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What went wrong with Muppets from Space?

Discussion in 'Classic Muppets' started by Daffney, Apr 1, 2011.

  1. Daffney

    Daffney New Member

    As Muppet fans are nervously awaiting promotion for the upcoming Muppet film, it's time to see why it's taken a decade for the Muppets to return to the silver screen. And what better way to do so is by looking back at the cinematic mess of 1999's Muppets from Space.

    When the short lived Jim Henson Pictures division was formed in 1995 with the help of Sony, one of the many movie ideas they had was a Muppet film... IN SPACE!

    Jerry Juhl and Kirk Thatcher wrote separate scripts for a Muppet space adventure. Juhl's one was on UFOs, while Thatcher's one was a wacky space adventure that would've been great.

    Kirk sent his screenplay to Henson (entitled Muppets in Space) and they were about to get the film on the go. When Jerry sent his script (Star Gonzo) however, Henson changed their minds and used his screenplay instead.

    Okay, good and all, but after some script rewrites and a hurried shooting schedule, the end results were a Muppet film lacking the musical feel and cram packed with pop songs and the easy pop-culture references. It didn't feel like a Muppet film. As the matter of fact it didn't feel like a space film either.

    I needed to know who was responsible for these shortcomings. The only good way was to look at the little guide for the DVD of Muppets from Space. It contained some insights of the making of the film, but no answer. So I haft to assume the entire fault was on the director, Tim Hill. Apparently, Hill didn't know how to properly direct a Muppet film and he had no idea what he was doing.

    Another culprit could be the distributor, Columbia. Brian Henson said the the film was to be released off-season (i.e. the spring or fall months), but Columbia insisted that Muppets from Space would be a summer blockbuster. Production was hastily rushed because of that. It could be one reason why Frank Oz couldn't perform his characters during filming and had to dub their lines latter.

    When Muppets from Space hit theaters in the summer of 1999, it was crushed at the box office by the other shinning hits of the time. All in all, the film failed to earn its $26 million budget back and the Muppets never returned to the big screen... until this Thanksgiving.

    That's my two cents, what do you think happened?
    SkeetScootSquat likes this.
  2. frogboy4

    frogboy4 Inactive Member

    Story, story, story: They could have used either of those original scripts and been successful, but they decided to second-guess everything and created a film with a good premise that didn't yet have an engaging story. I personally like Juhl's original pitch.

    Muppet Music
    : Where the frog was it? How can anyone make a movie without Muppets singing music. I don't mean the lip-synced opening number. That was nice enough and the movie kind of fell apart from there. Where were the grand production numbers, or even the small simple songs? I don't care if the late 90's weren't considered musical friendly - this is a Muppet movie and without songs it just isn't very Muppety!

    Muppet Magic: The characters appear to be either bored or listless the entire picture. Except for Pepe, it's almost like they're phoning it in for the paycheck. I admit that it's fun to see Muppets do everyday chores, but Kermit painting the house is only funny juxtaposed to something else that's happening. The Muppets would have been more lively giving a financial report on C-Span!

    They Knew It: Sony and Henson knew this was a turkey. They kept it from critics and yanked it from theaters very quickly in order to fast-track it to video three months later. That used to be considered fast back in 1999. VHS tapes took a little more time to burn and distribute than DVDs.

    The director of Grease was to helm "Muppets From Space" but for some reason his take on making a musical and incorporating classic parody didn't sit well with someone at Henson or Sony. Basically they tried *not* to make their Muppet movie very Muppety. What the frog? :confused:

    They're obviously not making that mistake this time. They're blending all the classic Muppet magic for Thanksgiving's picture and so far the buzz seems good.
    Vincent Liu likes this.
  3. dwmckim

    dwmckim Well-Known Member

    Quality wise, it was the classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

    Box office wise, it was lost in a sea of huge summer blockbusters without the promotional blitz needed to stay afloat with the sharks.
  4. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member

    You forgot
    Director, Director, Director Let's not ignore that fact, as it's screaming in red colored bold face type

    Fro Toughpigs:
    Now, I have to admit, MFS would have had some great potential had they shot the script Joey wanted. The key is that Tim Hill replaced the ending himself with something banal, he took out the parody references, he may have been the one to take out Traveling Matt from the movie, and I'm sure he had a say in killing any original music.

    Above all, he wanted it to be "real" where all the house painting, lawn mowing, and mail checking came from. Suffice to say, this is the same cinematic genius that gave us the Garfield movies and the First Chipmunks (I can't believe the second one proved there was someone worse than him). Now, I've heard of director's ruining scripts, but this guy slaughtered it. How bad was the Grease guy? At least he would have left things well enough alone. There is a little Muppet magic in the film, but Tim represses the HECK out of it. At the very least, at least the Muppets didn't play third or fourth string characters, and you got to give them credit for at least playing themselves in this film. MFS is clearly not perfect, but it's much more entertaining than MCC was for me.

    Besides Uwe Boll...err... Tim Hill's misdirection (really, hearing his involvement in Hop just... I want to stay as far away from that as possible) aside... well, what genius thought it was a good idea to have ALL of Frank's characters in one scene? There's something off about that part of the movie, and the lack of Frank's presence kind of throws that bit off... similar to Miss Piggy's role in MTI.
  5. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    I thought that was due to Frank just dubbing voices most of the time. Since he was dubbing the voices anyway, why not? Though it seems like a missed opportunity... Oz was only doing the voices, and yet the movie still hardly had any direct interraction between his characters.
  6. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member

    That's just it... the dubbed voices of Piggy, Animal and Fozzie... all played by different people, all characters one person does the voice of... and had the movie more time for them to split up and get lost in the lab looking for Gonzo, there could have been potential for some funny stuff there. Instead, none of the characters really do anything interesting. It seems that Kermit and Pepe were the only characters that actually DID anything in that scene. Animal, well... there's no point for him to even be there, he disappears, and all he does is hit on Kathy Griffin. Either more of the Muppets should have gone with them, or Animal should have stayed home or... I dunno...

    I have a similar problem with LTS, where Rizzo goes with Kermit and the gang... had it been Scooter or anyone else, there would have at least been more interaction... but Kermit didn't talk to Rizzo, Rizzo didn't talk to Kermit... Rizzo seemed just there.
  7. BobThePizzaBoy

    BobThePizzaBoy Well-Known Member

    I honestly think the entire blame goes on Tim Hill and the fact that this film went through way too many writers.

    I'll come clean and honest: I like the fact that this movie has no songs. There's no need for them. In the Rhino compilation CD years ago, they actually said in the booklet they had a strong debate about whether the Muppets should sing or not in the movie. I think they made the right choice, I personally don't think the narrative calls for songs, at least the way they were in the previous Muppet movies.

    Tim Hill was all in all a bad, last-minute choice for this movie. He had no expertise in directing a feature and the whole thing comes off as lazily done. I think a more experienced name director would have been a step in the right direction. I'll be the first to say that I find Grease very overrated (I don't hate it! But it is very overrated. That's another rant for another time.) but really Randal Kleiser could have directed this film well. Had he dropped out again, Joe Dante might have been a nice fit.

    Finally, the release date was terrible. It had to face off against The Phantom Menance, The Sixth Sense, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and more importantly, Tarzan. Really hectic summer if you ask me. Sony really should have given the film a February 2000-ish release.
  8. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    I still cannot comprehend why everybody dislikes MFS so much, I thought it was a really fun and great Muppet movie... ten times, even a hundred times better than that mess IAVMMCM turned out being.

    No Muppet Musical moments? What do you call "She's a Brick House' at the beginning? Or "Celebration" towards the end? It wasn't in the actual movie, but the soundtrack had an updated version of Gonzo singing his classic "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday", just like Kermit's done different versions of "Bein' Green", for both SST and TMS.

    Not to mention, the Muppets fall victim to a lot of franchises of having to keep up with the times (in the wrong ways) to appeal today's audiences... now KSY, another one that was pretty good but everyone hates, took that to a bit of an extreme: the writing has always been geared towards BOTH kids and adults, it's the antics that the characters get into the kids like, while the subtle wordplay is what adults like, but the Muppets really seldom use "grownup" words and dialogue, which they did quite often in KSY, which makes it just a LITTLE shocking, because kids don't usually use those kinds of words, but it's nothing bad or anything. But then IAVMMCM... good Lord... Scooter cage dancing at a rave party? I think not only were they trying to hard to keep up with the times, but they didn't really have to go all emo on Scooter did they? But then again, a lot of "kid-friendly" franchises attract unlikely fanbases... it still surprises me to this day that The Chipmunks have such a large emo following.

    All-in-all, out of the three post-Henson theatrical releases, was MFS the best? Not exactly, BUT, it's still a really good Muppet movie nonetheless, and it really doesn't deserve the beating it always receives.
    SkeetScootSquat likes this.
  9. MelissaY1

    MelissaY1 Well-Known Member

    I think it just lacked a huge part of what makes the Muppets the Muppets. The jokes felt forced, I think they tried to be too "hip" (which is my fear with the new upcoming film), I don't think it had really any tender moments that the Muppets greatly mix in with the wackiness.

    I think one of their biggest mistakes was to try make it definitive that Gonzo was an alien. Some of the funniest gags over the years was the names Miss Piggy would bark at him "Bazooka beak", "Turkey", etc. and his not knowing what he was even had a great run of gags and a great episode around that idea on Muppet Babies!

    Also I think the title was misleading. Muppets From Space, they could've focused on some new characters coming to meet the main ones, or they could've made it Muppets IN Space and had the gang traveling on a rocketship which could've been fun. There was just a lot of things that were just a dead end for them in terms of story, etc. with this one. And I think like other people here have already said, big part of that is due to the various writers, there's something to be said of the old "too many cooks can spoil the broth".
    SkeetScootSquat likes this.
  10. MelissaY1

    MelissaY1 Well-Known Member

    It was definitely better than the TV Christmas movies, and some of the other projects they came out with after that, but after seeing Christmas Carol and Treasure Island it just seemed they hit rock bottom with Muppets From Space. It seemed to be more on the cheap, lacked a lot of other stuff the other films didn't have, I just didn't think it was "fun". But that's my opinion.
    SkeetScootSquat likes this.
  11. frogboy4

    frogboy4 Inactive Member

    I firmly believe MFS deserves every bit of scorn it has received

    I saw this in the theaters for the first showing on opening day and it was truly awful. Very few people attended and many of those who did actually walked out! I actually physically cried after seeing the film because I knew this was the final nail in the coffin for their film career. And that's what happened for over a decade. Fans should have a problem with MFS on that alone.

    MFS is a different experience theatrically then on home video. The film quickly becomes tedious when watching it on the big screen as opposed to television when it doesn't require the audience to give their undivided attention. I saw this with a good friend who moderately liked the Muppets up until that point. This move made at least one person I know hate the Muppets when he didn't before! Wow! People can feel differently about the specials, but I don't believe any of them had that sort of power to turn somebody off to the beloved characters quite like that.

    There was just so much squandered potential. Of course there are some moments that I do like, but they are few and far between. Lipsincing to another artist's record or that sloppy alien number at the end don't come close to the mark. I cannot understand any Muppet fan saying that any Muppet film is better for not providing original musical numbers! That's a huge part of their draw no matter what the decade. If the story doesn't accommodate that, then fix the story. MFS was pretty thin on a developed story anyway.

    I often think that MFS seen through a younger person's eyes, especially if they viewed it on video, is what provides it with any audience at all. Some of the television specials tried too hard, but this was the least sophisticated Muppet movie I've ever seen. Until Kermit's Swamp Years, of course. There was little juice in it for my 25 year old sensibilities back then and certainly now too. It's just not worthy of them. It was more of a puppet movie than a Muppet movie.

    All of this is fine and nice and a matter of opinion. Let's look at the opinion of Henson and Sony. They knew this film was bad and treated it as such. They did promote it enough, but they didn't share advanced screenings with critics and they so quickly yanked it. That's the method for a suspected turkey. Give it a fighting chance and then silently exit if it turns out to under perform.

    I do have a rather rabid hatred for what happened to MFS. I'll still watch it as a fan, but no project harmed the Muppets credibility with studios, audiences and fans like Muppets From Space. It deserves no defense IMHO. :sleep: :boo:

    Ultimately, it's still the Muppets, albeit a lobotomized version of them. For that reason I really can't actually hate the picture because I really love the Muppets. :flirt:
    SkeetScootSquat likes this.
  12. heralde

    heralde Well-Known Member

    Lol yup, that's pretty much how I've viewed MFS as well. And I mean if someone you care about has had a lobotomy, you don't pretend it didn't happen and just say all is well, when clearly it is not. And I think that's kind of what went on with the Muppets in the 1990s. ;)
    SkeetScootSquat likes this.
  13. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    I don't remember it coming to video that quickly, though I don't remember the eact release date. But I do remember The Adventrues of Elmo in Grouchland coming out on video and DVD two and a half months after release (in time for Christmas).

    It really should have been directed by Brian Henson or somebody with experience directing the Muppets. I wonder whose decision it was (Henson or Sony) to have it directed by a non-Henson director?
  14. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member

    Again, that was ALL on the director. The whole point of Joey's ending was that the aliens WERE NOT Gonzo's relatives, and it left the movie open ended.

    As for the jokes being "hip" quite the opposite... other than a dated Spice Girls bit and half of a Men in Black bit, nothing really screamed "hip" about it. Guess Tim was suppressing that too. Guest stars I kinda let up on, since clearly there's a difference between guest cameos they WANT and guest cameos who wanted to do the movie.

    Now, the hip thing was what was wrong with Oz and VMX (though VMX did it better... besides, you can always blame the Simpsons writers).

    Other than that, I do enjoy the movie, just... it could have been leagues, miles, and lightyears better than what we ended up with...

    That's debatable. A couple songs could have worked, including Gonzo's "I'm going to go Back their someday" remix. But the funk track (as much as I like funk) felt flat, and ... well, random. At least it was the ONLY movie that year besides Phantom Menace that didn't use "Hey now, you're an All Star!" in the soundtrack.

    And, couldn't they have anything BETTER for the ending credits besides kaleidoscoping the characters? TMM had everyone talking over the credits (unfortunately drowned out by music), GMC had the Muppets parachuting out of a plane... okay, MTM didn't have anything, and I don't think MCC did... MTI at least had some rats swimming up to the ship with treasure... there was a blown opportunity there.

    Suffice to say, the new characters saved this one. Actually, they saved the LAST 3 movies.
  15. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    I used to think something happened during the end credits of MTM due to the view of a New York City skyline.

    I wonder what the deal was of including Carter in tha tkaleidoscope ending? He was only in the movie at the beginning, had only a brief line, and hardly anybody in america (besides us) woudl have known who he was. Why include him there but not Rowlf, Scooter, or the Electric Mayhem?
  16. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member


    Tim Hill is like the Uwe Boll of kid's films, isn't he? He's just terrible... What can you say when Alvin and the Chipmunks is the crown jewel in your career?

    Really, I can't blame the script (even though they really needed a better vehicle... at least they weren't fifth bananas to humans), the acting, the bad cameos... everything rests on a director. No matter how good a script is, a bad director can sink a project.

    Now, I hate to bring up a film/book series I despise so, but the tweenagers that saw Twilight all agree the director ruined the movie completely... and M. Nightmare Shabbadoo (who had 2 good films in him) took a slightly decent film like Avatar the Last Airbender and made it suck a hundred times worse than it should of. Not only was the acting wooden, but the special effects and kung fu choreography were so screwed up, it looked like a sloppy film made in someone's basement.

    Above all, I think we can agree the ONE thing that was lost with Jim Henson, it wasn't the magic, it wasn't the fun... it was the vision and direction. Again, look how long it took Disney to get on its feet... only for the guy who saved it to almost completely destroy it. There were all these much better scripts and plots and projects they COULD have done at the time... but something tells me they went with "Space" because it was a Star Wars summer, and virtually everything that year (except for Dudley Do-Right) had lame references to Star Wars forced in. I feel the same way about that terrible Oz movie (which I feel is worse on many levels)... there were so many great ideas for Muppet proejcts... and they go for a LOUSY retelling of something that's retold and referenced to death to begin with?

    Above all, they all knew something was wrong with MFS... that's why they had bad guest cameos, and I think Sony just didn't want the dang thing because they blew the opportunity with the Elmo movie... that's like how they blew the He-Man movie back way back when... but the director... he was the thing that really killed the picture.

    This next one is different... we have people who GENUINELY care not only work on the project, but pretty much forced Disney to do it... they literally went to them and asked them why they haven't done anything and offered to write the script themselves. And they're FANS! I bet Tim Hill never even seen a Muppet.
  17. MelissaY1

    MelissaY1 Well-Known Member

    I don't mean like pop culture references when I say "hip" I just mean I just felt like through the whole film they were trying too hard to be cool, and that's my biggest problem with any form of entertainment today and in recent years: when it tries and FEELS like it tries to hard. That's what made the original Muppet Show so great: yes they used old jokes from the vaudeville era that everyone knew where they were going with, but at the same time, it was written so well it gave the feeling of spontaneity. I don't know, I think having a cameo of little Pacey and Joey from Dawson's Creek was them trying to be hip, and the opening sequence with "Brick House"....how about a new fun Muppety song instead of something that's overplayed at weddings and sweet 16's?

    And I thought Muppet Treasure Island had a fun ending, the rats plus Tim Curry stuck on the island talking to the "Easter Island" statue heads...I enjoyed that at least :)
  18. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    Concerning the use of three Frank Oz characters in the main group, is it more bothersome because of the small number of characters who go to save Gonzo? Would it have been that big a deal if more Muppets went out on the Gonzo rescue (say the whole Electric Mayhem, Clifford, Scooter, Rowlf, maybe Robin and Lew Zealand, and not leaving Bunsen and Beaker behind)? In the original trilogy, the main groups of characters had more characters with the same performers, but those groups had more characters as well.

    With the characters rescuing Gonzo, there were five, three performed by Oz. In The Muppet Movie, for most of the first half there's pretty much five characters going to hollywood, two performed by Oz. When Miss Piggy arrives Fozzie starts to do less talking. Then Rowlf comes in, and it seems he does more when it's just him and Kermit together. After Scooter and The Electric Mayhem recue them and head for hollywood, there's twelve characters in the main group, Henson performing three, Oz performing three, Goelz performing two, Nelson performing two, and Hunt performing two. After Bunsen and Beaker tag along Goelz and Nelson get one additional character.

    In The Great Muppet Caper, there are at least eighteen characters headed to the mallory gallery to stop the jewell thieves (I don't know off-hand how many generic rats or chickens come along). Henson gets four characters, Oz gets two, Goelz gets four, Nelson gets three, Hunt gets three, and Whitmire gets two.

    And in The Muppets Take Manhattan, the number of characters in the main group (the ones intended to be part of Manhattan Melodies) is considerably smaller than that in the first two, twelve. Pretty much the main group of characters as in TMM, but without Bunsen or Beaker.

    I don't know if more characters invovled would have saved it or not. But they used the Electric Mayhem bus, why not put more characters on the bus? Was anybody else bothered by the fact that Fozzie was driving the bus, as opposed to Dr. Teeth or anybody else from the mayhem? Was anybody else bothered that Animal tagged along without any other Mayhem members (they should have at least had Floyd tag along; did Jerry Nelson have limited availability during the filming of the movie?). I remember hearing about them bringing back and recasting a number of Henson and Hunt characters... To us it was a big deal back then. But the recast characters were limited to one line or less. As I heard that news I was hoping for the Electric Mayhem to at least have a number, and for them and Rowlf and Scooter to go on the mission. Still, the fact that we heard from Rowlf, Scooter (as well as seeing him), and Dr. Teeth was a big enough deal for us fans, which since then has been overshadowed by other productions where the characters have gotten more dialogue (I'm sure none of us will be shocked by how much dialogue Rowlf, Scooter, Dr. Teeth, Janice, and others will get in this upcoming movie).
  19. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member


    I'd shudder to call painting the house, checking mail, and 4 out of hundreds of wacky characters bored and playing cards hip. I get what you mean, but other than a couple buzz cameos (lists of potential cameos in Muppet films don't always equal the end result... considering the disdain the movie had, I'm not surprised by who was in the movie), it seems like quite the opposite. Any attempt to be hip or edgy or anything in the movie was quashed by Tim Hill's view: boredom=mundane=realistic.

    I mean, VMX and Oz tried too hard to be hip, sure... it actually worked pretty good for VMX... Oz was overkill on hip (Kelly Osborne?) But I doubt a funk track in a movie from that decade qualifies as trying to be hip, especially when the gold standard for out of touch 50 year old film exec hip is G and PG rated rap that's 10+ years out of style. Trust me on that one. I've seen it TOOOOO many times.

    You know, the opening number reminds me of that Family Guy where Lois inherits a beach house from her annoying blue blood aunt. The entire staff starts singing and dancing an elaborate number... hundreds of little characters, then they all leave saying "we were only paid up for the song." If nothing else, the OTHER Muppets should have stayed home and screwed up painting the house or fought over the TV when they were watching Piggy's show. At least THAT would have been fun. Seems most of the group deserts the house entirely only yo magically appear again at the alien landing... I'm surprised that they didn't show them all as telemarketers or something.
  20. GonzoLeaper

    GonzoLeaper Well-Known Member

    This probably isn't going to help his case any with most folks here, but didn't Tim Hill also direct "The Fantastic Four" movies? I actually did enjoy those pretty well, despite most comic book fans slamming them. You have to admit that The Silver Surfer looked way cool in "The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer"
    Oh well- Marvel's going to redo that franchise now anyway, so we'll see if they do it better next time.
    As for "Muppets From Space", I saw it in theaters and loved it! I'm particularly glad they included "She's a Brick House" and "Celebration" in the movie- both great disco songs that I like (I particularly love "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang) and it's not too surprising to see '70s and early '80s disco classics in the movie since the '70s nostalgia was still pretty big in the late '90s.
    But then, I enjoy all the Muppet productions to some degree or another. I do wish the soundtrack version of Gonzo's "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday" had been included in the movie- it seems like it would have fit well at the start of the movie after Gonzo's dream about Noah's Ark- which, by the way, was a great introductory scene for the movie and very fitting about emphasizing that Gonzo didn't have a mate to go into the Ark two by two.
    Anyway- I am happy for all the new Muppet productions so I just try to find the good things I can enjoy about each one- and it's always fun to me to see the Muppet gang together.:):concern::D


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