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Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition (1990-1999)

Shout Factory!
DVD Released: 10/28/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/23/2008

Iíve reached an age where any milestone makes me feel old. (ďThat was how long ago?! Heís how old now?!Ē) But, occasionally, there will be an announcement where pride or nostalgia overcomes self-doubt. Itís hard to believe that Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been around for 20 years. This wacky, groundbreaking show made yelling at the movie screen an art form and mingled a love for belly-laughs and bad movies. To commemorate this achievement, Shout Factory! has brought us a new four-disc boxed set which contains a selection of episodes from the show's run.

As with any television show, especially one which ran for over 200 episodes, Mystery Science Theater 3000 can be very hit or miss. While all of the movies which they watch can be loosely qualified as "bad" (although, keep in mind, "bad" is in the eye of the beholder -- every movie is somebody's favorite film), some are worse than others. Some are so bad in fact, that they don't give the guys much with which to work. I've found that no matter how bad the movies are, they must have a modicum of spirit or at least self-deluded quality in order for the guys to create good jokes.

First Spaceship on Venus (1960) -- Original airdate 12/29/90 -- This film from behind the Iron Curtain is set in the future of 1985! Scientists discover a scroll (?) from space which leads them to search for intelligent life on Venus. The most interesting thing about this movie is that it features a culturally-diverse cast which pre-dates Star Trek by six years. While there are certainly some goofy moments in this movie (what were those bouncy spider things?), most of it is played deadly serious. However, it's never pompous. Because of this, there isn't much for Joel and the robots to make fun of. There are few good jokes here (mostly dealing with things in the background), but for the most part, the movie is somewhat dry and dull and so is this episode.

Laserblast (1978) -- Original airdate 5/18/96 -- A woefully laid back Southern California teen who can't be bothered with buttoning his shirt finds an incredibly odd looking ray gun in the desert. Despite the fact that he doesn't seem to be bullied, he uses the gun to seek revenge. I'd never seen this episode before and it's now one of my favorites. This odd movie offers a combination of faux teen angst and bad science fiction which never gels and the guys rib it non-stop. From the goofy cops ("Are you ready for some football!") to the appearance of Grease nerd Eddie Deezen, this movie is the motherlode of material which is just begging to be ridiculed.

Werewolf (1996) -- Original airdate 4/18/98 -- A group of archaeologists (I think) digging in the Arizona desert unearth a skeleton with the body of a human and the head of a dog. A worker is scratched by the skeleton and turns into a werewolf. Thus begins a rash of uninteresting characters who, for one reason or another, come into contact with the skeleton and get all lycanthropy. Paul may be the most dis-interested "hero" ever and "heroine" Natalie has a bizarre accent which makes most of her lines unintelligible. Of course, Mike, Crow, and Tom pounce upon these issues and rip this movie a new one. Whether it's their constant jokes about the presence of Martin Sheen's brother Joe Estevez, or the character who looks like a member of The Marshall Tucker Band, the great jokes are non-stop here. Of course, by combining shoddy special-effects make up with a werewolf who never looks the same from shot-to-shot, the movie was asking for trouble. Not as fruitful as Laserblast, but a very solid episode.

Future War (1997) -- Original airdate 4/25/99 -- OK, let's face it -- any moron can shout insults at the screen. The writers behind Mystery Science Theater 3000 are highly-skilled comedy specialists and they scour the films in question looking for the best possible jokes. But, as noted above, the movie has to give them something with which to work -- simply being "bad" doesn't do it. And, thus, we have Future War. A slave from the future escapes to 1997, where he's pursued by a cyborg with a mullet and some of the fakest dinosaurs ever. The slave meets a nun (?!), who never seems to do anything nun-like, who offers to help him. It's bad enough that this combination of Terminator and Jurassic Park is simply stealing ideas from other movies, but it represents the true bottom of the barrel. When stacks of cardboard boxes and toy dinosaurs are supposed to pass for parts of a set, you know that you're in trouble. Because of this, we are left with another episode where there's simply nothing of substance for the guys to attack. All of the jokes here are way too obvious and we are simply left to marvel at this awful movie.

Given the sheer amount of material which exists in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 vaults (and the fact that certain rights must be obtained to release some episodes), it would be nearly impossible to put together a boxed-set which would please everyone. As it stands, the 20th Anniversary Edition is batting two-for-four. Laserblast and Werewolf are certainly worth seeing, but the other two entries simply left me cold. Still, that won't stop fans of the show from scooping up this set.

The Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition gives us movie sign on DVD courtesy of Shout Factory! The four episodes included here are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The video during the wrap-around segments looks fine. The image is fairly sharp and clear, and the colors look fine. There is some video noise here and some occasional artifacting. As for the movies, as usual, they vary in quality. There is no effort made to clean-up these movies for the show, so they show grain, dirt, missing frames, etc. The DVD sports a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The jokes from Joel/Mike and the robots sound fine and the movie is always audible. There are times when the jokesters are louder than the movie, but that's a staple of this show.

The main extra feature on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 20th Anniversary Edition set is "The History of MST3K" (80 minutes) which is spread across three of the discs. This documentary features interviews with Joel Hodgson, Jim Mallon, J. Elvis Weinstein, Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu, Mike Nelson, Frank Conniff, Bridget (Jones) Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Paul Chaplin, and Bill Corbett. They discuss the history of the show, beginning with the nugget of an idea from Hodgson. From there, the piece examines the creation of the show, the theme song, the show's national debut, early success, the switch from Joel to Mike, the movie and the fans. We get to see footage from the earliest show here, complete with a totally different looking Tom Servo. Oddly, the ending of the series isn't discussed. Disc 4 features "MST3K at Comic-Con '08" (38 minutes) , a reunion of the creators and cast of the show, MC'd by Patton Oswalt. This features Bridget (Jones) Nelson, Paul Chaplin, Bill Corbett, J. Elvis Weinstein, Mary Jo Pehl, Frank Conniff, Kevin J. Murphy, Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, and Jim Mallon. Oswalt asks some of his own questions and then the panel takes questions from the audiences. As one would expect, there are some funny moments here. "Variations on a Theme Song" (9 minutes) is simply a reel showing the six different openings which the show has had. In addition, each disc contains the ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER for the featured movie. These are entertaining as they try to hype these awful movies.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long