Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVIII
US DVD Release Date: July 13, 2010
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 400 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 full screen
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 (English)
In the not too distant future, somewhere in time and space…
Movie: 3.5 out of 5
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) was the brainchild of Joel Hodgson, a former prop comic and frequent guest on Saturday Night Live and Late Night With David Letterman. Basically an extension of the popular hosted movie format made famous by Vampira and Elvira, the original premise was that Joel (and later Mike Nelson), along with his robot companions Crow and Tom Servo, were sent into space, orbiting the planet and forced to watch bad movies by Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu). The show first aired on local Minneapolis-St. Paul UHF station KTMA in a very crude form in 1988, but was picked up by the Comedy Channel (now Comedy Central) as one of its first series a year later. The series survived for seven seasons, then moved to Sci-Fi for three additional seasons, finally falling out of first-run orbit in 1999.
Volume 18 is the sixth set of episodes to be released by Shout! Factory.
Disc One features an episode from season two, Experiment #208, The Lost Continent, starring Cesar Romero (best known as The Joker from TV’s Batman) and Hugh Beaumont (best known from TV’s Leave It To Beaver). A rocket armed with a nuclear warhead is lost, and pilot Romero leads the rescue mission, with a team of scientists in tow, and find a prehistoric world on the top of a mountain. The episode is best known for Joel and the robots’ agony of watching the film’s never-ending rock climbing sequence (Servo: No one will be admitted during the breathtaking climbing scene. Joel: Rock climbing, Crow.), as well as the numerous references to Syd Field’s How-To books on screenwriting. Although considered to be a fan favorite, I found the pacing of the riffs to be slow, and the overall episode to be average. But this is from the second season, and MST3K didn’t hit its stride until season three, with such episodes as Cave Dwellers, Pod People, and The Amazing Colossal Man.
Disc Two includes an episode from season four, Experiment #417, Crash of the Moons, edited together from a three-episode story arc from the 1950s television series, Rocky Jones: Space Ranger, in which Rocky and his crew try to bring two civilizations together before the two moons they are living on collide and explode. The only notable star in the film is John Banner, best known for his role as Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes, as Bavarro, the leader of the more civilized world. As with the episode on Disc One, I found Crash of the Moons to be somewhat laborious to get through, but the laughs are more consistent, even referring back to the General Hospital excerpt that is riffed earlier in the episode. Host segments include Joel and the ‘Bots performing an advertisement for a Banner-Gram, Crow trying to earn money selling Grit (not the magazine, but actual grit), and Tom Servo, Crow, and Gypsy perform their rendition of the song Gypsy Moon.
Experiment #621, The Beast of Yucca Flats, from season 6, completes the Coleman Francis MST3K Trilogy on DVD. Before the feature, Mike and the ‘Bots are forced to watch the educational short, Money Talks!, in which a silhouetted Ben Franklin instructs teenager William on how to manage his money and keep to a budget. The riffs are pretty good, including references to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Wizard of Oz, and Dragnet. The guys are then subjected to a promotional film from 1973 on Puerto Rico, Progress Island, U.S.A. The short is very dated, with its leisure suits and jazzy Shaft-like score, and the riffs enjoyable. Servo: A Quinn Martin Production, All: Puerto Rico!! The feature film, The Beast of Yucca Flats, is a truly horrible film, only made better by the constant riffing on the bizarre directing style of Coleman Francis (all dialogue is spoken off screen, lots of shots of approaching cars). Favorite quotes include: Mike: Tor Johnson as The Beast, that’s just smart casting. Crow: Real, actual dialogue! Servo: There was no such thing as clinical depression until this film was made. Servo: This movie stops at nothing, and stays there.
Disc Four contains a gem of an episode from season eight, Experiment #813, Jack Frost, the first Sci-Fi Channel era episode to veer away from science fiction or horror. This is a very goofy Russian-Finnish production, sort of a mish-mash of fairy tale legends of the likes of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, with a dash of Hansel and Gretel for good measure. Characters in the film include the lovely Nastinka who is despised by her wicked step mother, Ivan the handsome hero who must learn to be polite to elderly mushroom men otherwise they will turn you into a bear, along with an assortment of witches, mountain men, and the title character himself, Jack Frost, who doesn’t appear in the film until the last half. Favorite riffs from the episode include Mike: The names are all Russian for Allan Smithee, Crow: Bite me, Wok-Head!, Servo: I’m a welder by day and a dancer by night, Crow: I thought Jerry Garcia was Father Mushroom, Servo: Apparently there is no Finnish word for “subtle.” Host segments include the odd Michael Nelson: Lord of the Dance, Brain Guy having to tend to Bobo’s hygiene routines, Crow turns into a bear, Servo’s impression of Nastinka, and Crow desperately trying to hire someone (with Mike’s money) to explain the movie, including comedian Yakov Smirnoff and butcher Earl Torgeson.
Video: 3 out of 5
As I’ve stated in my previous reviews of these sets, judging the video quality of an episode of MST3K is difficult. The movies are usually in fairly bad shape, and in the case of this set, the source tape for the Lost Continent episode has suffered some major wear and tear over the years, with occasionally visible dropouts and tracking noise throughout the latter half of the show. It should be noted, however, that Shout! Factory has included a disclaimer stating that the best available master was used.
The only fair thing to do is to judge the host segments, and the quality improves as you get later into the series. Disc one has an overall softness to it, in addition to the tape anomalies, but colors are consistent. Disc two fairs somewhat better, with greater detail and color fidelity. Discs Three and Four are excellent, with increased detail and well-defined colors.
Audio: 3 out of 5
As with the video, the audio quality is best judged by the host segments and the actual riffing during the movie. All four discs include a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, encoded at 192 kbps. Dialogue is intelligible and overall the tracks have good fidelity. The stereo mix on disc four generally adds some ambience to the host segments, giving the musical segments some added depth.
Special Features: 3.5 out of 5
As with Shout! Factory’s other MST3K boxed sets, the menu designs on each disc are themed with the episode, with decent CG animation, and are very funny. My only complaint is that the menu volume is much louder than the episodes. Also included in the set are a set of original comic book style mini-posters for each episode, identical to the DVD covers.
Theatrical Trailer (1:50) for The Lost Continent looks and sounds worse than the feature does.
New Introduction by Frank Conniff (5:36): Conniff played Dr. Forrester’s sidekick, and also chose most of the films for the series during the five seasons he was with the show. Here, he discusses the film, the riffing, and the rock climbing sequence. The featurette is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Mystery Science Theater Hour Wraps (5:01): Mystery Science Theater Hour was a short-lived hour-long version of the series for syndication (splitting each original episode in half), with Mike Nelson, in his Jack Perkins character, bracketing each episode.
No Dialogue Necessary: Making an “Off-Camera Masterpiece” (27:36): Larry Blamire, Bob Burns, Frank Conniff, and Lee Strosnider discuss the making of The Beast of Yucca Flats and the impact both the film and the MST3K episode made on them. The featurette is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Coleman Francis: The Cinematic Poet of Parking (8:26): An extended interview with cinematographer Lee Strosnider, where he talks about working with Coleman Francis. The featurette is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Theatrical Trailer for The Beast of Yucca Flats (1:17): The original trailer, proclaiming the film as “one of the most exciting movies ever made,” is in good condition, presented in a slightly window-boxed 1.33:1 full frame.
Still Gallery: A set of 8 lobby cards from the film’s promotional kit.
New Introduction by Kevin Murphy (8:58): The voice of Tom Servo discusses how for the first half of season eight that the Sci-Fi Channel was fairly strict regarding their policy on choosing only science fiction films, the MST3K history of Russion-Finnish co-productions and how goofy and bizarre these films are, and that the films usually had very good production design but were always badly dubbed. Murphy also discusses the Lord of the Dance skit. The featurette is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5
Shout! Factory continues to put a lot of much-appreciated effort into their MST3K sets, and the show’s fanbase will again likely not be disappointed with this release, although the choice of episodes for this set is somewhat weaker than previous sets released by the studio.