Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Unearthly:
Through no fault of my own, I've never been a MSTie kind of guy. It's down to two words: no cable. Yes, I could have rented, and now I have even more options, but the few times I have caught a bit of an episode here or there, it was clear to me what MST3K is meant to be, and that's cable TV comfort food. Probably best enjoyed on a cold, dark, winter's night. But here is Shout! Factory, bringing some of that cheesy goodness to you (and me) in the form of some newly released DVDs of old episodes. Time to climb aboard the Satellite of Love again, for the first time.
Series creator Joel Hodgson, for about half of the series' run, played Joel Robinson, a poor man trapped on a satellite by a mad scientist, forced to watch awful science fiction movies with his two robot buddies. Trying to stay sane, the trio keeps up a running commentary on the movie they're watching - like going to a movie theatre today, only with intelligence and wit. With a goofy theme song, a pseudo plot to precede each movie, and commercial interjections, Joel, Tom Servo and Crow keep the laughs and convivial atmosphere going.
They have to, otherwise movies such as The Unearthly would have them hitching a ride on the nearest meteorite - minus any safety gear. The Unearthly stars an already-ancient John Carradine as a mad scientist interested in creating his own version of the fountain of youth, which he wisely decides to accomplish by shoving his sicko invention - gland 17 - into unwitting subjects. Plus, he has Tor Johnson to help him out. With about 60-minutes of actual feature run-time, The Unearthly packs a lot of half-hearted bad in. Not Ed Wood bad, but bad enough to give Joel and the robots plenty of fodder.
For the uninitiated (me) it may be hard to get the gist of MST3K. You have to be on your toes to catch some of their references. You have to be a big geek, too. (I noted two obscure Talking Heads/Jerry Harrison references, for instance.) And you have to not care much about the movie, since the guys frequently walk all over dialog to make their jokes. Necessary, sure, but sometimes you can miss both the dialog and the joke as audio conflicts with itself. On the most important hand, however is the fact that the crew's patter is astute, quick and frequently laugh-out-loud funny.
As far as The Unearthly goes, it's a film that's really hard to care about. I don't think I've ever met anyone who would self-describe as a John Carradine fan, so that ruins about half of the flick. Conversely, probably all MSTies love Tor "Time for go to bed" Johnson and his stiff, Balkan stumbling. The movie itself is neither thrilling nor engrossing. It is, however, incompetently shot and dull, with only some Neanderthal experiments gone wrong at the end to provide what once might have been a chill.
From what I can tell, real MST3K fans are a bit obsessive, and already have all the box-sets with Crow collectibles and what not - lord knows there was a healthy VHS trading scene going on even in the early MSTie years - so they probably don't need this at all. But I guess for relative newbies like me, this is a great chance to curl up at night, by the cozy digital light of your fire, and let someone else make fun of the movies for a change.
Shout! Factory preserves the original aspect ratio of MST3K, presenting it in a 1.33:1 fullscreen way. This doesn't preserve the OAR of The Unearthly however, but who's counting? The movie is sourced from the crummiest public domain print imaginable, with plenty of film damage to go with a nice, washed-out, blue patina. If it weren't for the Satellite crew, you'd throw this disk away. Speaking of, their segments are pretty sharp and detailed, with ultra-bright colors and a sincere early-'90s, shot-on-video sheen.
Digital Audio is unremarkable. Sometimes it's hard to separate the jokes from the dialog, but that's about it. Oh yes, Unearthly audio is in poor shape, but clear enough for you to be able to hear what the jokes refer to.
There are no real extras to speak of, but since Unearthly is only an hour long ... in the original episode (and included here) we sit helplessly as the boys are forced to watch two short subjects prior to the movie. These are Posture Pals and Appreciating Our Parents, two cold war educational films attempting to dupe kids into being good. Robinson, Servo and Robot do the subjects justice.
I can't rank this MST3K episode among others, but it's a likely bet that if you're reading this you're already a fan who can, or, like me, you don't know enough to care. The Unearthly is a pretty terrible pot-boiler about a mad scientist (John Carradine) creating lame monsters that he locks up in his basement, in his quest for eternal youth. Joel Robinson, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot yuck it up enough to make the experience rather pleasant, but since most MSTie maniacs probably already have this in one form or another, this barebones disk is one the general public should probably Rent.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com