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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXXII
Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXXII
Shout Factory // Unrated // March 24, 2015
List Price: $59.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted March 15, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Movies:

Shout! Factory releases another collection of four episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Volume 32 (!).  This one is a mixed bag, with two really good installments, one that's decent, and one that's not so good (one of the rare few that just don't work.)  With two shows featuring the original host, Joel, and two with his replacement, Mike, there's a good mix here that's sure to please fan.   So, without further ado lets look at the films that get riffed in this set.

Space Travelers, Episode 401:

Crow: What's a four-letter word for 'fiery death'?

There are a lot of firsts in this episode: it's the first experiment from the fourth season, the first (and only) time they riffed an Academy Award-winning film (for special effects), and the first time that I fell asleep while watching an installment of MST (during the original broadcast). This is one dull movie and not the best installment of the show. Space Travelers is actually and edited version of the movie Marooned, a Hollywood mainstream film with an impressive cast including Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, and James Franciscus. Apparently it fell into public domain and Film Ventures retitled it, cut down the running time, slapped on a new set of credits, and sold the results to cable TV networks.

Made in the late 60's when America was landing on the moon and interest in NASA was high, this film tries to take a realistic approach to what would happen if a group of astronauts were trapped in orbit and running out of air. The problem is that in reality there would be a lot of waiting around which makes for a terribly boring film, which this is. It's also a film that's meant to be taken seriously, unlike most of the other movies that are given the MST treatment. This type of serious drama doesn't lend itself to being riffed and when you add to that the fact that there's not a lot of dialog and only a few plot points, you end up with an experiment that doesn't really work. Never one of my favorites, I wasn't too surprised to hear Frank Conniff say in his newly filmed introduction that he didn't like the results either.

The host segments, on the other hand, are pretty good. Joel and the bots talk about the things that the space program has given mankind in one (the list starts off reasonable but quickly becomes comically ludicrous) and Crow does an awesome Gregory Peck impersonation in another.

Hercules, Episode 502:

Crow: Wait, this is ancient Greece. They didn't have ruins yet.

In this the film, the one that started the sword-and-sandal craze, Steve Reeves stars as the legendary son of the gods, Hercules. After saving Iole, the daughter of the king of Iolcus, from a team of runaway horses, the Greek hero takes a job the king offers to toughen up his slacker son, Iphitus. Under Hercules' tutelage, Iphitus ends up more dead than tough, so Herc takes off with Jason to find the Golden Fleece. There are Amazons, a creature that sounds exactly like Godzilla, a fight with a lion, lots of scantily clad women, and much, much more in this 1950's Italian epic.

While the film hasn't aged well and is really hokey, Joel and the bots do a great job with this one. The riffing is consistently funny and they pull out a couple of very obscure references that worked well. (On seeing a graveyard full on tombstones with only men's names on the Amazon's island, Joel proclaims "it's the Andrea Dworkin Memorial Cemetary.") The host segments were also entertaining. Tom Servo and Crow decide to update the constellations with shapes that are more relevant to modern society and suggest the ham sandwich and the pencil and later the group has an in depth discussion of how many people were in the musical group that put out the hit song "Don't Pull Your Love." (Is it Hamilton, Joe, Frank & Reynolds, Hamilton Joe Frank & Reynolds or possibly Hamilton, Joe, Frank, Ann, Reynolds??) Altogether a nice solid episode.

San Francisco International, Episode 613:

Crow (after a dangerous plane landing): I hope I'm dead 'cause my pants are full.

Cashing in on the success of "Airport" that hit theater screens in March of 1970, NBC aired this made-for-TV movie in September of that same year as the pilot for a series. Though the movie is dull, the plot is tired, and the acting mediocre, the series was picked up... and lasted a whole six episodes before being cancelled.

This film is the story of the exciting action that takes place behind the scenes at a thriving metropolitan airport. Featuring Van Johnson, Tab Hunter and David Hartman along with several other faces you'll doubtlessly recognize, the main plot involves a ring to thieves who kidnap a pilot's wife in order stage a daring daylight robbery of a plane carrying three million dollars in cash. There's also a second plot involving a young teen who doesn't want his parents to get divorced, so he steals a plane and manages to get it airborne. Oh yeah, and a congressional committee is visiting SFO while this is all going on.

The movie has just the right amount of faux sincerity to make it funny today. Seeing characters worry about having too many planes arriving and not enough gates just seems a bit silly and Mike and the bots pick up on that well. They mercilessly riff the actors in the film (Mike: "Airport movies are like a watering hole for B-movie actors.") and poke fun at the rather inane plot elements. The riffing is pretty good overall.

While the riffing is good, the host segments are pretty bad. The quality of these bits is the main difference in my mind between Mike and Joel, and this episode is a good example of one that doesn't work. It starts out with Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank acting like blue collar construction workers (for no real reason... it doesn't tie into the film) and saying things like "yeah, you should toe nail that in." Okay. Then during the first break Mike dresses up as Urkel (the socially awkward character from the sitcom Family Matters) and the bots and the mads laugh. They then drag this out for the next two segments with more and more characters showing up and laughing at Mike's impersonation. That's it. The punchline at the end really isn't much of a joke and the whole thing feels like they just didn't know what to do, so they took a lame idea and padded it. And then padded it some more.

Radar Secret Service with the short Last Clear Chance, Episode 520:

Crow: I have a feeling one of these characters is about to see their own intestines!

This is a really good experiment. The riffing in the movie excellent but short before it is fantastic. Last Clear Chance is a traffic safety film where a police officer shows up at a family's farm to inform the teen-age drivers about the importance of looking for trains at railroad tracks. Even without riffing, the movie is hilarious. For example, the officer opens up his discussion with the line "I thought this would be a good time to come by and tell you a few of the facts of life about driving, before you get started." Of course Mike, Tom, and Crow make it even more enjoyable with their rapid-fire riffs.

The feature movie is a bit of an odd duck. It really sings the praises of radar... to such an extent that one could be forgiven for thinking that it was produced by a company that makes radar equipment (aside from the fact that radar can't do half of what it does in this film). It is very over the top. In this movie radar can find minerals beneath the ground, track fish under the ocean, and even beam an image of a car to a receiver... and pan when the car drives by. The good guys drive around in a car with a large metal ball attached to the roof, presumably the radar equipment, and the SoL crew go above and beyond making fun of it every time it's on screen. "Get your metal Swedish meatballs! They're metal, and Swedish, and meatballs." The also describe it as a toilet tank float, a rice cooker, bobber, and countless other things. It's a great running gag that really works well. They also do a great job of pointing out just how bland all of the characters are in this film. During one fight scene Mike and Crow had this exchange:

Mike: I'm dull! Crow: No, I'm way duller! Mike: Oh, okay: Name my character! Crow: Gee, uhhh... I can't! Mike: See! See! Now, which one of us is the good guy? Crow: I don't know, I don't know! Who am I?!?

The movie itself is terribly dull, but with the riffing it's great. All in all, this is a very good episode.

The DVD:


Audio:

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.

Video:

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. Some of the prints that were used for the show are showing their age, but there's not anything that can really be done about that.

Extras:

This set included new introductions to 3 of the 4 movies by Frank Conniff. (San Francisco International is the one omitted.) Frank talks about the movie itself and what he thought of the riffing and the episode in general. They're a nice, if brief, look behind the scenes. There are also four short video featurettes. Barnum of Baltimore: The Early Films of Joesph E. Levine is an all too short look at the producer who brought both Godzilla and Sword-and-Sandal movies to the US. It's a good overview of the man; I just wish it was longer. Marooned: A Forgotten Odyssey talks about the award-winning film and how it ended up on MST, and A Brief History of Satellite News talks with "Sampo" the webmaster for the official MST3K web page. All three of these were very good and informative.

The last featurette chronicles a trip Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff took to the UK in order to appear at a sci-fi convention. This could have been a lot better. While Trace and Frank were interesting, the whole thing looks and sounds like it was filmed on someone's cell phone. There's also a bit in the middle where they interview several Kickstarter backers who helped to raise the funds to get the pair across the pond, so the production seems to be part of the rewards that were offered. I would have rather that they included the whole Q&A from their appearance rather than just snippets.

The set is rounded off with a couple of theatrical trailers for the films being riffed and 4 mini-posters that were created for the set by artist Steve Vance.

Final Thoughts:

This collection includes two very good episodes (Hercules and Radar Secret Service), one *meh* offering (San Francisco International) and one that doesn't hit the mark (Space Travelers). It's definitely worth picking up, there's more than enough entertainment in the set, but it's a bit hit-and-miss. Recommended.        
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