Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Essentials
Film Length: 97 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Standard (4:3)
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
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