The 26th collection of episodes from Mystery Science Theater 3000 arrives on DVD from Shout! Factory with two episodes fans thought would never arrive, along with two other episodes that are true gems, plus some entertaining and informative bonus features.
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 8 Hr. 0 Min.
Package Includes: DVDTHINPak
Disc Type: DVD-9 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/26/2013
In the not too distant future, somewhere in time and space.....
The Production Rating: 4/5
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 26 is the fourteenth set of episodes to be released by Shout! Factory. The mix of episodes consists of three from the Comedy Central era (one Joel and two Mike) and one from the Sci-Fi Channel era.
Actually one of director Bert I. Gordon’s better films (and in color), Experiment #411, The Magic Sword, is a medieval fantasy involving an evil wizard, Lodac (played by a scenery-chewing Basil Rathbone), who kidnaps Princess Helene (Anne Helm) as a sacrifice to his pet dragon. George (Gary Lockwood), an orphan raised by sorceress Sybil (Estelle Winwood), has admired Helene from afar and uses the gifts he is to receive on his 21st birthday to trap Sybil in the basement and subsequently rescue the princess. As with many of Bert I. Gordon’s films, the plot gets needlessly silly, and the effects overly cheesy, the main ingredients for a good episode of MST3K. After all, Gordon’s filmography pretty much reads like an episode guide to the series. This is the lone Joel episode of the set, and contains some fun riffs (including references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Welcome Back Kotter, George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words routine, and Jane Fonda’s workout videos). The host segments are fairly good, too (Joel pretends to be a caricature artist, Joel and the Bots demonstrate their Big Gulp berets while the Mads show off their Bio-Hazard Absorbent pillows during the invention exchange, and Crow sings his ode to Estelle).
One of the largest manufacturer of movie schlock during the 1980s was The Canon Group, then led by the producing team of Golan-Globus, and one of its more prolific directors was Albert Pyun, the man responsible for Alien From L.A., the movie featured in Experiment #516. The film would mark the acting debut of super-model Kathy Ireland. The movie is a confusing adaptation of Jules Verne’s Journey To The Center of the Earth, with “teenage” Wanda (Ireland) travelling to Africa in search of her father and falling down a hole into the underground world of Atlantis, where she meets scavenger Gus Edway (William R. Moses) along with an assortment of odd characters, including crime boss Mambino (Deep Roy, wearing 3-inch eyelashes). Wanda soon finds herself being chased by the secret police who are holding her father captive as a suspected spy. The movie is ripe for riffing, and Mike and the Bots have a field day, with references to Kiefer Sutherland, Baywatch, LensCrafters (and PearleVision), David Letterman sidekick Paul Shaffer, Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Mad Max, Lord of the Rings, and (of course) Sports Illustrated. Host segments include Boot Camp on the SOL, Vend-A-Gut and refrigerator udders in the invention exchange, Crow and Servo try to remember the name of their favorite super model, and the “Guess Kathy’s Emotion” game.
Experiment #620, Danger! Death Ray, is another of the many James Bond knock-offs featured on the series. A scientist is about to demonstrate his latest invention, a death ray (created for “peaceful purposes”), but ends up being abducted along with his invention by a group of thugs who want to use the ray for evil purposes. Secret Agent Bart Fargo (Gordon Scott) is called away from his vacation to retrieve both the scientist and the death ray. Along the way, Fargo romances his way with several attractive women and does nothing particularly exciting to overthrow the evil mob. The movie is perfect fodder for the series, as the plot is ludicrous (the death ray is practically forgotten until the final so-called climax), the hero laughable, and the doo-wop 1960s score is completely out of place. Riffs are rapid fire in this episode, with references to Buckaroo Banzai, Willy Wonka, Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man, Timecop, Kids In The Hall, and Gideon International. The host segments are very entertaining, as well, as Crow gets contact lenses, Servo gets an endorsement deal for sneakers, TV’s Frank becomes a talent agent, Servo builds his own Death Ray (also for peaceful purposes), Servo plays host to This Is Your Life with special guest Mike, and Crow shows off his line of effeminate male sunglasses.
When the series moved from Comedy Central to the Sci-Fi Channel, restrictions as to the types of movies that could be featured and the insistence of a continual storyline for the host segments were placed on the show’s writers and producers. Thus, the first few episodes from season eight often felt forced and the show never regained its footing until about halfway through the season. Still, there is much to like about Experiment #803, The Mole People, the second movie in this set taking place in an underground universe. Roger Bentley (John Agar) leads a team of archeologists up a mountain in Asia, where they discover the ancient underground world of Sumaria, and are at first treated as gods. But the Sumarians have enslaved the mutated Mole People to harvest food, and when the mole people kills one of the archaeologists, they are no longer believed to be gods but intruders, and the high priest Elinu (Alan Napier) demands they be put to death. The Mole People is, more or less, a low-budget, monster-movie knock-off of Frank Capra’s classic Lost Horizon. The riffing and host segments are not quite on the same level as the rest of the episodes in this set, but are still smile-inducing, to say the least. References include Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, the rock band Cheap Trick, Sam’s Club, BluBlocker sunglasses, Happy Days, Leave It To Beaver, and Nike. Host segments include Crow’s glowing eyes, Crow and Servo have a Bake Sale for Law Giver Daze, Servo tries to sing a folk song, and Crow finds evidence of his former self.
MST3K Volume XXVI Trailer
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.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
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 some minor softness to it, but colors are consistent. The remaining discs are excellent, with increased detail and well-defined colors. Throughout all four discs, however, there are some brief minor anomalies inherent in the broadcast masters, such as dropouts, but these are few and far between.
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.
Audio Rating: 3/5
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.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Disc One (The Magic Sword):
Bert I. Gordon: The Amazing Colossal Filmmaker (7:48): The famed B-movie director and special effects producer discusses his career.
MST Hour Wraps (5:09): 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.
Theatrical Trailer (2:41): The original theatrical trailer for The Magic Sword, presented in 16:9 widescreen.
Disc Two (Alien From L.A.):
Interview With Albert Pyun (8:26): The modern-day Ed Wood discusses making Alien From L.A. under his production deal at The Canon Group.
Theatrical Trailer (1:23): The original theatrical trailer for Alien From L.A., presented in 4:3 full frame.
Disc Three (Danger! Death Ray):
Life After MST3K: Mike Nelson (11:57): Mike Nelson discusses his career, starting as a writer on MST3K, his novels, and starting RiffTrax as a way to continue the work he enjoyed on the hit series.
Theatrical Trailer (2:43): The original theatrical trailer for Danger! Death Ray, presented in 16:9 widescreen.
Disc Four (The Mole People):
Of Mushrooms and Madmen: Making The Mole People (17:20): C. Courtney Joyner, Bob Burns, and Tom Weaver discuss the state of the horror film at Universal prior to the making of The Mole People, the mandates the studio made regarding the use of stock footage on lower budget pictures, and some of the issues the film had with the production code.
Theatrical Trailer (1:59): The original theatrical trailer for The Mole People, presented in 4:3 full frame.
Shout! Factory continues to put a lot of much-appreciated effort into their MST3K sets, and the show’s fanbase will yet again likely not be disappointed with this release. Fans will also be pleased that many episodes long thought to be “lost” forever in licensing hell are finally getting released.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Todd Erwin
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