There is also an odd bit of traditional French flair with an accordion used for scenes in Haruna’s alternate world. Tsuneoyoshi Saito’s score is a little nondescript, but it works fine in context. The end credits feature a nice pop theme performed by Anri called “Love Song ga Kikoeru”.

Ayeka outshines Ryoko as a waitress.
Once again the voice actors do an excellent job. For nearly all of them, this was the last time they would play the characters, and it was great to hear them give it one final go. The only cast member not returning was Ellen Gerstell who had voiced Mihoshi until Daughter of Darkness. But Forstadt does a fine job playing one of the dumbest characters in anime history. The best performances are provided by Miller as Tenchi and Derryberry as Haruna, who get some juicy scenes together. Miller hadn’t had a chance to really play this side of Tenchi before and he does it well. Derryberry had been providing the meows and chirps for Ryo Oki for years, and finally got to perform an actual character. She knocks it out of the park. Both Burchard as Ryoko and Darling as Ayeka get to expand on the touching scene from Daughter of Darkness and move the characters past the petty fighting that plagued Tenchi Universe and Tenchi in Love. Of all the characters in the film, these two seem to actually grow and change, and the performances are key to this.

Ryoko is going to stand for any alternate realities!
Tenchi Forever does have some pacing issues. The story seems to meander at times, with scenes that don’t really move the plot forward. Most of these revolve around the girls attempting to find Tenchi. While Ryoko and Ayeka both have some excellent character moments together, the rest of the cast is pretty much providing filler scenes just so they can be in the film. In a way they all provide vital information to finding and getting Tenchi back, but it all feels like a shallow attempt by the writers to work them all in. Tenchi Forever also flashes back to scenes we just saw multiple times, something that is annoying, but also happened in the previous films.

Where the film works best is in providing Tenchi with a real woman to contrast with the rest of the harem. Haruna appears to be the best thing Tenchi could hope for in a relationship. She loves him. She supports his decision to pursue a career in art (and his schooling). She isn’t overbearing, bitchy, rock stupid, egotistical or under twelve. It is impossible for Tenchi not to like her. The only thing that keeps him from truly delving into this world is the fact that he has memories of his past life that keep coming back. Well, there’s also the little hitch of Haruna using his Jurai power to keep this world from collapsing. Much like a succubus, she is draining him to keep him happy and to fulfill her selfish wish.

Haruna, a sweet, sad antagonist.
Make no mistake about it, Haruana is the villain. Her motivations are all selfish. She is attempting to create the life she was denied, and use Tenchi to do it. Yes, she cares about him, but only so that she can life out this fantasy with him. It’s a very interesting dynamic, one that could have made an excellent stand-alone story if it didn’t have so much baggage tied to it. If Tenchi Forever didn’t have to be part of the Tenchi franchise (and therefore have to cram moments for all the main characters into it) or if it hadn’t been the finale event for the franchise - it could have been one of the best of the films. Once again, the potential for making a really great film is nearly in sight and completely missed.

Looking at it in the light of 1999, as the last delving into the Tenchi story, this is pathetic. The plot is exactly the same as the one used in Tenchi in Tokyo and Daughter of Darkness. A mysterious being pulls Tenchi into an alternate world and the girls have to save his sorry butt. It pulls from the second movie with the villain having a connection to Tenchi’s grandfather. It pulls from the first movie having the girls harness energy from points around Tokyo. And it uses Washu like an exposition dump, and nothing more.

The final image of the series? Not quite.
The whole thing is so familiar (and even more so if you watch the previous two films anywhere near this one). It would be funny if it wasn’t supposed to be the climax of the story. And that was the real kicker back in 1999. We kept hearing how Tenchi was going to choose a girl. Tenchi was going to go all the way with a girl. Tenchi Forever was going to wrap it all up. Well, Tenchi doesn’t pick a girl (unless you count Haruna). Tenchi does get it on with Haruna, but you could argue that it was all a dream. And while there are plenty of hints that Ryoko is the girl who is Tenchi will end up with, the creators don’t have the balls to commit to the idea. I guess they didn’t want to offend all those folks who were hoping for a Mihoshi/Tenchi hook-up.

These days, we know that Tenchi didn’t end in 1999. AIC couldn’t keep the font dry long and soon Tenchi Muyo: GXP hit television screens in 2002, with two other OAV series following it. With all that baggage gone, Tenchi Forever doesn’t look quite so bad. It’s got some good moments for Ryoko and Ayeka. It’s a nice final hurrah for the English voice cast from the 90s, and it entertains for most of its running time. For me, it just feels like a missed opportunity, and sometimes that stings more than having a regular old stinker.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) - MST3K Review

The children of Mars are falling into a stupor of malaise. Martian leader Kimar (Leonard Hicks) consults the wise elder and the oddball declares that Martian children need Santa Claus. Kimar and a select group of Martians race to Earth via a rocket propelled by string and sparklers to find Santa (John Call). They abduct two earth children to guide them to Santa’s location and promptly nab the jolly old elf. They get him set up on Mars with a workshop with an assistant Droppo (Bill McCutcheon), the laziest Martian. But a bitter angry and mustached Martian named Voldar (Vincent Beck) hates Santa Claus and all he stands for. Can a combination of earth and Martian children unite to help Santa Claus conquer the Martians?

Movie Review

There’s a certain school of thought that says that a movie targeted toward children has to play down to them. That’s the difference between a children’s film and a family film. For a great example of a family film, check out the animated films by Hayao Miyazaki: especially Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro. Both films tell simple stories with conflicts that aren’t too frightening or complicated for younger minds. But the movies never play down to the viewers. An adult can watch both films and enjoy the whimsy, playfulness and heart contained with them. You never feel like you’re losing brain cells when you watch a Miyazaki film.

Then there’s something like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It’s dumb, really dumb. It assumes you’re dumb (because you believe in Santa Claus you poor dope) and goes out of its way to entertain you in the most idiotic way possible. The biggest and most horrifying example of this is Droppo. My god, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone mug and mince around as much as Droppo. From the first 30 seconds you see this brain dead extraterrestrial you want to reach through the screen to strangle him. He’s not funny, not once. Even as a kid, I’d probably hate him. The movie insists that Droppo is the height of comedy and forces him into scene after scene. The kids in the film appear to be humoring him, when really should just be put out of his misery.

Then there’s Voldar, a walking villain cliché. Between his sneering, evil laugh and huge mustache you just know that he is EVIL. Beck chews all the scenery he can get his hands on. When you get a scene with him and Droppo in it, you start praying for it to end or for the screen to explode. At least Voldar isn’t aggressively annoying. He’s just grumpy and stupid.

Stupid seems to be the name of the game in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. People don’t act like this! Not even Martians. Santa Claus isn’t jolly, he’s an imbecile with a complex that makes him laugh at everything. Both sets of children aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed and act more like how a grown-up thinks a kid would act. It’s really just an odd set of performances.

The plot itself actually has potential. This could be remade with a better script and maybe animated and make a really entertaining holiday film. The idea of Martians abducting Santa and kids trying to save him could work. But the stupid contrivances in the story screw things up time and again. What is the deal with the polar bear? Why introduce the robot and then barely use him? Voldar’s best plan is to abduct Santa and hold him in a cave? Is Santa so powerless that he can be abducted by the stupid Martians in the first place? The big finale is to have Droppo become the Santa for Mars – seriously? I weep for the children of Mars.

Director Nicholas Webster has no sense of pacing. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians drifts along, never gaining momentum, just slogging from scene to scene with lifeless abandon. This makes scenes with Droppo stretch into infinity. This film obviously had a pretty low budget, and for a script that actually has some scope - they had to actually create scenes on Mars – they are extremely limited in what they could do. So many of the sets and costumes are just plain laughable. But the best stuff is the “polar bear” and the “robot”. For me, these are the highlights of the film and generate plenty of laughs by themselves. Oh and I can’t forget the song “Hooray for Santee Claus”… yeah you read that right. It’s as painful as it sounds.

Only Joel and the bots have the power to riff us through this mess. But will their combined power be enough?

Episode Review

This movie is just bursting with odd characters and bizarre sequences, its tailor made for MST3K. For the most part Joel and the bots do a good job with it. They have a lot of fun when the Martians travel to earth and try to abduct Santa Claus. The entire sequence at the north pole is full of great riffing as the Maritans land, the kids escape, the polar bear and the robot are utilized and Santa’s elves get petrified. For me, it’s the best set of riffing in the entire episode.

But once they get Santa and take him back to Mars the riffing slows down along with the movie. The middle portion of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a slog as Voldar and Kimar argue, Santa meets the Martian kids and Droppo acts like a moron. The pacing during these scenes is killer and Joel and the bots just don’t have much to work with.

Finally Voldar puts his lame plan into action and conscripts to moronic followers. One of these guys looks like Jimmy Durante which leads to all kinds of jokes. This helps the finale spring back into shape with lots of comments during the climactic clash at the toy factory. By this time the guys have had enough of Droppo and the spontaneous laughter that Santa seems to create, so they just let the movie have it. The finale is pretty darn hilarious with some great riffing matching the stupidity of the ending.

The host segments are a mixed bag. Things start off with Crow and Tom looking over Christmas catalogues. For the invention exchange Joel shows off some serious misfit toys and the mad scientists create a machine that turns cool Christmas gifts into boring ones. The first break has the best of the host segments. Crow has written a new Christmas carol inspired by the movie Roadhouse. Its called “A Patrick Swayze Christmas” and it’s hilarious. The next break has Joel and the bots reviewing all the television Christmas specials they have on tape. The next host segment has the gang on the Satellite reading Christmas essays. Tom’s gets really dark. When the movie is over they celebrate by singing “Angels We Have Heard Are High”, check out the loot in their stockings and watch the Mad Scientists exchange gifts.

For me “A Patrick Swayze Christmas” doesn’t keep this episode from falling into an average rating. I enjoy it when I watch it, but compared to the hilarious season five offering Santa Claus and the excellent season eight Jack Frost this one really pales in comparison. I know lots of people love this episode, but each year I give it a try and each year I give it three lazy Martians out of five.

This episode is available on Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection – The Essentials.

Cinematic Titanic Review
If you are willing to miss out on "A Patrick Swayze Christmas" then I heartily recommend Cinematic Titanic's riffing session of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It seems that Joel and company felt they could have done a little more with the episode, and now with a total of five riffers on hand they give it a shot. The results are hilarious.

Ironically, they use the complete version of the film (the MST3K episode was edited for time). No new scenes are included, but now certain sequences are longer, especially the visiting the elder sequence on Mars. As if this slog of a movie needed any more padding! But the new footage is great for us old time MST3K viewers makes the viewing experience new... or at least a bit different.

The riffing pacing is a lot faster, and everyone gets some great lines in there, including Frank who yells a perfectly timed "DON'T TOUCH THAT!". Yes the movie is still horrible, but the riffers have some fun with the fact that some of them have enduring this flick before. The episode starts with Trace attempting to run away the minute he finds out they are watching Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It ends with him and Josh attempting to see who can survive the end credits and the hideous song the longest. For me this is the superior riffing version of this flick and well worth catching. 

It's available on Hulu or in a DVD direct from the folks at Cinematic Titanic. They've also done a live show or two featuring this flick.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tenchi Muyo: Tenchi in Love (1996)

With the huge success of the television incarnation of Tenchi Universe, AIC and Pioneer knew that they had to bring Tenchi and the gals to the big screen. They figured they’d stick with the television continuity (and ignore the open end of the second series of the OAV). This movie would be bigger than the television series, include some new family members and include all the main characters for a huge blast of animated fun. And since it was a space opera, might as well grab the one storyline they hadn’t done yet – time travel!

It was just another day at the Masaki house until Tenchi (Matt Miller) started to disappear right in front of Ryoko (Petrea Burchard) and Princess Ayeka’s (Jennifer Darling) eyes! Washu (Kate T. Voigt) uses her super scientific powers to determine that some event in the past is being changed and unless they stop it, Tenchi will cease to exist.

Galaxy Police detectives Kiyone (Sherry Lynn – in a duel role!) and Mihoshi (Ellen Gerstell) know that the incredibly powerful and dangerous entity Kain (Michael Scott Ryan) has escaped from Galaxy Police headquarters and disappeared. The gang travels back to 1970 to intercept Kain, and stop him from killing Tenchi’s mother Achika (Grace Zandarski) and thus destroying the future before it begins!

Good Points:
  • The movie does some great things with visual scope during the climax
  • All the main characters play a key role in the plot
  • Turns Achika into an interesting character
Bad Points:
  • Borrows very obviously from two popular time travel films
  • Has serious pacing problems
  • Doesn’t do anything new with the existing characters
There is a lot of potential in this story to do some interesting things, but the movie goes exactly where you expect it. There are some funny moments, some cool action scenes but not much else to hang onto. Part of the problem is the pacing, which includes some odd jumping around in the narrative and repetition. It’s a case of playing it too safe, and the result is a movie that has its moments, but never makes a big impression.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review
Trying to prove that Tenchi isn't dense?
When it comes to the Tenchi movies, Tenchi in Love is usually considered the best of the three. I’ve never understood that. For me, it was the weakest, with a plot that was so familiar and a villain that was so two dimensional that I was never invested in the threat. So this time when I sat down to watch the movie, I was going to open my mind up and see if this time the whole thing clicked.

I could never fault the animation or the sound. The first half of the film, spent around the Misaki household and at the school in 1970 doesn’t do too much to impress visually. Even the character animation looks a little inconsistent, and closer to what we’d seen in Tenchi Universe. But Kain’s escape and the destruction of the Galaxy Police headquarters is impressive. Even more impressive is the final scenes in Tokyo and Kain’s confrontation in an alternate dimension. Both sequences have a lot more detail in the backgrounds and include plenty of motion and action. The Tokyo scenes are most impressive adding a bit of realism to the world Tenchi (and standing in sharp contrast to the backgrounds created for the Tenchi in Tokyo television series in 1997).

Tokyo Tower plays a key role in the film.
Sound effects are typical stuff, with a bit more power behind them given the bigger budget. The scenes in Tokyo include lots of hustle and bustle, and the battles with Kain include some powerful sound effects. As s side note, when this DVD came out in the late ‘90s it was a huge deal – because it was the first anime DVD with THX mastering. It does have some nice bass in it, especially at the end when Kiyone fires her giant gun.

The music was composed and performed by Christopher Franke of Tangerine Dream fame. As such the music is very electronic. It has some nice moments, mostly during the romantic scenes between Tenchi’s parents, or the nostalgic scenes during the epilogue. But his work during the action scenes and the material based around Kain just doesn’t work for me. It lacks power and intensity. Compared to the work in the second Tenchi film, Daughter of Darkness, Ko Otani’s score is much more intense and interesting. The end credits song isn’t too bad, with music written by Franke and sung as a duet in English and by the voice actress for Achika in Japanese.

The English voice cast had been performing in the roles for so long that they easily jump into them and nail them. At the time this was one of the longest performing English dub casts in anime (probably surpassed only by Ranma ½), and they are all professionals. Even actress Grace Zandarski had performed in the OAV series of Tenchi’s grandmother, so she was familiar with the series. All in all it’s a solid vocal performance balancing the humor and the drama really well.

Kain emerges from the depths.
Where the film falls apart for me is the story and direction. The basic plot of traveling back in time to save the present and future is as old as science fiction itself. In fact, if the Tenchi series didn’t tackle it, I would have been surprised. But to actually have the same plot from Terminator 2 which was still pretty fresh in everyone’s mind only five years later seems like too obvious a borrowing. Then they add the whole thing of Tenchi helping his parents meet and fall in love while trying to avoid direct contact with them – and you’ve got your Back to the Future thrown in for good measure.

None of this is given enough of a twist to make it not seem like a direct rip off of the two other films. Tenchi in Love could have created some other potential issues with time and space, even stuck to the whole idea of saving the parents to save himself. But what little changes are made, just aren’t enough to keep the viewer from thinking this story was thrown together.

Tenchi faces his nemesis.
Then there are the moments that don’t make any sense other than to force some comedy into the proceedings. Tenchi goes back in time with Ryoko, Ayeka, Mihoshi, Kiyone, Sasami and Ryo-oki. Only Washu stays behind to mess with her machines and prepare to pull them back into the present. I can see sending Tenchi back, and even Ryoko (who’s combat skills would be needed against Kain) and Ayeka (who has some powers of her own). But Mihoshi is a walking disaster (this the television version of Mihoshi who is 8 times dumber than the OAV version). Kiyone is a good choice, because she’s an excellent detective. Sasami? She’s um, cute and all, but why did she go back. Ryo Oki? Again, no reason to send the cabbit back either.

Nope the only reason is so that we can have wacky hijinks as Mihoshi attempts to blend into the Japanese school as a teacher.  Really? Kiyone would think that was a good idea? Mihoshi is an idiot, how the hell is she supposed to teach a class and blend. They have Kiyone go undercover as the janitor. WHAT? Have Kiyone play teacher and Mihoshi mop the halls. She can’t screw that up… oh wait, yes she can.

Tenchi, Ayeka and Ryoko doubt the veracity of your claim.
Sasami, Ryo Oki and even Tenchi end up getting sidelined during the time travel, popping up  to remind us that Tench is going to disappear if they don’t’ find Kain. Ryoko and Ayeka get the best material, pretending to be students and interacting with Tenchi’s parents, and bickering among themselves naturally. These scenes at the school just never clicked in the humor department because it all seems forced and ridiculous.

Pacing in the first half is also a mess. The movie starts with Kains escape, a huge action scene perfect to get Tenchi in Love off to an explosive start. But after that, there are flash forwards to the past (I know, writing it now makes no sense), then back to the current time line. Then you get people remembering things that happened only ten minutes ago and wasting valuable story momentum (I’m thinking this was to keep the budget down). I can’t tell if the script just wasn’t fleshed out or the director wasn’t sure how to keep the whole thing moving in the middle, but it’s a muddled mess.

But once Washu provides the details of when Kain will attack and the best plan to defeat him, the movie gets on track and all the characters get to help out. The second half of the movie is worth seeing and has the best animated sequences to boot. I also like the inclusion of the under cover Galaxy Police agent who acts as a red herring for the first portion of the film. A little more could have been done with him (and his relationship with Kiyone and Mihoshi – who he seems awfully dismissive of). In the end he doesn’t do much to help against Kain, but what we do get seems to have a cool idea never fully fleshed out.

Tenchi's parents in high school.
In the end, I like Achika as a character. Her character development and the early romance between her and Nobuyuki (Tenchi’s dad) is the saving grace of the first half. Her interaction with Ayeka and Ryoko makes for some of the best comedic moments. And Tenchi’s ability to see his mother, who died when he was very young, is touching.

This element comes into play in the finale, when Achika takes on Kain by herself, using all her energy and Jurai powers (she is related by blood to the royal family of Planet Jurai) to save Nobuyuki and a son she doesn’t know yet. Tenchi realizes that because of this whole time travel adventure – his mother’s life was shortened to protect him. It’s a bittersweet victory, something that the series never really delved into, and does well here.

Even after near death, nothing really changes.
For me the whole thing boils down to an entertaining movie, but one that could have been so much better if just a little more time had been spent on the script and the planning of scenes. It really feels like the idea of going back in time appealed to the creators, and the second half of the story was fully fleshed out. But when it came time to build up to that second half, no one could come up with material that would work. Tenchi in Love is really uneven, but still manages to entertain the audience and give us a little insight into Tenchi’s family. Why it is called Tenchi in Love? I still have no idea. Tenchi in Pain would be a better name (after all the groaning he does when he almost disappears) Worth checking out if you really enjoyed the series or Tenchi Universe a lot and need more. But kind of skippable otherwise. It was followed by a direct sequel, Tenchi Forever in America or Tenchi Muyo in Love 2 in Japan.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Anime Archive

When it comes to Japanese animation, the 1990s was the heyday… well for me anyway. It all started during my video store days. A coworker  received a laserdisc (remember those) of the first episode of Gunsmith Cats. Something about that cover just captured my imagination and I was wanted to check it out. Well call it a gateway drug because I was in deep after that. I spent the next few years devouring anime titles and eventually scored a my first writing job as a staff writer for, one of the largest anime focused internet sites at the time.

These days I still have my old anime collection. I revisit my favorites from time to time. Then one day I decided to revisit the Tenchi franchise and that started this little corner of my blog. I’ll house my anime reviews (and musings) here. Beware, you’re in for equal doses of nostalgia and 1990s goodness. You can always blame the Gunsmith Cats. I've also linked to anime related reviews over at DVD Verdict, for those looking for anime actually released beyond the year 2005. 

Anime Posts