It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since Mystery Science Theater 3000 first hit the airwaves. Shout! Factory is celebrating with a big 25th anniversary set, which includes four new-to-DVD episodes, along with two back-to-back episodes that have been long out of print, plus a 3-part retrospective documentary and additional bonus materials, all housed in a limited-edition collector’s tin.
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: 11 Hr. 0 Min. (approx.)
Package Includes: DVDCollector's Tin
Disc Type: DVD-5 (single layer), DVD-9 (dual layer)
Release Date: 11/26/2013
In the not too distant future, somewhere in time and space.....
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
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.
This 25th anniversary set consists of six episodes spanning across five DVDs. Experiment #111, Moon Zero Two, is a poorly-conceived 1969 science fiction film from Hammer Studios, hoping to cash in on the moon craze of the late 1960s. The film has something to do with a former astronaut being hired by a crime boss to harvest an asteroid that is also a 6000 ton sapphire, while at the same time find out what happened to a young woman’s brother believed to be dead. For a season one episode, the riffs are pretty good (“He’s got the Nintendo Power Glove!”, “In space, no one can art direct.”), but the host segments (like most of season one) just kind of hang there. The opening invention exchange has Joel demonstrating his food teleporter, while the Mads show off their mouth-to-mouth toothpaste dispensers (featuring Linda Blair from The Exorcist and Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life). Joel and the Bots put on a moon landing pageant. Joel and the Bots discuss potential games of the future (Moonopoly). Crow and Tom have an argument in zero gravity over which woman from the movie is more attractive. Finally, Joel and the Bots review good and bad things about today’s movie.
The Day The Earth Froze, Experiment 422, marked the first of three Russo-Finnish fantasy co-productions that would be featured throughout the series run. Based on a Finnish myth, a blacksmith is commissioned to build a Sampo (a device that makes silver, gold, flour, and salt) in order to release his kidnapped daughter from an evil witch. When the Sampo is destroyed, the evil witch steals the sun, and the villagers must then battle the witch to release it. The story is very silly, and made even more so by the bad dubbing created by American International, who distributed the film here in the US. The episode also features the short, Here Comes The Circus, a newsreel-style documentary from 1946. The riffs by Joel and the Bots are on-par for a Season Four episode (the strongest of the Joel-era), with references to, of all things, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, the children’s game show Double Dare, Mark VII Productions, and Skylab. The host segments are very good, as well. Joel and the Bots show off their Snack-tion (treats based on ninja weapons) while Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank unveil their Unhappy Meals. Crow and Tom discuss putting on a clown act. Joel and the Bots ponder over what a Sampo actually is. Gypsy performs her one-woman musical, Gypsy Rose...Me! Finally, Tom and Crow impersonate the imprisoned wind bags from the movie while Joel reads some viewer mail.
Experiment 802, The Leech Woman, was the second episode to air on the Sci-Fi Channel, and the show was still trying to get itself back on track after a long hiatus. The fact that the movie is dark, with no characters to really root for, was another real disadvantage. Endocrinologist Paul Talbot (Philip Terry) is married to a much older (and alcoholic) June (Coleen Gray), living off her money while trying to find a cure for aging. Just as they are about to file for divorce, in walks Malla (Estelle Hemsley), an elderly African-American woman who claims to be 152 years old, thanks to Naipe, a powdery substance from her tribal homeland. Dr. Talbot then mounts an expedition, with his wife in tow, to Africa to find the substance and bring it back to America so he can make a fortune. When they arrive, they witness the ceremony to make Nala young again, which, unfortunately, requires a male sacrifice in order to mix the pollen with male pineal gland. June is offered the chance to become young again before being executed, chooses her husband as the male sacrifice, and eventually escapes back to America, only to eventually find out that she must continue to kill in order to stay young. Mike and the Bots do their best with the material at hand, and for the most part do a decent, if not great job. Tom overdoes it with his impression of Granny Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies, and riffs include references to Foster Brooks, Matlock, Fritz Lang’s M, Certs breath mints, and Janet Jackson. The host segments are still very rough, mostly due to the Sci-Fi Channel imposing a running storyline clause in their contract. Tom and Crow try to exterminate the SOL of prairie dogs. The apes devolve to wearing diapers. The Nanites resolve a labor dispute on the ship. Pearl tries to prove that she really is The Lawgiver. Tom and Crow try to steal Mike’s pineal juices. And Tom forces Crow and Mike to assist him in a Beverly Hillbillies skit, but takes it too far.
Gorgo, the movie featured in Experiment 909, was the King Brothers’ attempt to cash in on the Kaiju craze that started with Godzilla. Ocean salvagers crash near a remote island off the coast of Ireland, and awaken a large, monstrous lizard-like creature the villagers call Gorgo, and like any salvager, they capture the creature and bring him back to London to exhibit in Dorkin’s Circus. But, little do they know that they actually kidnapped a youngster, and momma is pissed and on a destruction path to find her child. The movie moves at an agonizingly slow pace, with Mike and the Bots constantly trying to rise to the occasion to keep the audience involved in the episode with their many riffs on Dorkin, Mark VII Productions (again), and callback to Robert Denby. The real highlight of the episode, for me, is the introduction by Pearl and Leonard Maltin, who claims he actually likes this movie, but it did send a few members of his writing staff into a coma.
The last disc in the set contains two long out of print episodes. Mitchell, Experiment 512, marked the final voyage of Joel Hodgson as “host” of the series. The movie itself is a messy action crime drama with Joe Don Baker in the title role as the boozing, dim-witted, and rule-breaking police detective trying to take down both a heroin dealer and a murderous socialite. The usual suspects for a film of this type are evident, including John Saxon, Martin Balsam, Linda Evans, and Merlin Olsen. The riffs are spot on in this episode, with references to Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage, GoldStar (now known as LG), Doctor Detroit, and Shaft. But it’s the host segments that really shine, sending Joel off with a blast (literally). The other episode is The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, Experiment 513, which marked the transition of host duties to head writer Mike Nelson. Although Nelson was always the go-to guy whenever they needed an extra actor for a sketch (his Torgo is a fan favorite, as was his Jack Perkins persona who served as host for the syndicated Mystery Science Theater Hour), he seems a bit uncomfortable in both the host and theater segments. The movie is a dirty little exploitation film about a narcissistic brain surgeon trying to perfect human transplants, until his fiancee is beheaded in a car accident, and he goes in search of finding her a new body. The riffs are still very good, with references to NFL Films, board game Operation, Folger’s Coffee commercials, and Fawlty Towers. The host segments have Mike being prepped by Tom and Crow for today’s movie; Mike shows off his invention, an umbrella with a gutter system while the Mads show off the Dream Buster, a device capable of popping balloons; Mike tries to fix the ship in an attempt to escape back to Earth; Mike and the Bots have a craft time; Mike shares an embarrassing story from his childhood; and Jan in the Pan pays them a visit on the hex-screen.
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 five 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 four THIN-Pak keepcases (Gorgo shares a keepcase with the two bonus episodes) within a nicely designed tin case.
Special Features Rating: 4.5/5
Disc One (Moon Zero Two):
Introduction by Hammer Films Historian Constantine Nasr (9:37): Nasr discusses the history behind the film.
Return to Eden Prairie, Part I: The Crew (12:21): The first of a three-part documentary retrospective on the series, produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.
Theatrical Trailer (2:25)
Disc Two (The Day The Earth Froze):
Return to Eden Prairie, Part II: The Locations (30:02): The second of a three-part documentary retrospective on the series, produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.
MST Hour Wraps (5:13): 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 (2:32)
Disc Three (The Leech Woman):
Return to Eden Prairie, Part III: The Characters (31:28): The third of a three-part documentary retrospective on the series, produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.
Life After MST3K: Mary Jo Pehl (7:44): Mary Jo Pehl discusses her career on the series and what she’s been up to since the show went off the air.
Theatrical Trailer (1:51)
Disc Four (Gorgo):
Ninth Wonder of the World: The Making of Gorgo (MST3K Edition) (31:11) This is a very interesting look at the background behind the movie and how it got made. Not sure if this is an edited version or not (hence the MST3K Edition subtitle).
Leonard Maltin Explains Something (0:35): Maltin pokes some fun at his intro segment from the episode, and wishes MST3K a happy 25th.
Theatrical Trailer (2:31)
Disc Five (Mitchell / The Brain That Wouldn’t Die):
Last Flight of Joel Robinson (10:37): Joel Hodgson discusses his final episode as host of MST3K.
Interview With Actress Marilyn (Hanold) Neilson (4:16): The actress, who appears very briefly in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, discuses her career.
Shout! Factory celebrates the 25th anniversary of MST3K in style with a decent set of episodes, throws in two bonus episodes along with two documentaries, interviews, and trailers in a decorative tin case. Fans will likely eat this up.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Todd Erwin
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