"X Marks the Spot" starts with the New Jersy traffic commissioner Arthur W. Magee himself, delivering a bland-voiced message about how traffic accidents affect World War II production. ("If you kill yourself here, we can't kill them over there.") To illustrate this, we're treated to the story of Joe Doakes, who speeds through town (wartime gasoline and tire rationing doesn't seem to affect anyone in this short) until at last he plows into another car charging through an intersection. He meets up with a raspy-voiced, battered-faced guardian angel (in mortarboard and gown) and is escorted up to a celestial traffic court ("Come on, let's talk to Hamlet's dad.") where the judge takes careful note of all of Joe's failings as a driver and pedestrian. In the end, though, the guardian angel is released from his penance for getting into a traffic accident himself, and the judge invites the audience to pass final judgement on Joe. ("Oh, that's great. We're stranded in space, and we still have to pull jury duty.") With all of that said, in some ways this short and the responses made to it do seem to hold more promise than actual amusement for me.
The movie starts off with a great deal of stock footage and bombastic narration about preparations for a rocket voyage to a "new planet," "Nova." Special equipment is invented ("Then discarded."), including a big chunk of switches and dials referred to as an atomic power unit. Four scientists, two men and two women (amounting to one blond-haired and one dark-haired couple) are selected, and stock footage of a V2 launch sends them on their way. A bit of that stock footage is then run in reverse, awkwardly matted in over a forest ("I believe by the end of this decade, we will land a piece of stock footage on another planet! Ask not what a process shot can do for you..."), and the explorers have arrived. The blond couple disembark in spacesuits that make me think of Destination Moon surplus (and also of hearing how Stanley Kubrick deliberately destroyed all the sets and costumes from 2001 so they wouldn't be reused in later, cheaper movies) and sort out in short order the environment is just fine; the dark-haired couple get out in safari clothes, and everyone sets off into the woods. Much stock footage of various normal animals shows up before a crude lean-to is constructed (the atomic power unit is just sort of sitting around) and the blond couple heads further into the woods to frolic, only for the guy to end up wrestling an alligator. After some recovery, he manages to gun down an awkwardly matted-in bug; the women by this point are pretty much stuck screaming every time something bad appears.
The dark-haired couple have by this point collected a kinkajou ("a nasty little raccoonlike creature from the South American rain forest," to quote the official episode guide) they call "Joe," and inflate a rubber raft to paddle over to a mysterious rocky island. Once there, they run into a giant crested iguana who forces them into a cave (the guy is injured trying to save Joe and pulls off his shirt; the woman's clothes get sort of torn up along the way) and then gets into a ferocious and more than a little uncomfortable battle with a small alligator. ("Wow. Are they going to fight over who tastes more like chicken?") A distress flare gets the attention of the blond couple, who deliberately collect the atomic power unit on their way to their own raft. The dark-haired couple at last manage to get out of the cave during another lizard battle ("You know, guys, lizards were hurt in the making of this picture.") and are reunited with the other couple as a timer is set on the unit, then flee to the boats and get back to the departure shore just in time to take cover from stock footage of atomic bomb tests. It's proclaimed "We’ve brought civilization to planet Nova," and everyone heads back to the rocket. ("And so, with peace in their hearts and fiery death in the skies, they went home.")
It is tempting to say that in this case the "badness" of the movie is a source of strange appeal to the episode, starting with the cheapness of the production and going on through the creaky attitudes towards gender relations and nature. I suppose I had thought before returning to it that Joel and the bots got more worked up over the fighting lizards than they actually do, but they do make some humourously critical comments about it along the way. The "host segments" did have a sort of odd, "not quite there yet" feel to me, though, although Crow's monologue in response to the short, asking "Am I qualified?", becomes pretty good, and to me (if not to everyone else) there's an odd, ramshackle charm about Joel producing a long-legged and armed furry puppet accompanied by the "Joey the Lemur" song.
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