DVDizzy.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Cover Art | Search This Site

"Mystery Science Theater 3000" 20th Anniversary Edition DVD Review

Buy Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition DVD from Amazon.com Mystery Science Theater 3000
Show & DVD Details

Creator/Executive Producer: Joel Hodgson / Producers: Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy

Writers: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Paul Chaplin, Bridget Jones, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Bill Corbett, Jim Mallon, Frank Conniff, Joel Hodgson / Host Segment Directors: Jim Mallon, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Michael J. Nelson

Featured Movies: First Spaceship on Venus, Laserblast, Werewolf, Future War

Featured Cast: Michael J. Nelson (Mike Nelson, Abe Vigoda's Back), Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo, Professor Bobo), Trace Beaulieu (Crow T. Robot, Dr. Clayton Forrester), Joel Hodgson (Joel Robinson), Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot, Observer), Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester), Frank Conniff (TV's Frank), Jim Mallon (Gypsy, Monad), Patrick Brantseg (Gypsy), Cambot (Himself) / Guest Stars: Crist Ballas (The Gorilla), Humphrey (Wolf)

Running Time: 374 Minutes (4 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $69.99 / DVD Release Date: October 28, 2008
Featured Films Originally Released Between 1960 and 1997
Episodes Originally Aired December 1990 to April 1999
Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Cardboard Box with four clear slim keepcases

Buy from Amazon.com Buy in Collectible Tin from Amazon.com

"Mystery Science Theater 3000" was anything but your typical television show. It began in 1988 on a local Minneapolis UHF station. Founded on the belief that bad movies can be a lot of fun with the right attitude and company, the series consisted of showing low-budget movies behind silhouettes of three sarcastic commentators.
Originally comprising the trio: a human named Joel (played by creator Joel Hodgson) and puppeteered robots Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. Per the premise, the three are trapped on a space satellite and sentenced to watch horrible movies by a pair of mad scientists.

From local TV, "MST3K" (as it's commonly known) graduated to cable, providing some of the first programming for The Comedy Channel and then Comedy Central. The show spent much of the 1990s on Comedy Central, where it won a Peabody Award and was nominated for multiple Emmys. In 1993, Hodgson left, head writer Michael J. Nelson took on the lead human role (now "Mike"), and the series continued as usual. In 1996, after seven cable seasons and more than 100 two-hour episodes, the show was cancelled. But massive fan outpouring paved the way for the series to soon continue. Within a few months, new episodes began airing on the Sci-Fi Channel, where it stayed through 1999.

The title logo for "Mystery Science Theater 3000" has an appropriate low-budget charm to it. For eleven years, no B-movie was safe from being lampooned by MST3K's silhouetted commentators. Having aliens as ridiculous as those ones in "Laserblast" surely helped your chances of being featured.

Though the show has now been out of production for nine years and out of reruns since 2004, it lives on. The spirit has been upheld in Hodgson and colleagues' similar, subsequent B-movie-riffing projects Cinematic Titanic, RiffTrax and The Film Crew. As for the nearly 200 episodes and specials that made up the series itself, they continue to delight on DVD. Rhino Entertainment's video division released individual episodes and collections on DVD since 2000.

Now, Shout! Factory (a company spun off by former Rhino execs) has acquired distribution rights and makes its MST3K debut with this box set. Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition holds four episodes spanning from 1990 (the second season on Comedy Channel) to 1999 (one of the final Sci-Fi Channel shows). Three of the four are from the Mike Nelson-hosted period. The heckled films range from 1960's First Spaceship on Venus to a pair of mid-'90s movies that unsurprisingly went straight to video with whimpers. All are new to DVD and they're accompanied by their original trailers, a feature-length "MTS3K" documentary, a 2008 Comic-Con panel discussion, and -- apparently -- some collectible tangible treats.

At the prompting of his robot buddies, series creator and original host Joel Hodgson tries asking a question of a state-of-the-art new bot. Second host Mike (Michael J. Nelson), Crow, and Tom Servo don wigs and sing a doo-wop ditty inspired by the driving werewolf of "Werewolf."

The silhouettes are there largely just to explain the voices we hear. Visually, beyond moving mouths, they rarely add anything more special than to announce an impending on-camera segment.

The laughs come from the movies' cheesiness and from the speakers' remarks. The most effective ones offer an apt, perfectly-timed union between the film's visuals or chronology and the barb. When done just right, hearty hilarity ensues. The speakers alone don't have the highest percentage of success. Everything they say is meant to be a joke, and their comments aren't a non-stop stream. Still, if this were major league baseball, their performances would merit Hall of Fame admittance. Once in a while, giant guffaws do emerge.

Still, many of their references to movies, actors, musicians, and commercials, will fly over viewers' heads, even those schooled in cinema and media. Young people, and even those who were young when these first aired, absolutely won't get every passing comment. The obscurity does, however, heighten the humor for those who get the allusions.

In what qualifies as a mild disappointment, none of the movies are offered in their original forms. That was a luxury afforded by all the earliest Rhino DVD releases. While you don't get an ideal viewing of the lampooned movies in the MST3K versions, they're probably not as much fun on their own. Still, if they were already cleared this way, it would have been nice getting them sans commentary without having to buy them separately, particularly in light of the typically high cost the legally-challenged series fetches.

In "First Spaceship on Venus", astronauts of various ethnicities get ecumenical while wearing teddy bear costumes, er, spacesuits. Teenage loner Billy (Kim Milford) tries his arm at desert laserblasting in the delightfully terrible "Laserblast."

2.11: First Spaceship on Venus (1960) (1:37:30) (Episode first aired December 29, 1990)
Movie Credits - Stars: Yoko Tani, Oldrick Lukes; Writer: James Fethke; Director: Kurt Maetzig

One of many movies to ruminate outer space travel before it become a reality, this East Germany-Poland co-production is known as Der Schweigende Stern (The Silent Star) in its native tongue. The film looks ahead to the year 1985, when a multicultural team of eight astronauts investigates Venus after a mysterious spool is discovered and determined to have originated there. The crew's lone female has an amusingly awkward romantic past with one of the men. In the Satellite of Love (MTS3K's home setting), junk drawers are compared, Joel asks a question of a new state-of-the-art robot, and a visiting gorilla frightens the robots. Though many fans seem to prefer the old Joel shows over the newer Mike ones that more often turn up on DVD, this struck me as the only dull episode on the set.

7.06: Laserblast (1978) (1:32:08) (Episode first aired May 18, 1996)
Movie Credits - Stars: Kim Milford (Billy Duncan), Cheryl Smith (Kathy Farley), Gianni Russo (Tony Craig), Keenan Wynn (Col. Farley), Dennis Burkley (Pete Unger), Barry Cutler (Jesse Jeep), Ron Masak (Sheriff), Mike Bobenko (Chuck Boran), Eddie Deezen (Froggy), Roddy McDowall (Dr. Mellon); Writers: Franne Schacht, Frank Ray Perilli; Producer: Charles Band; Director: Michael Rae

Ridiculously terrible but easy to watch, Laserblast tells the story of Billy (Kim Milford), a cool teenaged loner who discovers an alien laser blaster arm extension in the desert. His acquisition has dramatic effects on him and his community, as he temporarily turns green and monstrous before blasting to smithereens anything in his way. Among those around him are his girlfriend, an odd couple of dim-witted policemen, a suave suited visitor, a puzzled doctor (a briefly-seen Roddy McDowall), and two antagonistic peers (one played by Grease's Eddie Deezen). The episode's original segments include a lesson on how to tell a good Thunderdome joke, a bout with perfection-insisting robot Monad, and a comparison of Leonard Maltin's 2-star rating of Laserblast with those given other famous films.

As he exits this liquor store, one suspects alcohol doesn't agree with "writer" Paul Niles (Fred Cavalli). The martial alien (Daniel Bernhardt) and the tough hooker-turned-nun (Travis Brooks Stewart) display '90s fashion (plaid, layers) while having a magic hour chat in the oddly appealing "Future War."

9.04: Werewolf (1996) (1:31:56) (Episode first aired April 18, 1998)
Movie Credits - Stars: George Rivero (Yuri), Fred Cavalli (Paul Niles), Adrianna Miles (Natalie Burke), Joe Estevez (Joel), Jules Desjarlais (Tommy), Richard Lynch (Noel), R.C. Bates (Sam the Keeper), Tony Zarindast (Security Guard), Randall Oliver (Bill), Heidi Bjorn (Carrie), Nina Homan, Tony Bova (Doctor), Joe Richards (Taxi Driver); Writers: Tony Zarindast, Brad Hornbacher; Producer/Director: Tony Zarindast

We enter the modern age of bad cinema with this irredeemably weak straight-to-video outing.
In Arizona, desert archaeologists uncover a skeleton they believe belongs to a werewolf. Soon, live werewolves keep turning up, thanks to an abundance of full moons and a sketchy man (Jorge Rivero) with an oft-changing hairstyle. Meanwhile, Natalie (Adrianna Miles), one of the least believable scientific researchers put on film, bonds with Paul (Fred Cavalli), a writer who's new in town. Their bedroom scene is extracted and several uses of profanity muted in making this R-rated movie suitable for '90s cable TV. The biggest name in the cast is Estevez, but it belongs to Emilio's uncle Joe Estevez, brother of Martin Sheen.

In the theater, a fall convinces Mike he's James Lipton interviewing Ray Liotta and another one turns him into a WereCrow. In addition, Mike and the robots discuss what brothers they'd cast in their own werewolf movies, perform a werewolf doo-wop song like a '50s girl group, and turn the end credits chanting into an inspired medley of well-known songs.

10.04: Future War (1997) (1:31:56) (Episode first aired April 25, 1999)
Movie Credits - Stars: Daniel Bernhardt (Runaway), Robert Z'Dar (Cyborg Master), Travis Brooks Stewart (Sister Ann), Kazja (Cyborg), Ray Adash (Captain Polaris), Andre Skruggs (Fred), David Jacobs (Romero), Al Juliano (Oscar), Matthew Sakimoto (Max), Arthur Cruz (Mike), Joanne Takahashi (Dr. Tanaka), Mary Shelton (Medical Examiner), Tracy Robertson (Chadwick), Tom Richards (Cameron), Forrest J. Ackerman (Park Victim), Patrick Wait (Joey), Betsy Muniz (Tester), Mel Novak (Otis); Writers: David Hue (story), Dom Magwilli (story & screenplay); Director: Anthony Doublin

Self-destructing dinosaurs and mustachioed cyborg men pose threats to an alien-bred runaway slave (Daniel Bernhardt, the broke man's Jean-Claude Van Damme) and a guilt-ridden former prostitute training to be a nun (Travis Brooks Stewart). He calls himself a tool and she has drug gang connections, but upon meeting in present-day Los Angeles, they realize they've got what it takes to stop the evil cyborgs of the future and their tracking dinosaurs. Also along for the ride are a couple of bulky men and a plethora of cardboard boxes. A different and more familiar kind of bad movie, the strangely-titled Future War actually qualifies as somewhat engrossing, but its outlandish ways offer plenty of funny fodder. With occasional muted profanity, this would have been rated R had it been submitted to the MPAA (instead, Universal labeled it "EM" - Extremely Mature). Inspired by an exchange in the movie, Mike and the robots thank dungeon dweller Pearl for not killing them. They also have fun with the one-by-one opening credits and playing with forced perspective over the end credits.

In a fond parody of the final act of "2001: A Space Odyssey", an aged Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) points at his monolith: a giant video cassette of The Worst Movie Ever Made. Anyone for tennis? You don't even need the witty MST3K writers to be laughing when this hilarious fight breaks out in "Laserblast."

VIDEO and AUDIO

"MST3K" is definitely not something you'll use to show off your home theater's picture and sound capabilities. The featured movies show their age or low budget with noticeable wear. Their colors are always faded, their prints generally unsteady and sometimes littered.
In addition to being partially covered by the commentators' silhouettes, most of them are cropped from widescreen ratios to fill the screen. First Spaceship's audio is out of sync with the picture. Even on synchronized ones, the sound is quite soft to allow being heard over. That said, the rudimentary presentation factors into the series' charm. These aren't classic remastered movies being treated with reverence. They're lame ones that would merit your attention at a bad yard sale or store closeout and they look that part.

The original content from the show isn't perfect either, but it's satisfying enough considering the modest production values. Like your typical 1990s cable TV program, the picture is fullscreen and the sound is Dolby Stereo. Neither subtitles nor closed captions are provided, which is annoying since this is a show where either would occasionally come in handy to clarify or confirm a comment or line.

One of the earliest and cheapest episodes of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is seen briefly in 3-part documentary "The History of MST3K." Permanent head writer and host of most episodes on DVD Michael J. Nelson doesn't look much different today. He is one of the more prominent of the documentary's thirteen interview subjects. In its trailer, "First Spaceship on Venus" aspires to be wilder than today's wildest science fiction. Unfortunately, the movie is an exception to the MST3K rule "the worse the movie, the better the episode."

BONUS FEATURES

The big standout extra is the 81-minute documentary "The History of MST3K" that's divided into roughly even parts on Discs 1 through 3. Chronological and thorough, this lengthy piece is comprised chiefly of clips from new interviews of 13 individuals, which are complemented by relevant show excerpts. Among those interviewed are creator/original star Joel Hodgson, head writer/second host Michael J. Nelson, producer/director Jim Mallon; and writer/performers Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and Bill Corbett. Also seen are writers Bridget (Jones) Nelson and Paul Chaplin and official MST3K fan site administrators Brian Henry and Chris Cornell.

Part 1 (25:25) provides good coverage of the series' start, detailing how original concepts came together, the inspiration for the silhouette format, the process of improvising riffs, and penning the expositional "Gilligan's Island"-esque theme song. There's some footage from the earliest shows that aired on Minneapolis' KTMA and reminiscing of its warm reception there. Part 2 (23:05) discusses changes that were made in moving to cable, the lucky stroke of retaining copyrights, the addition of writers, the process of group scripting during a viewing, creating secondary sketches, and (very briefly) Joel's departure and the subsequent recasting. Part 3 (32:25) proceeds to tackle the 1996 movie and its extremely limited rollout, the show's cancellation and move to the Sci-Fi Channel, more personnel changes occurring in the later seasons, the show's passionate fan base, and the newsletter. This final part includes some brief glimpses of the MST3K live show and fan conventions.

In addition, each DVD contains the original trailers for the ridiculed feature, which are all the more amusing since they're serious and unedited. Each preview runs 80-100 seconds. Laserblast's is especially hilarious ("Prepare to have your mind blown"), and Werewolf prominently features parts of an apparently cut sex scene.

Patton Oswalt hosts an 11-member panel celebrating MST3K's 20th Anniversary at the 2008 Comic-Con in San Diego. Later season antagonists Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl, center) appears with her sidekicks Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy) and Brain Guy (Bill Corbett) in one of the final "Variations of a Theme Song." The Main Menu on Future War boasts the most number of options. In this part, it balances a shot of Mike with the movie's tough nun.

Another substantial supplement is found on Disc 4: "MST3K at Comic-Con '08" (37:57). Hosted by comedian Patton Oswalt, the 20th anniversary panel features eleven cast/crew members you'll recognize from the set's documentary (and many from the show itself, of course).
Some of the stories repeat the documentary's material but a lot of new information emerges too, such as movies considered but rejected, stories on the landmark Manos: The Hands of Fate episode, and reactions of the lampooned filmmakers. Plus, it's rendered different from the format and the geek electricity of the venue.

"Variations of a Theme Song" (9:30) provides the different opening title sequences that MST3K employed over the years. Though the gist of the exposition remains the same, the lyrics, imagery, and cast change and that's enough to make this a nifty reel. Each sequence runs a little over 90 seconds.

Disc 1 opens with a number of previews from the "Shout! Factory Trailer Workshop" which showcase "Oban Star-Racers": The Complete Series, "Code Monkeys": The Complete First Season, and "Swamp Thing: The Series" - Volumes 1 & 2.

MENUS and PACKAGING

The animated but low-key menus feature CGI versions of Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot in a varying location (alien planet, desert, and the regular spaceship) while a small slideshow previews the disc's film. Appropriate sound effects are heard, be they spacey noises on Venus or the loud tribal chants on Werewolf. Chapter stops are provided but a designated scene menu is unfortunately absent.

This DVD was announced as coming in a collectible embossed tin with lobby cards and a Crow T. Robot figurine. My review copy didn't have any of that, making it quite a bit tougher to justify the set $70 list price. I'm guessing that retail versions will have all that was announced and I just got the ordinary cardboard box inside. Inside that, the discs are packaged in four clear slimcases. Each one boasts cover artwork resembling vintage B-movie poster designs. A fold-open mini-booklet advertises Shout Factory DVDs and CDs.

If it looks like Jean-Claude Van Damme and the wizards at ILM have teamed up to bring you this awesome man-versus-dinosaur scene, please take a closer look. Awooo! Werewolf of Arizona!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Mystery Science Theater 3000" is certainly entertaining and, at times, riotous. But based on its length and format, it doesn't have as much replay value as most other TV shows you might enjoy as much. The considerable list price also encourages renting over buying, especially from this review copy's exclusion of the tin, figures, and lobby cards. Still, if you're looking to own some of this unique and funny program, this bonus-bountiful collection may be as good a value as any other pricey MST3K DVD, especially with preorder/release week discounts.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy in Tin with Figures from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
New to DVD: NewsRadio: The Complete Series Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Iron Man
2001: A Space Odyssey The Godfather Trilogy (The Coppola Restoration) Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection
The Black Hole Eat My Dust (Supercharged Edition) Strange Wilderness Jumper Transformers Lake Placid 2 Cloverfield
COPS: 20th Anniversary Edition Freakazoid!: Season 1 The Best of The Colbert Report Reno 911!: The Complete Fifth Season
The Muppet Show: Season Three Alvin and the Chipmunks Go to the Movies: Daytona Jones and the Pearl of Wisdom

DVDizzy.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Cover Art | Search This Site

Search This Site:

DVDizzy.com Top Stories:

Reviewed October 19, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1990-99 Best Brains, Inc. and 2008 Shout! Factory. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.