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HTF REVIEW: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Essentials

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#1 of 41 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted July 31 2004 - 07:57 AM

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Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Essentials

Studio: Rhino
Year: 2004
Rated: NR
Film Length: 97 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Standard (4:3)
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: none
Retail Price: $24.95

NOTE---The screener I received only featured Santa Claus Conquers the Martians but the actual set also features the previously released Manos: The Hands of Fate. That film is an added bonus that is the exact same release as before.

1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is one of the most popular and sought after cult classics to ever have the misfortune of reaching a theater screen. It’s one of those classic examples of a director thinking he’s creating some important piece of work but in all reality the director didn’t even have enough talent to realize that what he was doing would be laughed off theater screens by the one person drunk enough to stumble into the theater. The 1950’s and 60’s gave us all sorts of these legendary bad films including the likes of Robot Monster, Eegah!, Plan 9 From Outer Space and even the more enjoyable Teenagers from Outer Space.

Our film starts out as the children from Mars are watching a broadcast from America where they see a fat, old man dressed in a red suit passing out gifts to various children. The Mars children, being depressed and not eating for several days, start to worry their parents who seek the advice of an older, pre-Yoda alien who tells them they must capture Santa Claus in order to bring piece to Mars. The Martians are a bit skeptical but they land their ship at the North Pole and kidnap Santa along with two American kids. Once in outer space Santa is forced to make gifts for all the Mars children but an evil group of aliens want to put an end to this.

There’s no denying this is an incredibly bad film that tries so very hard to be another It’s a Wonderful Life. The director seems to be a big fan of Santa and outer space but that certainly doesn’t mean he should be making any movie combining the two elements. The movie bends over backwards trying to teach children about peace and the film also preaches more than any Sidney Poitier film made from the same period. The only thing worse than the directing is the acting, which is thankfully bad enough to get a few laughs (several actually). The screenplay is full of classic jokes including: What is green and toasted on a stick? Martian-mellows..

As for the MST3K commentary, I’m not a die-hard fan of the series but I’ve been told this is one of the best episodes and I’m certainly not going to go against that. The commentary gets off to a hilarious start as the group asks if this is a Patrick Swayze movie and one comments that Swayze would beat everyone in the movie up. Some other knowledge is thought include something I didn’t know but apparently elves taste like chicken. Another good moments is when Santa finally appears on screen and the MST3K group makes a good joke about the fact Santa’s smoking a pipe plus how only poor kids will be disappointed. Another funny moment is when Santa forgets the reindeer’s names and mentions that kids know them and the gang jumps in saying that’s because they aren’t drunk.

All of that happens within the first five minutes and the other ninety-two minutes are just as funny as the group delivers mostly funny jokes. I’ve seen a few episodes where some of the jokes fall flat but that really wasn’t the case with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The film itself is slow as Christmas but the track is full of wonderful dialogue that makes the film fly by. The comments about the green makeup is wonderful as are the jokes about how the toys are being made. The two stupid children also get some good jokes as does the dork alien who keeps messing up all the time.

VIDEO---The movie is shown in its standard ratio (4:3), which is how it was presented when aired on television. The film itself, being released in 1964 was probably matted to at least 1.85:1 but I’m fairly certain it is open matte because there doesn’t appear to be anything missing. I just watched this film a few weeks ago from the Sci-Fi 50 Movie Collection, which was released by Treeline. The picture quality there was faded, scratched up and a blurry mess but it’s actually better than the film shown here. I’m not sure where Rhino gets their prints to these PD films but this one here is in very bad shape. There are a lot more speckles than the previously mentioned release and the colors are even more washed out making Santa’s suit appear light pink instead of red. Since we’re watching the MST3K guys I doubt this poor picture quality will bother anyone. As for the three black outlines doing the talking, the black levels here are very good and strong.

AUDIO---The Dolby Digital Mono track is very good without any hiss, scratches or cuts in the dialogue. When clips from the actual film are heard I was rather shocked at how well they sounded. The previous versions I’ve seen were full of hiss so bad that it was like a rainstorm going on around you. This was been removed from the track making it the best I’ve heard the film sound. The commentary track is also very good as is to be expected. The spoken words are upfront without any issues and are clear throughout.

EXTRAS---No extras are included.

OVERALL---I know some fans are upset at this being released with a movie already on DVD but I think this is a good strategy so that some casual fans can sample these sets without paying a higher retail price. I’ve been meaning to sample some of the other sets but the price has held me off but after this little sample, I’d be more than willing to try out the other sets. I’m not a die-hard fan of the series and have only seen around five episodes but Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was a very funny episode. I wish Rhino would include the films without the MST3K commentary but if you really want to find the film there are plenty of budget discs for around $5.

Release Date: August 31st, 2004

#2 of 41 OFFLINE   David Galindo

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Posted July 31 2004 - 12:00 PM

Hey, thanks for the review! I have neither disc, so I will order it. BTW, tvshowsondvd.com has a story on getting a bonus DVD when you buy this one.

#3 of 41 OFFLINE   David Illingworth II

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Posted August 01 2004 - 06:23 AM

If you want to see the movies without commentary, some of the releases have that feature. I think most of the single disc releases do and also the MST3K Vol. 1, which was the first multi disc set.
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#4 of 41 OFFLINE   Kevin M

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Posted August 01 2004 - 07:02 AM

Emil Stoica mentioned this in another thread discussing this release, Satellite News has a link for the offer here:MST3k Essentials with Bonus Shorts Vol 3 DVD .

I ordered it as the Shorts Vol.3 is a nice addition and has never been available before...all for $29.99 including S&H, not bad.
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#5 of 41 OFFLINE   TonyD


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Posted August 01 2004 - 11:25 AM

"sinbad is funny." i cant wait. one of my most eagerly awaited movies on dvd.

#6 of 41 OFFLINE   Dane Marvin

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Posted August 01 2004 - 03:19 PM

When this was announced, every other person started complaining. Does anyone realize how much it costs to get a hold of the rights to release these things on DVD? A lot of the time, it's not just cost -- it's a lack of cooperation from studios, estates and the like.

I'm stoked about SCCTM and Shorts. Vol. 3 (from the special internet offer). Also, I haven't been buying the single releases in hopes they'd some day be released in box sets -- so Manos is not going to be a double dip for me. Posted Image

#7 of 41 OFFLINE   Robert James Clark

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Posted August 02 2004 - 10:10 AM

MST3K versions of possibly the two worst movies of all time with some of the best MST3K commentary? Who could possibly complain about that? It's a must buy...

#8 of 41 OFFLINE   Joe Cortez

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Posted August 02 2004 - 01:46 PM

Exactly. And besides, watching these films without the MST3K commentary would be like watching Fantasia with the sound turned down; it's just not the same.

#9 of 41 OFFLINE   Jarrod Hines

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Posted August 02 2004 - 03:41 PM

Great comparison, Joe Posted Image

#10 of 41 OFFLINE   JeremySt



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Posted August 02 2004 - 05:10 PM

Im sooooo boying this. Drop-o rules!

#11 of 41 OFFLINE   Adam Tyner

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Posted August 03 2004 - 02:33 AM

How would Rhino have anything to do with the transfer of the movie being screened? Isn't it just the same as when it originally aired on Comedy Central?

#12 of 41 OFFLINE   Jay Pennington

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Posted August 03 2004 - 02:42 AM


#13 of 41 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted August 03 2004 - 06:16 AM

I can't agree with you there. Perhaps it's 50/50 but these "bad" films were being viewed long before MST3K. This show has a group of fans but there are just as many fans of these films without the commentary tracks. The majority of these films are "enjoyable" without MST3K and some of them have a very strong cult following.

#14 of 41 OFFLINE   Jeff Kuykendall

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Posted August 03 2004 - 07:36 AM

Since the poor quality of the prints is sometimes a target of the Bots' joke-lobbing, I think it's important that the prints remain murky, poorly synched, jump-cutty, or just as poor as the movies themselves. Many of the jokes wouldn't make sense if you were looking at a pristine print.

Besides, I think there's also a flavor of nostalgia in watching, with Joel/Mike and the Bots, a movie that looks like a battered old print.

Did you guys see the new MST3K announcement on Sattelite News and TV Shows on DVD ? Crikey!
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#15 of 41 OFFLINE   Jay Pennington

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Posted August 03 2004 - 07:50 AM

The print Joel/Mike and the bots are watching is integral to the image. Even if Rhino has access to a better copy of the movie, there's no way they could replace the version that's in the show, unless they had Best Brains re-edit the show from scratch (assuming they still have raw footage of the greenscreen shoots, if they even recorded them that way in the first place, as I believe they did the chroma key "live" to tape).

#16 of 41 OFFLINE   Jeff Kuykendall

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Posted August 03 2004 - 08:55 AM

Yeah, that too. Posted Image

Since I don't see it here yet (from Gord/TV Shows on DVD):

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#17 of 41 OFFLINE   Adam Tyner

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Posted August 03 2004 - 11:17 AM

That's like criticizing Universal Home Video because you don't like KITT's paint job in Knight Rider. Posted Image

Think of it this way. In order to do this, you'd have to hope Best Brains had archived the individual elements they used in layering the video back in 1991. I don't see this as very likely. Even assuming that's possible, the next step would be to find pristine film elements for the movie being riffed and transfer them. Because MST3K frequently wouldn't show movies with every frame intact, the film would have to be re-edited shot for shot to make sure the exact runtime matched. Since there is obviously running commentary on the show, there's not much margin for error there. Also, since there were often gags where Mike, Joel, or one of the bots would reference the image on-screen at a very specific spot, you'd have to make sure the framing exactly matched the transfer used in the original episode as well. Then, you'd have to take the time to re-layer everything, including those shots where the camera pans out of the theater with the image of the movie growing increasingly smaller. This could be problematic too, I'd imagine. That's contingent on a lot of "if"s and would require more time and money than it would be worth. Maybe some sort of digital cleanup could've been done, but since the source material is low-resolution composite video, it probably wouldn't turn out much differently.

Best Brains used whatever elements they could get their hands on. The goal was to have footage that was decent enough that the viewer could see/hear what was going on, but other than that, it didn't really matter. I mean, this is a show where the opening credits show moldy film canisters as the source of the experiment, after all. Jeff is correct that there frequently were jokes centered around the condition of the source material too. An immaculate, flawless print wouldn't really seem to fit with the tone of the show. I'm supposed to feel like Doc Forrester is unspooling a print of some dingy, low budget movie he found at the bottom of someone's closet, not a D5 master transferred from an interpositive kept in a climate-controlled vault in Colorado.

#18 of 41 OFFLINE   Jeff Swearingen

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Posted August 03 2004 - 03:03 PM

I'd like to get SCCTM, but I'm also interested in seeing the film without the MST3K robots and/or commentary. Does this DVD give either of those options? If not, should I get this and the cheap disc I've seen on Amazon.com of SCCTM for like $8? Are there any other ways of getting Santa Claus Conquers the Martians? This movie's so bad that you don't even need a commentary! (plus it's a guilty holiday viewing pleasure for some reason)

#19 of 41 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted August 03 2004 - 03:37 PM

There are a few budget discs out there but they are pretty hard to find and I haven't heard of anyone finding copies in a year or so. I'm not sure if any new lables have released it or not. Treeline makes special box sets that feature 50 movies on 12 discs, which can be bought at Best Buy for $27 or online from various stores. The Sci-Fi pack contains SCCTM. Adam, fair enough. Considering the first releases featured the films with and without the commentaries I just figured better prints could have been thrown on the discs with the commentaries added to them. I guess when they created the show they really weren't looking for decent prints, which is fine because it's best to watch these films a bit beat up.

#20 of 41 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted August 10 2004 - 11:25 AM

Often, they'd simply use whatever video master existed for the film for them. For example, many episodes used great print sources (usually the Warner and Universal properties) while the public domain films tended to be from cheap sources. I'm going for the Shorts Vol. 3 deal, too. I think they were at their best when heckling the short films due to the pace in them and also the concentration of jokes. I can't wait for the 6th volume since it includes Mr. B. Natural.

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