Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX
US DVD Release Date: March 8, 2011
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 360 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 full screen
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 (English)
In the not too distant future, next Sunday, A.D.....
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 20 is the eighth set of episodes to be released by Shout! Factory, and with this set they break tradition by offering up four Joe-era episodes. All four are above average, and have been long sought-after by fans of the series.
As with previous sets, Disc One features an episode from season one, Experiment #109, Project Moonbase. This is one of the better episodes from the first season, although most of the laughs come from the two chapters from the serial Radar Men From the Moon, such as the pun-fest during a fight sequence inside a mechanic’s garage (That guy wrenched his back; He really socketed that guy; He’s hammered; He’s bench-pressing; He’s getting tired) as well as Tom and Crow’s voice-overs during establishing shots of Cody’s lab (Meanwhile at the Cody Institute For People Who Almost Die Every Week; Meanwhile at the Cody Institute For Deceptive Editing). The host segments are also better than in most episodes from this season. During the Invention Exchange, Dr. Forester and Larry combine the Etch-A-Sketch with the Ant Farm to invent the Insect-O-Sketch. Joel and the Bots create a late night TV spot for a gelatinous product named SPACOM (after the NASA-like government branch from the feature). Joel explains the evolution of neck tie design in the future, with the bots modeling. My favorite line from the host segments comes when Joel asks Dr. Forester when they may get some movies in color, to which Dr. F responds, "You want color? Talk to Ted Turner!"
Discs Two and Three contain a double-feature from season three that fans have been waiting anxiously for, and likely thought they would never see released on DVD. Experiment #322, Master Ninja I, isn’t really a feature film, but a TV-movie created by splicing the first two episodes of the short-lived NBC replacement series from 1984, The Master, in which Lee Van Cleef trains an annoying punk named Max (Timothy Van Patten) in the Ninja arts while in search of Van Cleef’s long-lost daughter. One of the episodes features an early performance by Demi Moore as the daughter who is victimized by the local sheriff in an attempt to force her father (Claude Aikens) to sell his airport to a developer (at least that is what I think the first story is about). The second episode has something to do with the Chinese mob extorting money from a nightclub owner. My favorite riff was when Clu Gulager’s character is killed, Servo quips “Now this movie is Clu-less!” Host segments include the Bots showing off the model car they built, the Mads demonstrate their boil-in-bag intravenous meals while Joel and the Bots show off their adult pop-up books (including Great Expectations, Anna Karenina, The Plague, and Naked Lunch), Crow unveils the Van Patten Project (a conspiracy to take over the entrainment industry), Joel and the bots poke fun at the use of theme music in the movie, Joel and the Bots demonstrate variations on the nunchuk, and Master Ninja Theme Song.
Experiment #324, Master Ninja II, splices the next two episodes of The Master. In the first story, Max and The Master help save guest star Crystal Bernard from being killed for trying to form a union at the town’s cannery. The second story has to do with a plot involving guest stars David McCallum and George Lazenby in an attempt to assassinate a California Senator. The majority of the riffs in both films have to do with star Timothy Van Patten’s inability to enunciate, often sounding like he’s got marbles in his mouth. My favorite riff from Master Ninja II, while the cannery workers are entering the factory, and Tom Servo remarks, “It’s a secret meeting of all those people who want this show cancelled.” Host segments include a bad improvisational comedy routine, the invention exchange has the Mads demonstrating their Conveyor Belt Buffet and Joel demonstrates the Gerbil-Sphere II (a self-sustaining gerbil cage), the bots create their own 70s style custom vans, Crow does a spoof of the opening of Patton (as a cross between George C. Scott and Timothy Van Patten), Servo recommends animal sidekicks for fictional detectives, and Joel shows off a Lee Van Cleef paper doll.
Disc Four contains Experiment #505, The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, from season five. This Russian-Finnish co-production is an odd mix of fantasy and weirdness, with even more bizarre dubbed dialogue courtesy of Roger Corman (who purchased the US distribution rights and changed the title character from Sadko to Sinbad). Sinbad arrives in Kovasahn to find oppression and tries to bring happiness to the town, first by getting the rich to turn their wealth over to the poor, and then by going on a voyage to find a magical bird. The film is filled with weird dance and singing sequences that are ripe for riffing. Some of my favorite riffs include Joel’s “I never knew Arabia was so Russian,” Crow’s “Howard Johnson is right,” and Servo’s “Sinbad: Unplugged.” The host segments include an awards show spoof, the Mads unveil their chin-derwear while Joel demonstrates his Rat Pack Chess Set in the invention exchange segment, Joel and the Bots re-enact the jester dancing sequence from the film, Joel and the Bots pretend to be members of a town council deciding what to do with Sinbad, Crow dons a jet pack and leaves the Satellite of Love to begin his life-long quest like Sinbad (and fails miserably), and the Bots are mesmerized by Joel’s Channel Cat puppet.
These are decent to above average episodes, but not great ones, and I found the Master Ninja double feature to be somewhat disappointing.
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. This is true on all four features, where the masters obviously came from an older analog video source.
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, but colors are consistent. Discs two, 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.
Special Features: 3 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. Also included in the set are a set of original comic book style mini-posters for each episode, identical to the DVD covers.
Exploring the Look of MST3K with Director of Photography Jeff Stonehouse (9:23): Stonehouse was brought in during season six when Executive Producer Jim Mallon wanted to change the look of the series. He discusses working on the series and feature film, and how the legacy has followed him in his commercial work.
Original Trailer for Project Moonbase (1:25): The trailer looks pretty good here, but the sound is very tinny.
Looking Back at The Master with Bill McKinney (5:31): Character actor McKinney played the corrupt sheriff in the first half of Master Ninja I, and briefly discusses his career (including Deliverance), working on the pilot episode of The Master and working with Lee Van Cleef.
Tom Servo vs. tom Servo Panel at Dragon*Con 2010 (42:35): J. Elvis (Josh) Weinstein and Kevin Murphy discuss their experiences puppeting and voicing the iconic robot and working on the series in this panel moderated by Ken Plume. The quality of the video is horrible, but apparently the panel discussion is here in its entirety.
Looking Back at Magic Voyage of Sinbad (5:10): Trace Beaulieu (Crow, Dr. Forrester) discusses how Joel Hodgson’s announcement to leave the series during season five changed the tone of the show (to the better), riffing a dubbed movie, some background on the movie, and the history of Russian-Finnish fantasy films with MST3K (he’s referring to an earlier episode, even though clips are shown from Jack Frost from the Sci-Fi era).
Mystery Science Theater Hour Wraps (5:11): 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.
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 (unless you are only a Mike-era fan), although the choice of episodes for this set is somewhat weaker than previous sets released by the studio.
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