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MST3K: Joel Hodgson goes behind the scenes at the Gizmoplex

Creator Joel Hodgson and designer Gary Glover tell IndieWire about reinventing the show’s iconic theme song and hallway sequences in Flatimation.

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We’ve Got Movie Marks: Around three years after Netflix canceled the revival of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the cult classic is back. As with the series’ streaming return in 2017, fans were instrumental in causing creator Joel Hodgson to reach out to Kickstarter again to assess how badly MSTies (as they prefer to be called) wanted more episodes with movie riffs.

Very bad, as it turns out: The crowdfunding effort raised a whopping $6.5 million, hitting the initial $2 million mark in a single day. Enter The Gizmoplex, an online one-stop shop for the show’s new Season 13, along with classic episodes, live events, fresh shorts, Easter eggs, and all sorts of special subscriber content—all wrapped up in an interface inspired by classic point and click adventure games.

Jonah Ray is back as the poor git that mad scientists Kinga Forester and Max (Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt) experimented with, while Tom and Crow are still voiced by Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn. Still, a new online destination for Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans includes some big and small changes. Emily Marsh (who joined the show on its Netflix-era live tours) will take turns as the first female host to feel the cinematic wrath of the Mads, while Hodgson himself returns as Joel Robinson, joining his robotic pals in the theater for the first time since 1993

Sharp-eyed MSTies, however, have noticed a startling shift in the nature of shenanigans at the newly launched Gizmoplex (where the latest installment, which explores the Roger Corman-produced Gremlins ripoff Munchie, premieres May 27). Sure, the Mads still demand allegiance in the form of mandatory invention swaps at the start of each episode so Hodgson can indulge his abiding love of all things shaky. And the show’s robots still maintain the look of junk sales cobbled together with a simple cable budget all those years ago.

It’s the introduction to the show and the journey to the presenters’ cinema prison that mark the biggest changes. Gone are the model kit aesthetics of yesteryear, replaced by a floating servo singing the ever-changing “MST3K Love Theme” in front of floating screens and a lunar panorama, and hand-painted panels that approximate the elaborate opening sequence of Netflix seasons. The segments of the corridor look like comic panels and show, among other things, dormitories for Jonah and the bots, their laundry room and even a workshop with a spare crow’s head – if the doors slide apart.

The door sequence from Mystery Science Theater 3000

“Mysterious Science Theater 3000”

Courtesy of Shout! Factory

“These are plexiglass panes,” Hodgson said of the 2-D appearance of the new hallway sequence. “They’re made in layers with some lights, and we slide the camera the way we do.” Also, as the 63-year-old creator told IndieWire, the hallway sequence was done with the same tinkerer’s pride. “It’s more of a puppet theater aesthetic,” Hodgson says of the new process, which he dubs “flatimation.” “It’s important to still acknowledge that we are a puppet show.”

Hodgson firmly believes that the Mystery Science Theater is as much a haven for shenanigans, whimsy and experimentation as ever. “‘Assets’ is kind of an icy word,” he said, “but I wanted to take the assets from different eras of the show and treat them like a Lego set, like a toy set. A way of filling in the seams, tying the universe of ‘Mystery Science Theater’ together in a unified way. It’s very important to have that continuity so that everything feels right together.”

That’s where Gary Glover comes in, a longtime friend of Hodgson’s and an accomplished illustrator.

“Gary created a lot of inspirational art even before we were able to do Kickstarter and has helped us visualize stuff for all iterations of the show over the past six years,” said Hodgson. “When it came to the gizmoplex, I said, ‘Why don’t you do everything?’ It’s an ongoing thing. I rely on Gary. When he brings up an idea, I know it’s going in the right direction.”

Glover, a longtime MST3K fan and designer whose work includes Lego sets, Matchbox cars and The Official Mystery Science Theater 3000 Bot Building Booklet, disagreed, explaining how he once met Joel by using duct tape and a Sieb used the exterior of the Gizmoplex to make plans. Glover on the Gizmoplex design process: “Joel had hired a production company but felt their work was maybe a little too slick.”

Tom Servo sings them "MST3K love theme"

“Mysterious Science Theater 3000”

Courtesy of Shout! Factory

Smoothness has never been a feature of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Thematically, the show’s do-it-yourself aesthetic goes hand-in-hand with Joel Robinson’s approach to adversity: Stranded in space by forces beyond his control, the inveterate hobbyist and dreamer’s first step was to look around the garbage heap, into which he had been thrown and to make some friends himself.

Fittingly, this new and scaled down (but still creatively evocative) framing device is the result of the union of necessity and imagination. While Hodgson remains commendable for his former Netflix bosses (whom he says were largely hands-off), he notes that the streamer’s mandate to finish each season’s episodes before the season’s premiere led to “burnout.” There are no bosses in the Gizmoplex – but also less money. “We didn’t have the budget that we had for Netflix,” Hodgson said, “and we recognized the world of the show when we had the money.”

And then there’s this whole pandemic issue, which required a lot of cast and crew juggling and led to increased use of green screens for the host segments. “In the context of the Gizmoplex, I think it fits together really well,” Hodgson said. “And as time goes by, we’re going to get closer and closer. There is a common visual language and artistic alignment between how a set looks and what you can do with a computer.”

For Hodgson and Glover, their shared vision for this new frontier is a triumph of ingenuity and love, much like Joel Robinson tapes a gumball machine to a barrel-shaped bench and calls it a robot. “I’m incredibly happy with how it looks,” Hodgson said, with Glover fully agreeing. “There are a few nags here and there,” the animator said of the reaction to the first few episodes. “But overall it was warm and welcoming. It feels like old times.”

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/05/mst3k-gizmoplex-theme-song-making-of-1234727751/ MST3K: Joel Hodgson goes behind the scenes at the Gizmoplex

Chris Estrada

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