Deep Down, Down in the Earth
Mystery Science Theater 3000, Season 8, Episode 3: "The Mole People"
I swear, I'm starting to feel beaten down by these movies. I've been digging through random suggestions Online at this point, fan-favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000First aired on the independent TV network KTMA, Mystery Science Theater 3000 grew in popularity when it moved to Comedy Central. Spoofing bad movies, the gang on the show watch the flicks and make jokes about them, entertaining its audience with the same kind of shtick many movies watchers provided on their own (just usually not as funny as the MST3K guys could provide). It became an indelible part of the entertainment landscape from there, and lives on today on Netflix. (since the episodes I had access to on NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). ran out a few weeks ago), hoping that some of these might bee good enough to keep my attention, but I gotta admit, these suck. I'm not sure what fans of MST3K are looking for from their series -- maybe it's to be abused by the worst of the worst -- but these episodes just haven't been doing it for me.
Take today's entry, a 1956 sci-fi adventure film that clearly draws inspiration from Journey to the Center of the Earth (among other films), and has about as solid a grasp of the science as those other stories (as in, no grasp of science at all). What was probably supposed to come across as adventure thriller (something eventually done much better in films like the Indiana Jones series) just comes across as a Western Imperial piece of monster propaganda. "Look at these foreigners," the film is saying, "living their backward, ancient lives deep beneath the Earth. How dumb are they?" I dunno why fans like this movie but I just found it to be tedious and, at times, a tad offensive.
The Mole People starts not with the actual adventure but with a professor, Dr. Frank Baxter, explaining the premise of the film. He tells about the "Hollow Earth" theory -- which, honestly, sounds as stupid when explained out loud as the "Flat Earth" theory -- before letting us get to the actual movie. I gotta tell you, when a film opens with some guy having to justify the "science" in a science fiction film, as if to try and sell us on the idea that, "no really, guys, this could totally happen," you know you're off to a bad start.
Once we get the classroom lesson out of the way, we get to Dr. Robert Bentley (John Agar), is leading an archaeological expedition (read: white people stealing other people's stuff and putting it in museums) to an Ancient Sumerian dig site. While there, they discover a previously unknown site in a cave system, a site that could be loaded with artifacts. While exploring the caves, though, Bentley, Dr. Jud Bellamin (Hugh Beaumont), and the rest of their small team get stuck underground and then pulled deeper into the cave system.
Deep underground, the few survivors (Bentley and Bellamin) find a whole thriving civilization, one that have been keeping the ancient ways alive this whole time. The people of this underground city think of the two top-siders as gods, but when the archaeologist see practices they don't agree with -- such as these ancient Sumerians treating a second race of beings, the Mole People, like slaves -- they start inserting themselves in the way the civilization works (whether right or wrong). Soon the high priests of the city start questioning the two doctors, and before long the citizens turn against the explorers. Can the doctors escape before the high priests kill them?
This film is, without a doubt, pretty terrible. It's from Universal International and is about equivalent with This Island Earth in terms of just how terrible the film really is. Both have the flimsiest grasp of science, simply throwing "cool" words at the wall to try and sell whatever stupid idea they have. And in both cases, This Island Earth and The Mole People the heroes survive not because they're clever or good but simply because they're lucky and manage to make it to the end of the story intact (somehow).
Really, the biggest sin in The Mole People is simply that nothing ever really happens. The guys find this underground city but instead of trying to explain who they really are, what the world is like beyond the cave system, or how these people could merge into the rest of the world, the two guys just kind of hang around, act judgmental, and keep their secrets. They talk to each other, the priests talk amongst themselves, but there really isn't any action (not up until the end when the Mole People end up leading their own revolution and accidentally save our heroes in the process). It's the most lackluster adventure, more of dull crawl until an inevitable end.
And I do mean inevitable: this film follows the same formula as This Island Earth (or, more accurately, the other way around) right down to the heroes watching the civilization they've stumbled upon crumbling around them with everyone dying. Even the one person who aids them and escapes with them -- Adad, a servant girl (Cynthia Patrick) -- died right as they reach home, as if the movies are saying there can;'t be any trace of these fantastic civilizations. It's confusing a weird.
Plus, let's be honest, the science is just terrible. How do these people survive? How can they grow food, or see, or do anything deep under the rock. I'm sure the "hollow Earth" somehow explains that but it's a stupid explanation that doesn't hold up to actual fact (so, again, like the "Flat Earth"). I could never invest in the movie because I never believed anything that was going on, and it's not as if the movie ever makes anything clearer. How can this place exist? How can there be a whole second race of beings that we've never seen before? What idiot thought all this up? Ugh.
Even with the MST3K guys by my side I just couldn't get into this movie. The guys were fine, the jokes were fine, the little skits were fine. Everything around the movie was fine. I just hated the movie so much everything else was ruined for me. This isn't the worst film I've ever seen on this series, it's just bad enough it wasn't enjoyable.
I think I need some time off from this series. It's starting to get to me...