Mystery Science Theater 3000 is 25 years old?!? Wow, it doesn't seem like that long ago that I stumbled upon the show. I was astonished that anyone, even a cable station, would broadcast a program that featured people talking over a movie. Who would watch that?? It only took me a few minutes to become a convert and I've been hooked every since. To celebrate the momentous anniversary, Shout! Factory has released a special set of six MST3K episodes (four of which are new to DVD) under the appropriate title of Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition. There's some great comedy here, a very rare episodes, as well as the two episodes where the baton was passed from Joel to Mike. What more could you want?
The new episodes in this set are:
Moon Zero Two (episode 111): "In space, no one can hear a wegdie." - Crow
The first season of MST had its moments, but it was generally a learning experience. It took Joel and the rest of the crew a while to figure out what would work and what wouldn't and even late in the season, like this installment, the comedy is a bit more miss than hit.
The plot revolves around a down-on-his-luck astronaut named Kemp. He is hired by the villain to crash an asteroid on to the dark side of the moon and make it look like an accident. It's illegal, but Kemp's license is about to be revoked and he needs the money. While he's making plans to crash the rock Kemp meets up with girl who is looking for her brother, a miner, who mysteriously disappeared on the dark side of the moon. Hmmmm....
This movie is really bad, much worse than the synopsis suggests. It's one of those films where they throw every genre they can into the mix, hoping "more" will lead to "better." It doesn't. With the wild costumes, hip jazz soundtrack, and hokey dialog you'd think that this would be perfect for MST. It is, for the first part of the movie. This episode starts off very strong with some great jabs at the animated titles and some funny lines about how ridiculous the movie is. Then, about a third of the way through, Joel and the 'bots start to loose steam. The jokes are less frequent and they aren't nearly as funny. For the first season it's a pretty good show with some good comedy, but it's a little too uneven overall to be considered great.
The Day the Earth Froze (episode 422) "If you think you know what a Sampo is, write it down on a piece of paper, throw it away, and try not to think about it... you'll be glad you did." - Tom
Yes, this is the one with the Sampo! A favorite of mine from its original airing, the episode starts out strong and keeps the jokes coming through the entire show. The invention exchange features Dr. Forrester's new idea, (one that he's invested all of Frank's money in): The Unhappy Meal. A truly dastardly idea... that hasn't quite sold as well as they had hoped.
The real meat of the show starts with the short, Here's comes the Circus. It's an interesting short that features a look at a circus circa 1946 but the riffs are what make it worth watching. From the entrance of the performers ("It's Beezlebub the Clown!") and the trapeze act ("Listen, you hit the floor a couple of times, you make sure you get it right.") the jokes fly fast and furious.
The feature is a very odd Russian/Finnish production adapting on old Nordic fable. It's hard to make heads or tails of the plot, but it seems to involve a witch who kidnaps a girl in order to ransom her. When her boyfriend arrives to retrieve her, the witch tells him there is only one way for him to win the girl's freedom... he must build her a Sampo! He does, and after leaving with the girl sneaks back in order to try to steal the Sampo. When that doesn't work, the witch gets angry as steals the sun.
This weird, bizarre movie plays works well on MST. The jokes are off kilter and weird, which is when the show is the best. Crow sings a beach Boys song ("I vish they all could be Norvegian girls..."), they mock the hero musically ("Failure, failure, total failure... He's a loser, la la la"), and everyone makes fun of the mystical device that's supposed to be fashioned mercilessly ("Kids come runnin' for the rich taste of Sampo!"). It's all around a great experiment.
The Leech Woman (episode 802): "This is like a murderous episode of Lucy." - Mike
This is a low-budget thriller that is fun to watch when it's being riffed. A doctor, Paul Talbot, is approached by an old black woman who claims to be 140 years old. She wants to return to her native Africa and in return for her transportation she's willing to share her secret of longevity and youth with the man. Paul heads out to Africa with the woman, along with his aged wife June, and does indeed learn the trip. Apparently taking an extract of the male pineal gland, obtained by stabbing a man in the back of the neck (and killing him) with a special ring, will make a woman young again, for a short time. When June discovers that she was only brought along to be Paul's guinea pig, she steals the ring and kills him. Returning to the states June starts on a killing spree to keep herself young and beautiful.
This was another enjoyable episode. The intro host segment was fun, where Crow discovered that the SoL had been infested with prairie dogs and sucks them up with a 'Varmint Vac.' The rest of the segments were so-so. I'm not a huge fan of Pearl and the Brain Guy framing devices and these left me cold too. That's okay, the movie was fun and that's what counts.
Gorgo (episode 909): "The order comes in... 'Kill Willy!'" - Crow
It's a treat that Shout! Factory included this rare film. I never thought it would be released on DVD. This particular episode aired twice in one day and then was never shown again. There was a rights issue that hadn't been cleared up and so the show went into the vault with no reruns.
I really enjoyed this one a lot, maybe it's because I like the movie but realize that it's not great art, or maybe because I it was the first time I've seen it (and it's been a long time since that's occurred). In any case the film revolves around a couple of guy who own a salvage boat. After a bad storm, they discover a giant monster that's attacking in Irish village. In exchange for some gold artifacts that were recently uncovered the men capture the creature and rather than killing it, they came to an agreement with a carnival promoter. Naming the beast Gorgo they bring him to London and put him on display. Too bad he's only a baby and his mother is coming after him. The real Leonard Maltin makes an appearance in this episode (plugging his book, of course) and even suggests the film for this experiment. I'm not a huge fan of Pearl, but it was pretty funny when she kept forgetting Maltin's name and calling him "Ebert." The show itself was very funny too. There are several memorable riffs, my favorite occurring when Gorgo first attacks a small village: "Poor Irish--if they aren't being invaded by Cromwell or infested by leprechauns they've got this guy!" A nice way to round out the set.
But, wait (as they say on TV)... there's more! There are also two bonus episodes included with this collection also. These have been previously released as stand-alone discs, this is the first time they've been included in one of the MST3K sets.
Mitchell (episode 512): (to the tune of Shaft) "Who's the puffy guy who's a big blurry sex machine? Mitchell!"
It's fitting on for the 25th anniversary set that they include the creator's last episode. At the end of this experiment, Joel leaves the SoL, never to return.
Mitchell is a cop who likes beer. He really, really, really likes it. He's also violent, slovenly, and almost totally lacking social graces. He's an anti-hero who is trying to take down a crime cartel and won't let anything get in his way.
I actually find this episode a bit sad, because I know it's Joel's last time at the helm. Having said that, the crew at Best Brains do a great job with his swansong. The movie is funny, the host segments are very good, and they add a good dollop of humor right at the very end to take the sting out of the departure.
Which segues nicely into:
The Brain that Wouldn't Die (episode 513): "You know they say there's always someone worse off? I'm that person!" - Crow
Mike joins Tom, Crow, and the rest on the SoL with this experiment. It's a wonderfully hokey movie about a doctor who has been perfecting a new formula to help with organ transplants. When his finance is decapitated in a car accident, he snags the head and hooks it up to some machines in order to preserve it until he can find a suitable body for his love. He didn't bother to ask her however, and she's miffed that he didn't allow her to die with dignity. Oh yeah, and she's psychic now.
Even though Mike was the head writer for a while, he's still getting used to his role in front of the camera in this episode. Mike wisely decided to play his role as the only human on the SoL a little differently than his predecessor. As where Joel was more of a parent or teacher to the bots, Mike was more of a co-conspirator. He'd join in with the fun rather than telling the child-like mechanical creations to stop. He's also play the straight man from time-to-time. There's endless debate over who is better, and it seems to largely rest with which host a person was first exposed to. In my opinion they're both good.
Each of the four episodes comes in its own slimcase, and all of the discs are housed in an attractive, embossed, metal case.
The audio on the host segments is very clean, and the riffs coming through loud and clear. The audio during the movies are pretty good, though the films soundtracks leave a little to be desired. There's some light distortion in a couple of cases but nothing major. They actually do a very good job mixing the audio from the movie in with the actor's comments however, adjusting the levels so that both the riffs and the movie can be heard. Of course there are a couple of times when one or the other isn't easy to discern, but that is fairly rare. There are no subtitles.
After watching this show for years on the copies that I taped off of Comedy Central when it was first broadcast, I was very pleased at how clear it was. My S-VHS tapes are good but this is much better. The host segments are clear and bright, while the silhouettes during the movie are solid black.
Shout! Factory has been creating new content for the bonus material on their recent MST releases, but they really went above and beyond for this collection. There first bonus is a very good retrospective on the show, Return to Eden Prairie: 25 Years of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This 70-minute docu is spread over the first three discs and gives a great look at the entire run of the show and the constant struggles that the creators had to deal with. Watching this it's astounding that the show lasted as long as it did.
Ninth Wonder of the World: The Making of Gorgo looks at the making of the film and runs a healthy half-hour, and Life After MST3K takes a look at what Mary Jo Pehl has been up to since the show ended. Other bonus material includes a short introduction to Moon Zero Two by Hammer films historian Constantine Nasr, MST Hour wraps, a short look at Joel's decision to leave MST, and the wonderfully titled Leonard Maltin Explains Something.
There are also four mini-posters, one for each movie. It's an amazing set of extras that add a lot to the package.
While the first film is just so-so, the other five range from really good (The Brain that Wouldn't Die) to awesome (The Day the Earth Froze.) It's a fantastic collection with some high quality extra all wrapped up in a cool metal box. Highly Recommended.