This 27th collection of episodes from Mystery Science Theater 3000 on DVD from Shout! Factory may make one wonder if the barrel of available episodes is beginning to be scraped. There aren’t any standout episodes in this set, and the episodes are average, at best.
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Run Time: 6 Hr. 5 Min.
Package Includes: DVDTHINPak
Disc Type: DVD-5 (single layer), DVD-9 (dual layer)
Release Date: 07/23/2013
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
In the not too distant future, somewhere in time and space.....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 27 is the fifteenth set of episodes to be released by Shout! Factory. The mix of episodes consists of three from the Comedy Central era (two Joel and one Mike) and one from the Sci-Fi Channel era.
The set begins with Experiment #108, which features episode #6 of the serial Radar Men From the Moon and the 1963 feature The Slime People, an ultra-cheap (so cheap that it reportedly ran out of money nine days into shooting) about a race of underground creatures that create an impenetrable fog shield around Los Angeles in order to invade and take over the city, only to be thwarted by a TV news pilot (Robert Hutton, who also “directed”), a scientist and his two daughters, and an AWOL Marine. The creatures look like rejects from Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World, and the movie is a perfect of example of when the fog machine gets out of control. The host segments and riffing are about average for a first season episode (the series didn’t find its rhythm until season three), although I did like Joel’s cartoon glasses from the invention exchange skit.
Disc Two contains Experiment 205 from the second season, which includes chapter two of the serial The Phantom Creeps with Bela Lugosi, and the Anti-Soviet propaganda feature Rocket Attack U.S.A. This is a fairly good episode, mostly due to the fact that there is absolutely no entertainment value whatsoever in the feature film, which doesn’t even try to hide its political message of trying to inject fear of nuclear annihilation into its viewers. So much so, that the narrator delivers a play by play during almost every Soviet War Room scene, rather than having the Soviets speak English. Joel and the Bots have some clever riffs (I particularly enjoyed the bad service bit at the nightclub), and the host segments are pretty good for a second season episode (the Charlie McCarthy hearings had me in stitches).
Disc Three brings us another Bert I. Gordon, um, classic, Village of the Giants as featured in Experiment 523. Loosely based on H.G Wells The Food of the Gods, the film has a bunch of 60s teenage (?) delinquents ingesting a growth substance and then taking over the town, and features a lot of faces that are familiar to modern audiences, including Beau Bridges (Stargate: SG-1), Joe Turkel (Blade Runner), Toni Basil (music video choreographer, best known for the song Mickey), and former child stars Ron Howard (The Andy Griffith Show) and Tommy Kirk (Old Yeller). The host segments have a running theme, in which Dr. F has downsized Deep 13 by letting TV’s Frank go, and hiring TVs Torgo (Mike Nelson) in his place, and includes the poignant song Let Me Frank About Frank (which we find out during the end credits is also a tribute to the late Frank Zappa, who passed away shortly before this episode was taped). The riffing by Mike and the Bots is above average, and I got a good chuckle over the numerous references to Ron Howard’s Willow.
Experiment 804, The Deadly Mantis, is featured on the fourth disc, a mutant giant bug movie consisting of a large portion of stock footage. A giant praying mantis, frozen for centuries, is released from suspended animation and wreaks havoc at the North Pole, and works his way down to Washington, D.C. This Season Eight episode shows some promise that the writing was getting back on track after the long hiatus and move from Comedy Central to the Sci Fi Channel, particularly the riffing. My favorite from this episode (and perhaps this season) is Tom Servo’s reference to Frosty The Snowman. The host segments, though, are still bogged down with the continuing storyline that the network forced upon the writers, but there are some good moments, such as beginning the running gag of the Sci Fi era of Mike being the destroyer of worlds.
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, created by Steve Vance. All five discs come housed in THIN-Pak keepcases within a paperboard sleeve.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Disc One (Slime People):
Interview with Judith (Morton) Fraser (6:53): The actress, who played Bonnie, discusses how she became an actress and shares some insights into the making of The Slime People.
Theatrical Trailer (1:05)
Disc Two (Rocket Attack U.S.A.):
Life After MST3K: Trace Beaulieu (7:03): The man behind Dr. F and the voice of Crow (seasons 1-7) discusses his career after leaving the series, including his work on America’s Funniest Videos and Freaks & Geeks.
Disc Three (Village of the Giants):
Interview with Joy Harmon (7:05): The actress who played Merrie discusses her career, including working with Groucho Marx, and making Village of the Giants.
Theatrical Trailer (2:23)
Disc Four (The Deadly Mantis):
Introduction by Mary Jo Pehl (4:38): Pearl Forrester herself gives her thoughts on the episode.
Chasing Rosebud: The Cinematic Life of William Alland (12:34): A look at the career of film producer William Alland.
Theatrical Trailer (2:09)
Shout! Factory continues to put a lot of much-appreciated effort into their MST3K sets, but we are getting close to the end of episodes available to be released, and the bonus features are also becoming sparse. The show’s fanbase, though, will yet again likely not be disappointed with this release.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Todd Erwin
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