Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Beginning of the End
In the not too distant future, way down in Deep 13.....
Movie: 3 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.
With many of the Rhino-released episodes now out of print, Shout! Factory has begun releasing these episodes individually on DVD, available exclusively through their online store.
One of the first episodes to be re-released is Experiment 517, The Beginning of the End, an early Mike-era episode from season 5. Peter Graves (Mission: Impossible, Airplane!) stars in this Bert I. Gordon science-fiction cautionary tale of the dangers of atomic experimentation and its effect on the environment. Apparently a swarm of grasshoppers chowed down on some radioactive grain, causing them to mutate into the size of B-52 bombers and totally annihilate a small, rural town in Illinois. Reporter Audrey Aimes (Peggie Castle) and Dr. Ed Wainwright (Graves) assist the military in stopping the giant grasshoppers from destroying Chicago, driving them into Lake Michigan. The effects are about what you’d expect from Bert I. Gordon, utilizing crude front and rear projection techniques throughout most of the film until the big finale. When the grasshoppers attack Chicago, the effects are achieved by placing the grasshoppers on photos of landmarks from the windy city.
The host segments are better than average, but not great. When Mike and the ‘Bots check in with Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank, the results are quite disturbing. Also, we get a look at Crow’s screenplay for the biopic, Peter Graves Attends the University of Minnesota. One sketch is very dated, though, in which Tom Servo tries out a stand-up routine dressed in a red leather jacket (Andrew Dice Clay), and Mike tells him that although he may not be ready for the Tonight Show or David Letterman, he’d be perfect on the Chevy Chase Show. The riffing on the movie is also better than average, but not all that memorable, but picks up steam near the end during the attack on Chicago.
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, with sub-par transfers that the series’ producers had to contend with.
The only fair thing to do is to judge the host segments, and this re-issue is a slight improvement over the prior Rhino release, 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. Dialogue is intelligible and overall the track has good fidelity, and is also a slight improvement over the prior Rhino release, which sounded a tad muddier.
Special Features: 0 out of 5
The only extra on the Rhino version was the non-MST3K version of the movie, which is missing here. This disc has no features, and a static menu. Missing are the creative and often hilarious animated menus we’ve grown accustomed to on Shout! Factory’s 4-disc sets.
Overall: 3 out of 5
Long-time fans of the series likely already own the previous Rhino release of this episode, and the slightly improved video and audio are not necessarily worth trading up to this new release. Still, kudos to Shout! Factory for making a long out of print episode available to fans who may have missed the opportunity to purchase this episode.
US DVD Release Date: February 15, 2011
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 full screen
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)