Although both the Joel and Mike "crews" have gone onto form their respective successful riffing enterprises (Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax, respectively), the glory years were and will always be the original run: the ten seasons of "Mystery Science Theater 3000". The silhouettes, the goofy sketches, the vaguely terrible performance of the show's theme song...the whole of the show transcends the repeatable concept to form a singularly iconic bit of pop culture. Thankfully, Shout! Factory has picked up where Rhino Video left off in trying (perhaps in vain) to get every episode of the show on DVD.
Beginning of the End (episode 517) is a silly black-and-white Peter Graves/Bert I. Gordon vehicle that thinks locusts/grasshoppers will strike more fear into the 1950s-era filmgoer than the ants of Them!. The film takes far too long to kick into high gear, and the reaction by the people to giant, man-killing bugs is perhaps a bit understated -- when Graves and a reporter played by Peggie Castle head to Washington DC, the government seems to hope ignoring the problem will work. (It doesn't.) Soon, stock footage of crowds is flooding the streets and military men are dying left and right, while Graves takes his sweet time deducting the slowest world-saving solution recorded on film.
Like the film, the episode struggles to get going before Graves makes his appearance, and only really takes off when the terrible, hilarious locust effects finally grace the screen, which provides no end of opportunities for Mike and the bots to give voice to the menace ("I have my rights, I have my rights!"), mock the military's efforts ("They've broken our code, and the general was a grasshopper undercover!"), and poke fun at the incompetence of Graves' character, who is responsible for the bug invasion ("Hmmm, what else can I do wrong here?"). Bumper segments are livened by Trace Beaulieu's impression of Graves (through Crow), and efforts on behalf of Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank to prove their manliness. On the whole, a slightly below-average episode: funny, but dispensible.
As one of the DVDs available through Shout! Factory's new Shout! Selects line of products, the artwork is standardized: the MST3K globe, the silhouettes, and a poster/logo treatment of the film in question, with a starfield background. The inside front cover looks basically the same, featuring another vintage poster for the movie. There is no insert, and the disc comes in a transparent Amaray case.
The Video and Audio
Nothing spectacular to report: "MST3K" looks about as good as you expect it to look, and sounds about the same. I detected no video compression errors in the 1.33:1 video presentation and did not hear any audio glitches in the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, but the episode does not necessarily leap off the screen or out of the speakers with vivid colors or enthralling fidelity. As always, I appreciate the inclusion of subtitles or closed captioning, but sadly, neither is present.
None. The internet tells me Beginning of the End was released previously through Rhino, with the un-riffed movie and some episode trailers as extras. If you have that disc, then this is obviously a downgrade.
It's hard to recommend any one episode of a TV show. It's harder to recommend a so-so episode. It's harder still to recommend a disc that, for whatever reason, is inferior to an out of print edition. The challenge reaches its peak when the disc in question is priced at a steep $19.99, a tag that will scare away even some of the harder "MSTies". If you're not a completist hoping to get every episode on DVD, rent it and decide if you need it in your collection.