Rarely does a television series have the privilege to revisit episodes and start over from scratch. Such is the case with the five Gamera-themed episodes from season three of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which originally appeared during the KTMA era. Those episodes were not scripted, with large gaps between riffs that rarely had any bite. Three years later, producers Jim Mallon and Joel Hodgson would discover that Comedy Central had the broadcast rights to the same Sandy Frank versions of these films, and decided to give these films a scripted riffing they so richly deserved.
MST3K vs. Gamera:
Mystery Science Theater 3000, Volume XXI
US DVD Release Date: August 2, 2011
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 540 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 full screen
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
In the not too distant future, next Sunday, A.D.....
Gamera is really sweet
He is filled with Turtle meat
Now we have Commercial Sign!
Movie: 4 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.
MST3K vs. Gamera, aka Volume 21, is the ninth set of episodes to be released by Shout! Factory, and with this set they again break tradition by offering up the five Gamera episodes long sought-after by fans of the series. One other thing fans will be pleased about - the inclusion of the Turn Down Your Lights (where applicable) title that appeared at the beginning of most Joel-era episodes, and has been missing on many of Shout! Factory’s previous releases.
It all starts with Experiment #302, Gamera, the big turtle’s screen debut. For a synopsis of the feature, please read my review of the original Japanese theatrical version. After a brief exercise in linguistics lead by Tom Servo and the weekly invention exchange (Joel demonstrates his endless take-out salad bar container, the Mads show off their bird cage vacuum), movie sign commences with Joel and the bots poking fun at the opening credits (Tom Servo: Sandy Frank - isn’t that when you drop your hot dog at the beach? Crow: Planning. I like to be an actor, but what I really want to do is PLAN.), pointing out the obvious miniatures (ALL: Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat.), Kenny’s turtle obsession (Tom Servo’s classic ballad Tibby, Oh Tibby), rising missiles (ALL: Good morning! Rise and shine!), and Joel begins a running gag throughout these episodes by ripping Crow’s arms off when Crow goes too far in his riffs. My favorite riff:
Tom Servo: Don’t worry, people. Gamera is only a shell of his former self.
Host segments include Joel trying to teach Tom and Crow have compassion towards Kenny; Tom, Crow, and Gypsy in a beauty parlor sketch with special visitor Gamera himself (played by Mike Nelson); and Tom introduces the cast.
Next up is Experiment 304, Gamera vs. Barugon, the second film in the series, where Gamera is transformed into a hero. For a synopsis of the feature, please read my review of the original Japanese theatrical version. Favorite riffs include:
Tom Servo: I hate when he PLANS. There’s never enough buns!
Joel: I wouldn’t for one negate Nagata. You gotta, though.
Joel: Hey, has anyone called “dibs” yet? Dibs!
Crow: Is your name Annie Sceptic?
Crow: I sucked his blood and I liked it!
Crow: If you think of them as two guys in rubber suits, it’s real sad.
Host segments include Tom and Crow arguing over computer interfaces (and referencing System 7), the invention exchange (Joel’s animated soda can, the Mads’ disco cumber-bubble-bund), 5000-piece fighting men and monster set, Crow and Tom visit a TGIF-style restaraunt, Joel reminisces about movies and stars, and books about monster-movie making.
In Experiment 308, Gamera vs. Gaos, a construction crew building an expressway through a rural village disturbs and awakens the second-billed monster, and its Gamera to the eventual rescue (my review of the original Japanese theatrical version can be found here). Favorite riffs include:
Crow: Put your shoes on, we’re at Grandma’s. (An MST3K classic line)
Tom Servo: Hey, somebody dropped their drawers!
ALL: Boy, boy, crazy boy!
Tom Servo: Oh, look, Gamera has Ichii palms, now!
Tom Servo: Operation Goofy now in effect.
Host segments include the crew of the SOL become fascinated with raspy-voiced celebrities, the Mads show off their self-image printers while Joel presents his fax machine Kleenex dispenser, Joel demonstrating how to make a Gaos head puppet (with Tom and Crow heckling), the crew tries to put on an opera called the Gameradamerung, a tribute to Ed Sullivan, and Joel and the bots discuss ways to “off Gaos.”
Gamera vs. Guiron, Experiment 312, has Gamera fighting the knife-nosed monster Guiron (in the last 30 minutes), and features not one, but two annoying boys who enter a spaceship and find themselves on a distant planet with two women who want to eat their brains. My review of the original Japanese theatrical version can be found here. This is probably the best of the five episodes, mostly because the movie itself is just so downright goofy, providing lots of material to riff on. Favorite riffs from this episode include:
ALL: Hello! Thank You!
Crow: What is his obsession with traffic accidents?
Joel: Seems like it’s pretty hard to dub, too.
Tom Servo: Alexander Salkynd Presents Superboy, the crummiest show ever in first-run syndication.
Joel: Oh, it’s a bunch of Christmas lights against a brick wall....
Crow: I know, don’t laugh! They made me in a hurry!!
The host segments are above average in this episode, as well. Tom Servo and Crow compare the contents of their lunchboxes. In the invention exchange, the Mads show off their rorschach centerfolds while Joel demonstrates his collapsible trash can. Joel and the bots sing their own lyrics to the Gamera Theme Song. Joel attempts to saw Crow in two. Joel, Tom, and Crow perform a sketch pretending that the young American boy in the film was played by Richard Burton as a child. Finally, a Gamera Theme Song reprise, and Michael Feinstein (Mike Nelson) visits Deep 13 and performs the Gamera Theme Song.
The Gamera-MST3K mini-series ends with Experiment 316, Gamera vs. Zigra, in which an alien monster (looking an awful lot like a mechanical shark) lands in the ocean and threatens the Earth with highly destructive Earthquakes. Mankind’s fate is in the hands of two kids, their scientist fathers from Sea World, and Gamera. My review of the original Japanese theatrical version can be found here. Interestingly, in this Sandy Frank version, the magnitude of the earthquakes has been exaggerated by an additional 2-3 magnitudes. The episode is a good sendoff to the series of films (although three of the films were skipped, Gamera vs. Viras, Gamera vs. Jiger, and Gamera: The Super Monster). My favorite riffs include:
Joel: I didn’t know the Moon was made of rich, gooey chocolate.
Tom Servo: All you zombies hide your faces. (obscure reference to the song by The Hooters)
Crow: Wow, she’s PMS-ing big time!
Joel: You know, it’s weird, but even the monster is badly dubbed.
Tom Servo: Viva La Zigra!
Joel: Just like the Goonies!!
Crow: Fish Argument Theatre will be back. But first, a scene from Plot Convenience Playhouse.
The host segments include Joel and the bots throwing a root beer kegger on the SoL, celebrating the last Gamera movie. In the invention exchange, Dr. Forrester and Frank demonstrate their Three Stooges guns while Joel turns Crow into a shish kabob. Tom Servo and Crow show Joel their diagram of Gamera’s anatomy. Joel holds Art Therapy, with each member of the SoL creating a diorama based on a scene from one of the five Gamera films. A return to the root beer kegger, with a visit by adult-aged Kenny (Mike Nelson) and Helen (Bridget Jones) riding Gamera. The episode ends with everyone, including Dr. Forrester and Frank, performing their own rendition of the Gamera Theme Song.
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 five 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 on all five episodes are about the same, considering they are all from the same season. Colors are consistent, with increased detail and minimal analog video noise and compression artifacts.
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: 3.5 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. Also included in the set are a set of original comic book style mini-posters for each episode, identical to the DVD covers. All five discs come housed in THIN-Pak keepcases within a paperboard sleeve, encased in a special edition tin box.
Disc One (Gamera):
So Happy Together: A Look Back At MST3K And Gamera (23:13): Joel Hodgson, Jim Mallon, Frank Conniff, Trace Bealieu, and J. Elvis Weinstein discuss the legacy of Gamera and MST3K.
Mystery Science Theater Hour Wraps (5:10): 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.
Original Japanese Trailer (1:56): The original trailer for Gamera is presented in Japanese audio, with no subtitles, and in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Disc Two (Gamera vs. Barugon):
Gamera vs. The Mighty Chiodo Brothers (23:37): The special effects wizards behind Killer Klowns From Outer Space discuss their love for rubber-suited monster movies. I quickly lost my patience with this featurette.
Original Japanese Trailer (1:12): The original trailer for Gamera vs. Barugon is presented in Japanese audio, with no subtitles, and in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Disc Three (Gamera vs. Gaos):
Gamera Obscura: A Brief History By August Ragone (30:02): The author of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters discusses the history of Japanese monster movies and Gamera in particular. This is very informative, and should have been included on Shout! Factory’s last Gamera DVD double-feature release.
Original Japanese Trailer (2:29): The original trailer for Gamera vs. Gaos is presented in Japanese audio, with no subtitles, and in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Disc Four (Gamera vs. Guiron):
Mystery Science Theater Hour Wraps (5:14): 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.
Original Japanese Trailer (2:12): The original trailer for Gamera vs. Guiron is presented in Japanese audio, with no subtitles, and in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Disc Five (Gamera vs. Zigra):
Original Japanese Trailer (2:21): The original trailer for Gamera vs. Zigra is presented in Japanese audio, with no subtitles, and in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Overall: 4 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), especially since this set contains five episodes that fans thought they would never see released, and can now dispose of their worn-out VHS recordings. Two of the featurettes are also quite good (So Happy Together: A Look Back At MST3K And Gamera and Gamera Obscura: A Brief History By August Ragone). This is a definite must for any fan of the series.