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"Mystery Science Theater 3000" The Wild World of Batwoman DVD Review

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Wild World of Bat Woman DVD cover art -- click to buy Mystery Science Theater: The Wild World of Bat Woman
Show, Episode, Film & DVD Details

Original Airdate: November 13, 1993 / Episode Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Creator: Joel Hodgson / Producer/Director: Jim Mallon

Writers: Michael J. Nelson (head writer), Trace Beaulieu, Paul Chaplin, Frank Conniff, Kevin Murphy, Mary Jo Pehl, David Sussman, Bridget Jones, Jim Mallon, Colleen Henjum-Williams

Cast: Trace Beaulieu (Crow T. Robot, Dr. Clayton Forrester), Michael J. Nelson (Mike Nelson), Jim Mallon (Gypsy), Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo), Frank Conniff (TV's Frank)

The Wild Wild World of Batwoman

Theatrical Release: 1966 / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Director/Producer: Jerry Warren

Cast: Katherine Victor (Batwoman), George Andre (Professor G. Octavius Neon), Steve Brodie (Jim Flanagan), Richard Banks (J.B. Christians/Rat Fink), Steve Conte (Bruno), Mel Oshins (Tiger), Bruno Vesota (Seltzer), Bob Arbogast (voice of Séance Spirits), The Young Giants (Themselves), Lucki Winn (Bat Girl), Suzanne Lodge (Bat Girl), Pam Garry (Bat Girl), Sylvia Holiday (Bat Girl), Francis Bryan (Bat Girl), Leah London (Bat Girl), Lloyd Nelson (Heathcliff)

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English) / Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Price: $14.99 / DVD Release Date: March 20, 2012
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Clear Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video; Previously released on DVD (discontinued)

Buy Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Wild World of Batwoman on DVD from Shout! Factory Store

"Mystery Science Theater 3000" certainly didn't end due to a lack of targets worth skewering. The 1950s B-movie may seem like the most obvious subject for the show's human captive and robot friends to riff upon, but the Satellite of Love gang made fun of everything they could find;
the cheaper and more obscure, the better. Every period and genre of film has had their clunkers and there is plenty of fun to be had in both discovering and ridiculing nominal works.

In Season 5, just four episodes into head writer Michael J. Nelson's run as human protagonist Mike Nelson, "MST3K" turned its attentions to The Wild World of Batwoman, a black & white sci-fi movie from the 1960s. Unrelated to Kathy Kane, Batman's love interest introduced in DC's 1950s comics, this Batwoman nonetheless was not the product of coincidence but opportunism.

1966 had given new life to the nearly 30-year-old Gotham City superhero with the debut of an ABC television series and the release of a theatrical film from the same production. Jerry Warren, the writer, producer, and director of such films as Teenage Zombies, Face of the Screaming Werewolf, and Attack of the Mayan Mummy, thought he could exploit the nation's Batfever with his own low-budget superhero film. Due to the obvious title similarities, Warren's company was sued for copyright infringement, but won.

In the longest shot of the film, Batwoman (Katherine Victor) conducts a séance that inexplicably keeps breaking down into an offensively fake approximation of the Chinese language. True love conquers all for this bad guy and his bound Bat Girl.

Today, with Batman one of the biggest draws at the box office for over twenty years, it seems almost amusing for the caped crusader's copyright holders to acknowledge this dumb little film and view it as a threat to their property. But this was long before Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan lent art and high production values to the character; Warren's movie wasn't all that far from the makings and design of the decidedly camp 1960s Batman of TV and film.

The Wild World of Batwoman seems like it should fall into the "so bad it's good" class, but a distinct lack of coherency causes it to swing back around to just plain bad. Repeat Warren star Katherine Victor holds the title role, playing a masked heroine with no super powers and seemingly no batlike attributes. Batwoman does however sport a costume with a low-cut top, which shows off both her busty figure and a bat tattoo on her chest (which Victor herself designed and applied with a cardboard cutout and black eyeliner).

Batwoman appears to be on the side of good, although her actual purpose and duty remain a bit mysterious. She does have dozens of faithful subjects, all of them younger women dressed in skimpy, midriff-baring outfits and equipped with wrist radios. Fortunately, Warren has crafted a storyline which gives ample reason for Batwoman's girls to dance, as the result of a drugged soup they have been served. There are bad men in suits and lab coats, some of whom have developed an atomic-powered hearing aid for which a patent is being sought. There is also the villain Rat Fink, who seems almost too bizarre to have been humorlessly written (in the climax, he multiplies himself). None of the dots are connected, but one abducted Batgirl falls for one of the baddies and true love conquers all, for them at least.

Rat Fink multiplies in the climax of "The Wild Wild World of Batwoman." TV's Frank (Frank Conniff) gives Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) an atomic hair makeover.

Mike, Crow, and Tom Servo add plenty of amusement to the film with their witty narration, observations, technical criticisms, musical connections, spot-on references, and non sequiturs. Still, there's only so much life to be breathed into a movie too dim and impulsive to even follow. One long scene consists of a séance in which the slow-talking party contacted keeps resorting to speaking in offensively unrealistic Chinese.
Another brief sequence introduces monsters, as Mike and company rightly point out, from another movie altogether (1956 Universal flick The Mole People). Batwoman is flavorful enough to prefer over duller "MST3K" subjects, but it is still too creatively deficient and outright awful to lend itself to non-stop hilarity. With this episode hard enough to get through, I can only imagine how painful the movie would be without the snarky commentary.

Before the brisk Batwoman begins, we watch a 10-minute 1952 short film called Cheating, in which schoolboy John Taylor and his friends discover the shame and pain of cheating on a test. Mike and company linger on this educational pre-feature, with Crow T. Robot being put on trial for his own plagiarism of Gypsy in the in-studio sketches. Other spaceship bits include an episode-opening game of confused blackjack, TV's Frank (Frank Conniff) trying out an atomic-powered hair dryer on Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu), and Mike demonstrating a large razor with which you can attack unwanted back hair.

This "MST3K" episode of Batwoman was released to DVD on its own by the series' former home video distributor Rhino back in January 2001. Accordingly, it has been out of print for a while and sealed new copies will run you $30 or more. Those prices might be going down, however, now that Shout! Factory has reprinted the episode as a Shout! Select DVD. For the time being, the DVD is available exclusively from the studio's store, where it currently sells for $14.99 plus shipping and handling.

In the 1952 short "Cheating", schoolboy John Taylor's guilt conjures up the image of the mother he's disappointed. The background stars are animated in the DVD's basic but fitting one menu.

VIDEO and AUDIO

This exclusive DVD boasts the same usual quality as other Shout! Factory releases of the series. The movie has its visual and aural shortcomings (some of them noted by the episode's commentary), but fewer than many "MST3K" subjects. Meanwhile, the original content looks just fine; far from stunning, but about the best you'd expect from a nearly 20-year-old cable program inexpensively produced in the middle of the country. Subtract points for Shout!'s usual lack of both subtitles and closed captioning. I can't be alone in wishing that they could make one of those (preferably subtitles) work, especially given the not quite bargain bin pricing of this franchise's DVDs. I'd imagine that given the opportunity, fans of the series might even volunteer their transcription services.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

As usual for these Shout! Select releases, this DVD is void of bonus features. All it offers besides the episode is a single menu fitted with mild background animation, a loop of Batwoman score, and a "Play Movie" listing. Rhino's DVD did include an uncut version of the film, a nice touch that has sadly long since disappeared from "MST3K" DVDs. Obviously, the episode is sure to be the more diverting presentation, but it is unfortunate that Batwoman does not appear to be available on DVD on its own in any way now.

The clear keepcase includes a thoughtful description of the episode and the appropriate usual designs with an original Batwoman poster to fit this episode.

Crow T. Robot keeps hitting in the episode-opening game of blackjack dealt by Mike Nelson (Michael J. Nelson). The oft-dancing Bat Girls are all ears while their leader Batwoman (Katherine Victor) addresses them.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Wild World of Batwoman is undoubtedly one of the most outlandish superhero stories committed to film, if you can even call it that. A shameless attempt to cash-in on Batman's new TV and film popularity, this 1960s movie is lacking creatively, technically, and in any other way you can imagine. Alas, while its failings fuel a good amount of humorous barbs from the "MST3K" gang, its sheer unwatchability prevent this Season 5 episode from being too enjoyable. Any "MST3K" fan would probably find it worthwhile to see this episode, but only completists will feel the need to own it. Shout! Factory's exclusive DVD provides the bare essentials, making it a bit slight for the asking price but probably just right for the still faithful following that wants nothing more than to see or revisit the episode in professional DVD quality.

Buy MST3K: The Wild World of Batwoman from Shout! Factory / Rent on Amazon Instant Video

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Reviewed April 13, 2012.



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