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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Season Eleven
With the rising popularity of YouTube celebrities riffing on bad movies, like Red Letter Media and The Nostalgia Critic, it was only a matter of time for the original bad movie heckle show, Mystery Science Theater 3000, to come back to the small screen. The show never really lost its fan base, and add to this the recent surge of beloved 90s shows like Will & Grace and Roseanne making a comeback, it makes sense for the Satellite of Love, its' new captain, and the snarky bots to give it another go almost two decades after the original run of MST3K ended.
Instead of simply recreating the same show with the same cast, either the Joel or Mike years, the new iteration of MST3K finds a nice middle ground. There's a lot of creative control given to the show's initial creator, Joel Hodgson. Writers and cast from both different versions of the original run also get to have some creative input and appear as their previously established and beloved characters. On the other hand, the main cast is comprised entirely of new blood. Jonah Heston, the new host who's imprisoned to watch cheesy movies, the worst that can be found, is played by Jonah Ray as a middle ground between the personalities of the original hosts. He's laid back like Joel Hodgson, but also shares Mike Nelson's eccentric quirks. The new cast for the robots, as well as Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt as the new villains, are all welcome changes.
Of course the bulk of the show is spent on the bad B-movies themselves. MST3K episodes rise or fall depending on the unique terribleness or cheesiness of the movies that are picked to riff on. Every original season has some brilliant spots, as well as some clunkers. This one isn't any different. There are some inspired choices of prime cheese, like the seizure-inducing lame disco Star Wars knock-off Starcrash, and not one, but two of the distinctly terrible Wizards of the Lost Kingdom films. Some of the choices, on the other hand, like the Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow-starring 70s disaster flick Avalanche, are too mediocre to keep our attention. With a larger budget to play around with, I understand the crew's decision to include a bona fide Hollywood film with big stars, but those movies play it safe enough to not include any bafflingly crazy choices.
For newcomers to MST3K, this season can work as a fine entry point. The writing and performances are of the same quality as the older seasons. But this time around, we get to watch the movies in HD, and some of them even support pretty pristine transfers. For the audience who might be turned off by the crappy VHS quality presentations of the films in the original series, this season's crisp 1080p look should be an easier adjustment.
We get two DTS-HD options, a 5.1 track and a 2.0 presentation. The 5.1 track comes to life during the credits tune and some ambient sound during the sketches, but the movies within the show are usually in mono, so listening to this on TV through regular speakers should work fine.
We Brought Back MST3K: This is a feature-length documentary found on the final disc. It spends a bit too much time on the crowd funding side of the production, but it's a very informative and fun doc nevertheless.
MST3K: The Return delivers on the promise of the original show. The HD quality of the films is a major plus, and the new cast delivering more contemporary pop-culture references within the jokes keeps the whole thing fresh, at least for now. To be honest, there isn't a big quality difference between watching it on Netflix or Blu-ray. But if you don't have Netflix, or want to own the season after Netflix boots it out of their system, go for it.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com