One of the great pleasures of movie-going, in my experience, is going alone. Even when surrounded by strangers in the dark, there is something wonderfully personal about being blanketed by the sound and image of a big screen projection; a show just for you, where you can let the story wash over you like a warm wave. And yet the exact opposite, too, can be a joy: sitting with friends, the wittier the better, and the lot of you chiming in as the story in front of you unfolds. In this case, it’s usually true that the worse the movie, the better the night.
This week, even those who prefer to go it alone can get a taste of the group experience, and with a particularly funny group of friends to boot. That’s thanks to the Academy of Music in Northampton, which is hosting a Tuesday night visit of the touring show Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour. If you’re not familiar with the MST3K experience, it’s a wonderfully oddball affair: the long-running television show featured creator Joel Hodgson (later replaced by a series of other hosts) as a janitor trapped in an orbiting satellite and forced to watch B-movies (or worse) as part of a plot cooked up by a couple of mad scientists. To help him stay sane, the trapped host constructed a motley crew of wise-cracking robots to keep him company during the movie marathons. As those films unfold over the course of the show, the hosts, head and shoulders silhouetted against the screen, keep up a steady stream of banter and commentary that transform the afternoon-movie fare into something far richer.
The resulting show captured something special, especially in the pre-internet era. The snark and good-natured ribbing the team gave to films like Hercules Against the Moon Men was addictive; some three decades later, the show is still a hit in its latest incarnation on Netflix. This week’s event gives Valley fans a chance to reconnect with the show’s roots: Hodgson, who spearheaded the show’s revival in the Netflix era, is back to unleash his real-time review on another film. This time, the victim is the 1986 martial arts movie No Retreat, No Surrender. Featuring a young Jean-Claude Van Damme as a Soviet heavy, the film is a bit of a Karate Kid rip-off, except that instead of having a white kid getting trained by kindly maintenance man Mr. Miyagi, it has a white kid getting trained by the kindly ghost of Bruce Lee (not played by Bruce Lee, who was unavailable). In other words, it is a perfect choice for the MST3K treatment.
Fans of the show will undoubtedly enjoy the night, but for those who are truly obsessed, there are several VIP-level options that include meet-and-greets, Q&A and photo sessions, and more MST3K swag than you can shake a stick at. For tickets and details, visit aomtheatre.com.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour, September 17, 8 p.m., Academy of Music, 274 Main St., Northampton
Also this week: Cinemark at Hampshire Mall celebrates another sci-fi landmark when it screens Star Trek: The Motion Picture to mark the film’s 40th anniversary. Coming on the heels of the short lived original television series, the film was the thing that really gave the still-popular series its legs. In it, the usual cast of Kirk, Spock, and the gang encounter a strange life-form that has its roots in our own past. At the helm of a newly refitted Enterprise, Kirk and crew must race to solve the mystery of this enigmatic force before it puts Earth in jeopardy. And while this Star Trek picture has yet to get the MST treatment, there are many connections tying the two series together — if comic nerdery is your thing, this week could pack a heck of a one-two punch.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture, September 15, 1 and 4 p.m., Cinemark at Hampshire Mall, 367 Russell St., Hadley
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.