1968 Japanese Spy-Thriller TV Series (Maitei Jyakku)
1986 English Language (dubbed) Film Made From Parts of Maitei Jyakku (Tsuburu Productions)
1991 Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episode (episode #314) (talk about recycling!!)
1: Mighty Jack—It's a Television Show!
"The whole feel and tonality of the film reminded me of several booze-related blackouts I had had during my younger years ... How can anything remind you of a blackout? Damned if I know, but Mighty Jack brought back some very painful memories that I'm not even sure I had."—Frank Conniff (writer, Mystery Science Theater 3000)
As far as the world of popular entertainment was concerned, the 1960s was the decade of the superspy. The explosion of Cold War tensions between NATO countries and those of the Eastern Bloc brought espionage out of the shadowy back rooms and into the front pages. By 1968, Ian Fleming's suave spy James Bond had leapt from bestselling novels to one blockbuster film after another. Dozens of other secret agents joined the pop culture espionage service in television series such as Secret Agent, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the Avengers. For a brief time, it was ultra-cool to work for the government!
Japan got into the act with Maitei Jyakku, a 1968 television show that follows the adventures of the men and women of the Mighty Jack, a giant super-spy flying submarine ... or maybe their team is Mighty Jack (it's a little unclear). The show ran for 13 episodes and then was edited down into a movie format, using the first and last episodes with nothing between to fill in the chasm in the plot.
2: No, It's a Movie!
"Calling Mighty Jack ... Come in Mighty Jack ... We have a nuclear missile pointed at you. We demand that you turn over Mighty Jack in exchange for Mr. Harold Atari's life."
William L. Cooper is given credit for the concept of making this TV show into a sort of lamely constructed motion-pictury thing. Thanks, William L. Cooper, thanks a ton! Enter Sandy Frank, tireless producer of countless inexpensive Japanese imports, among them the Gamera movies, Fugitive Alien and Time of the Apes. This film was dubbed into English, questionably I think, thus adding another layer of incomprehensibility.
The plot, and I am using that word with the utmost charity, is roughly as follows:
An evil international criminal organization (is there any other kind?) called Q has set their sights on world domination ... well, okay, perhaps Q is into the world destruction gig—whatever the case, they're some bad customers. So a vague international good-guy group forms a team code-named Mighty Jack to combat this evil. Okay, this movie apparently can't decide the meaning of Mighty Jack: Mighty Jack may be an organization, a team or a super-duper flying submarine—hell, it may even be a person for all we know.
Anyway, this organization is run by an extra-old guy—is he Mighty Jack? No, turns out he is called Colonel Yabuki. The group is specifically designed to combat the nefarious plans of Q and the two organizations just basically go around hating each other.
The leader of Q is a European-looking man in drop-tinted shades. He has an evil laugh and a white Persian cat, which seems to have been standard equipment for the stylin' evil overlord at the time. This nameless villain (who sounds disconcertingly like Boris Badenov) and his minions kidnap a professional mountaineer named Harold Atari* (look, it just gets freakier from here—you might want to pop a Dramamine or two). Our bargain-basement Blofeld then subjects him to what must be the silliest torture since "The Comfy Chair." Enclosing Mr. Atari in a big barrel-type thing, they subject him to light so bright that it will apparently blind him if he opens his eyes. Keeping his eyes shut would probably render this 'torture' rather moot, but Atari surrenders. As it turns out, Mr. Atari is secretly a highly-placed Mighty Jack operative ... unless Mighty Jack is the name of the submarine thing, in which case, make that 'Mighty Jack crewmember.'
Anyway, the movie then dumps us into the second episode in a way that could give you whiplash. They seem to have covered a lot of ground over those missing eleven episodes and we are just expected to keep up.
The second half features the genius Dr. Takibana, inventor of 'hot ice.' Hot ice is just like regular ice, but stays solid at 800° Fahrenheit. This is an invention so incredible (or ridiculous) that Q just can't wait to get their grubby little hands on it (and why not? Ice that won't melt ... think of the uses ... okay, I can't either, apart from a few lame practical jokes). Q enlists the good doctor's geeky, half-German son, who betrays dear old dad, saying "In my heart, I am German." Well, of course, that explains everyth---HUNH??
There is a rather absurd mystery as to who are the good guys and who are the villains, but I have a feeling the you won't be able to follow it any better than I did. Throughout this, Atari proves that he is the only competent guy (maybe the extra-old guy could count too) in the whole Mighty Jack organization (...wait, wasn't Mighty Jack a person?).
Anyway, it is entirely possible that, without the dubbing (assuming one understands Japanese), and given all thirteen episodes, this might have been an enjoyable little show for the time. The submarine, helicopters and other craft are obvious toys and the models are not up to the standards of, say, a Godzilla movie, but if you can ignore that, it might be silly fun as Saturday afternoon fare. HOWever, when you chop off the first and last episodes and dub them into English, the result is almost frighteningly confusing. Characters and plotlines appear and disappear, things change without warning. The overall effect is crazy and bewildering. It is no wonder that the Mystery Science people got the rights to use this movie, I'm sure no one else wanted it!
3...Then Came MST3k...
"Could someone explain to me what's going on?"—Tom Servo
It was the mission of Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) and his robot pals Crow T. Robot (Trace Beaulieu) and Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) to make fun of bad films, turning even a bizarre mess like Mighty Jack into something hilarious.
Mystery Science was originally created for KTMA, a local Minneapolis television station. Mighty Jack was one of the films they made fun of in those early days. This means that, like Robot Monster and a couple of others, the writers of MST3k had the awesome responsibility of doing this film twice (requiring a grueling 5-10 viewings each time). These folks are real gluttons for punishment!
Joel and the 'bots make countless jokes about the cheesy special effects, the weird and incomprehensible plot and a lot of gags based on who the actors look or sound like (MST fans call these "looks like jokes"). At commercial breaks, the robots and their human pal perform skits. A couple stand out—taking a cue from the bad guys in the film, the 'bots (dressed as the campy bad guy and his cat) drop a 'light torture' chamber down on Joel. Then, they tell him that it contains light so bright that opening his eyes will blind him. He foils them, calmly keeping his eyes shut, even when they tell him that they have cool stuff (like a Paul Klee painting) in there to look at. Always a clever one, that Joel.
They also invent Mighty Jack, a food for dogs (from the makers of Hungry Jack and Mighty Dog) and Joel shows off underwater special effects complete with submarines, Noah's Ark and cartoon characters (Joel: "I'm weird and that results in creativity!").
After the perplexing film grinds to an end, Joel and the 'bots sing a very funny 'plot shanty' (based on the old sea-dog song Blow the Man Down). Despite the bewildering nature of the film, Joel declares:
"My brain feels clean as a whistle"
That seems like a great way of looking at it to me!
4. Ideas and Opinions
"Imagine going on the teacups ride at Disneyworld spinning round and round. Remember that feeling when you stepped off the ride?"—user Blazing 1 from imdb.com
This is a really disturbing film—not disturbing like Manos, the Hands of Fate "Ewwww! Get me to a chemical shower!" ... this is more of the sort of baffling weirdness that can only come from disjointed parts of television episodes spliced together without the appropriate connecting scenes (I think the episodes themselves were chopped up as well). At one point, a sort of flying craft attacks the flying submarine, then leaves. What was it? Was it Q? Was it a random alien attack? We will never know. Several times the action jump cuts so wildly that it is uncertain that we are in the same movie for a moment. There is an unannounced flashback which may make viewers believe that a different movie (or episode) has started and a few baffling scenes that may leave you saying "Do what now?" And motivation? Forget about that ... characters do things with next to no rhyme or reason.
My advice to you is this, dear reader—beware the Mighty Jack my son. There are few films that drop to this level of incomprehensibility and, for a brief time, I was convinced that this movie might actually be harder to watch than Manos, the Hands of Fate or Attack of the Eye Creatures. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it is perhaps a tenth of a point more watchable than those flicks, but only by virtue of the fact that Mighty Jack lacks the loathsomeness of those other two bad film classics.
WARNINGS and CONTRAINDICATIONS: This movie may cause confusion, mood swings, dizziness, drowsiness and/or nausea in many viewers. Approach with extreme caution. I have never seen the version of Mighty Jack without the MST3K guys, and, let me say, I love horrible movies, but, given the opportunity, I'm not sure I would. Do not operate a motor vehicle or engage in strenuous activity for 30 minutes after viewing Mighty Jack.
"'Huh?' That was my thought-process during the entire movie."—user Jonah Falcon from imdb.com
*Gentle reader, feel free to insert your own Atari jokes here. The Atari 2600 jokes, the Pong jokes, they've all been done. We could perhaps force in a Go joke if we really felt inclined. By the way, from a certain angle Atari looks disconcertingly like a Japanese John F. Kennedy. "Happy Birthday, President-sama ..."
Internet Movie Database: imdb.com
Daddy-O's Drive in Dirt online at http://www.mst3kinfo.com/daddyo/di_314.html
Dr. Forrester's MST3k reviews online http://doctor-forrester.home.mindspring.com/reviews_s03_ep314.html
Beaulieu, Trace, et al., "The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide" (Bantam Books, New York, 1996).