Michael J. Nelson: Author, Film Critic, and all Around Nice Guy

wpbr6OUCinema Crazed took a chance and luckily were granted an interview with Michael J. Nelson. To those whom are truly with the in-crowd, you know who the man is. But to those whom aren’t aware, not only do I pity you, but: Mr. Nelson was the head writer, and the one time host (successor to creator and original host Joel Hodgson) of one of the greatest shows of all time “Mystery Science Theater 3000” which lasted eleven excellent seasons and spawned a very funny film. After ending on the Sci Fi Channel in 1999, Nelson went on to author six books including “Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese”, a collection of essays “reviewing” bad “A” grade movies, and “Death Rat”.

He now speaks at colleges, is a musician, a music aficionado, loves electronics, and is a very popular film critic reviewing big budget bad films. I’ve been an avid watcher for many, many years and mourned the show’s end when Sci-Fi willingly killed it off slapping the fans in the face and then airing reruns for a few years. But as one who sat with them and watched “Horror at Party Beach” and “Manos”, I was thrilled to see Mr. Nelson agree to offer an interview and answer questions during his busy schedule. Mr. Nelson was kind enough to answer them with thoughts about the death penalty, evolution, and an odd rant about speakers. Here they are (Warning: There is some shameless fan gushing. Shield your eyes):

I just would like to thank you first of all. I and the site’s contributors (and our readers) are hardcore fans of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, I have been for years, and I think it’s one of the rare brilliant cult shows of the past thirty years, this is a true highlight for me.
You’re very kind.

You were able to reach so deep in to an unspoken human tradition of mocking films. Years after the end of the show do you still find yourself mocking films while with your friends or family?
Yeah, it’s kind of in the blood. Plus most movies aren’t very good, so it’s kind of hard to avoid.

As a follow up, are you still surprised a show about a guy and two robots sitting down to watch a movie became such a cult classic?
I was kind of naïve when I started on the show, so I just assumed that we would always get to do it, whether or not anyone ever watched. But it was still great fun to watch as the show just kind of grew, and we started to see that some people not only liked it, they really liked it.

The common phrase now shared by film fans of the modern age after a bad film is “The guys at MST3K should tear this to pieces”, what recent films do you think would truly deserve being mowed down by the group at The Satellite of Love?
I would love to have a crack at the whole list of Oscar-nominated films.

An obvious question I have to ask, bear with me: Do you have a favorite episode of “MST3K”? (Mine would have to be the “Manos” episode.)
I am fond of “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders.” I saw it recently with my sons, and they laughed a lot (so that’s part of it.) But I laughed hard at the line when Crow says [as Merlin] “Remember to believe in the power of magic… or I’ll kill you.”

Is there a film you aired on the show that you didn’t think was all that bad?
“Hamlet”, I guess. At least the script was good.

What was easier in the long run to mock: bad foreign films, or B grade Schlock?
Home grown schlock was far easier. The dubbing made it really hard with the foreign stuff.

Do you agree with fans that the Sci-Fi Channel mistreated the show?
Well, they didn’t really like the show, so it’s no surprise. To be clear, though, this was the later regime that came in toward the end. The people who brought us on board were mensches by and large.

What’s Tom Servo really like?
He’s a total jackass. He always stole my Powerbars and blamed it on Gypsy.

Be honest, did you exterminate Cro and Servo when the show ended?
If by that you mean, “cryogenically suspend them” then yes, I’ll cop to that.

Do you think film as an art form has managed to evolve or de-evolve in terms of quality and originality now that filmmaking is becoming much more accessible?
I’ll answer that with these four words: “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo”.

Now that methods for making films has become much more available in terms of home software that enables easy filmmaking, do you think there are much more worse films out today than there were forty years ago?
I think in terms of volume, yes, there’s more (say, 800 metric ton of bad films.) But not in terms of ratio.

What do you think about the current trend in Hollywood of remaking any and every film? And are there any remakes that particularly angered or irritated you?
Well, for years I’ve been shopping this idea: “Deputy Dawg: The Motion Picture”, with no success. So, yeah, I’m bitter that they’re remaking the wrong stuff.

Which current film director do you think needs to stop and take up a new profession?
I will take the high road and practice “if you can’t say something nice” diplomacy. (*cough* Joel Schumacher *cough cough*).

The most popular complaint among the movie going audience today is their anger towards lack of consideration in movie theaters, and deteriorating of well mannered movie goers. Are there any complaints you have toward that? Any gripes or thoughts?
I’m pretty forgiving about such things. I believe that people who bring small children into the theater and let them run around should only be given life imprisonment with hard labor and not the death penalty.

Do you keep up with The Golden Raspberry awards? If so, what do you think about this year’s nominations?
I haven’t seen them, but I assume the name “Tara Reid” is mentioned somewhere.

You seem to have an obsession with film, I don’t know if you’re aware. Do you have any other obsessions or addictions?
Pipe tobacco, stereo equipment, and vacuum brewed coffee.

Who is hotter: Barbarella, or Torgo?
Barbarella has marginally better legs.

You did an excellent impression of Torgo on the show, are there any other impressions your friends or family get a kick out of?
I do an impression of an old woman who once interrupted me while I was playing piano at a retirement home. The folks at MST used to beg me to do that. It’s technically a very difficult impression and I’ve never met anyone else who can do it. I’m very proud of that.

What’s your favorite film of all time?
It changes all the time, but right now I’m very fond of the most recent “Nicholas Nickleby.” I love to see bullies get what’s coming to them, and to see good triumph over evil, and Dickens has that in spades. Plus it’s just extremely well done: Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson are simply amazing as Mr. and Mrs. Squeers.

What are some of your thoughts on the tabloid craze? Why do you think the media is sure we need to know about Nick and Jessica and or Britney Spears?
What have you heard about Nick and Jess?! Do you know anything?! You have to tell me!!

To borrow from the supreme rulers James Lipton and Bernard Pivot:
What noise do you hate?
The sounds inside a water park.

What noise do you love?
The sound of trains.

What’s your motto?
“Live without mottos.”

Shameless gauge: Is Cinema Crazed not the coolest site ever?
Um, yes, it is not the coolest site ever. Wait, that didn’t come out right.

Shameless plug time: Which one of your books do you suggest we buy?
“Death Rat”! It’s partially about a big rat. Everybody loves big rats.

Whom are some of your literary idols?
P.G. Wodehouse. Shakespeare. Twain. C.S. Lewis. Peter DeVries. Robert Benchley.

What projects are you currently working on at the moment?
A children’s book. A DVD commentary for a re-release of “The Little Shop of Horrors.” A grown-up book. Developing a video series.

Do you have any closing comments you’d like to share for the readers?
Yes. A good loudspeaker should have a flat frequency response not only on axis, but as far as 60 degrees off axis (horizontally). 60 degrees represents the “second arrival” and has a huge impact on how you perceive the quality of the sound. The “third arrival” is 30 degrees off axis. So before purchasing a set of speakers, make sure it sounds good off axis.

(Hint: speakers with 4th order crossovers tend to be better behaved off axis, and active crossovers, though rare, are probably the best solution of all.)

And that’s it, folks. We’d like to thank Mr. Mike Nelson for taking time out of his busy schedule
to answer our questions. He’s a nice guy, and funny as hell. This was a great experience.