It's only a cheesy Japanese monster movie the dialogue is dopey, the dubbing is a disaster, and the special effects look as if they were slapped together with spit and rice paper but Joel Hodgson is sitting in his studio in a Minneapolis suburb watching Godzilla vs. Megalon with the adoring eyes of a film student scrutinizing Fellini's Satyricon.
''We're thrilled to have this movie,'' gushes the 31-year-old host and creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000, cable TV's goofy B-movie send-up. ''Godzilla is a major star.''
Hipper than Saturday Night Live, cooler than Arsenio Hall, filled with more pop references than The Andy Warhol Diaries, MST is the perfect postmodern comedy. The concept is a hoot: Hodgson and his robot sidekicks, Tom Servo and Crow, have been shot into space by mad scientists who force them to watch crummy old movies. As stinkers like The Slime People, Jungle Goddess, and Rocket Attack, U.S.A. unspool in front of them, the trio sits in silhouette on the corner of the TV screen and lets loose a stream of jeering one-liners. ''How do we stand on fuel?'' an astronaut asks in Rocket Ship X-M. ''I'm for it!'' comes the offscreen answer. A bride collapses on the altar in The Corpse Vanishes. ''I'm Getting Buried in the Morning,'' sing the hecklers.
Now in its third season, MST is fast becoming one of cable's hottest cult hits. Time named it one of 1990's top 10 TV shows, and fans have been even more effusive: ''I think it's one of the funniest shows on the air,'' offers Dan O'Shannon, a supervising producer on Cheers. ''It canonizes something we all do, which is talk back to our TV sets. It's definitely on the cutting edge of comedy.''