Mystery Science Theatre 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition (2008)
By: Paul Ryan on July 22, 2009  | 
Beyond Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 374 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jim Mallon, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Michael J. Nelson
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Mary Jo Pehl
Country: USA
External Links
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In an eleven-year lifespan - starting on regional television, before breaking out on cable's Comedy Central, then moving on to the Sci-Fi Channel, with one theatrical film in between - Mystery Science Theater 3000 spoofed, skewered and riffed on around 200 of the dodgiest movies ever made. Amassing a loyal cult following, the show has never had much of a showing here in Australia. With a large number of the show's episodes already released on DVD in the States, local distributor Beyond have finally picked up the show for release over here, beginning with this twentieth anniversary box-set.

For the uninitiated, the set-up goes like this: in the "not-too-distant-future", an average working schlub (creator Joel Hodsgon for the first few seasons, followed by Michael J. Nelson thereafter) is imprisoned aboard an orbiting platform called the Satellite of Love by mad scientist Dr Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu). Doctor Forrester (or, in later seasons, his equally crazy mother, Pearl, played by Mary Jo Pehl) is determined to monitor the effects of terrible movies on the human mind, repeatedly inflicting them on his subject (and we, the audience). To maintain sanity, Joel builds robot sidekicks Tom Servo (a converted gumball machine) and Crow T. Robot (a birdlike gizmo) who join him in cracking jokes during the movies.

The four "experiments" in this set are as follows:

First Spaceship on Venus: The only episode on this set to feature original host Hodgson, this is the weakest episode of the four, but still has its moments. The main problem is that the film (a dubbed 1960 East German space opera) really isn't so much bad as just slow and stilted. Joel and the 'bots get some mileage out of some silly spider creatures and hokey dialogue, but this isn't the best entry point for newcomers to MST3K.

Laserblast: Much better is this riff on one of Charles Band's first productions, which was also the final MST3K episode made for Comedy Central, before the gang moved to the Sci-Fi Channel. A tale of a teenager who finds (and is possessed by) an abandoned alien weapon, the film is all gimmick (and a weak gimmick at that), no execution, with long stretches where absolutely nothing happens. Respectable thespians Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn and Gianni Russo (each of whom appear to have been hired for a day's shooting) struggle not to look embarrassed, whilst übernerd Eddie Deezen – EDDIE DEEZEN!!! – makes for the least convincing bully in screen history. Mike and the 'bots have a field day with Leonard Maltin's inexplicable two-and-a-half-star rating (which, in Maltin's estimation, puts the film higher than say, Taxi Driver or Blade Runner) and so will you.

Werewolf: Proving that terrible movies know no decade, this woeful lycanthrope epic was made in 1995, just three years before this episode skewered it. Splitting acting honours between Richard Lynch and – uh-oh – Joe Estevez, this features a bewigged, Mexican-accented Russian heavy (George Rivero), whose hairpiece changes colour from scene to scene, one of the most inept screen performances ever in the form of leading lady Adrianna Miles, and is quite literally, a howl. The fifties girl group sing-along from Mike, Crow and Servo - "Where-Oh-Werewolf" – is also a highlight.

Future War: A mash-up of The Terminator and Jurassic Park so cruddy it redefines the word "amateurish", this involves a time-traveling, kick-boxing, bible-quoting alien clone (Daniel Bernhardt, later of The Matrix Reloaded) who teams up with a deeply unconvincing ex-junkie, ex-hooker nun (!) to fight mulleted killer cyborgs and jaw-droppingly crap rubber dinosaurs. Future War is so pitifully bad that riffing on it seems almost unfair, but this episode is still very, very funny.

While a number of the gags have dated badly (like the Dan Quayle stuff in the first episode), the quips and riffs come so thick and fast that there's little time to ponder the jokes that don't work. This is enormously fun, highly addictive viewing, especially with a few like-minded mates.
Made in the days of 4x3 television sets, this looks about as good as a show shot in NTSC analogue video can. The host segments are very brightly – and colourfully – lit, which leads to a bit of colour bleed, but that eases as the episodes progress. The films themselves have been taken from video sources of varying quality (with First Spaceship on Venus the victim of a dire pan-and-scan job to boot), but are all watchable enough.
Nothing special, the 2.0 audio gets the job done with a minimum of fuss, and balances out the movie audio and commentary audio quite well.
Extra Features
The History of MST3K: Split into three parts (across the first three discs), this looks at the creation and impact of the show. Broken up by era (Minnesota station KTMA, Comedy Central and Sci-Fi Channel, respectively). This features interviews with all the key creative personnel, and includes a number of clips from the rarely-seen KTMA episodes (and the original pilot), though movie clips are limited (likely by rights issues) to the four films on this set. For newcomers, this is very much a crash-course in the history of the show, with the second part the weakest, but the opening and closing segments are fascinating and often very funny.

MST3K at Comic-Con '08: As part of last year's San Diego Comic-Con, the cast and writers of the show reunited for a twentieth anniversary panel. Moderated by comedian (and huge MST3K fan) Patton Oswalt, this is a hilarious, factoid-filled extra. While some of the information is repeated from the documentary, there is plenty for fans to chew on. Great stuff.

Variations of a Theme Song: All six title sequences from the run of MST3K, which nicely illustrates the evolution of the show's format and cast. The Devo-inspired theme song also undergoes a number of changes as well, though the tune itself is a bit of an acquired taste.

Original Trailers: Trailers for each of the films are included on their respective discs. Like the films themselves, they've been taken from video sources and often look very rough, particularly the very fuzzy one for Laserblast. The trailer for Future War is every bit as clumsy and amateurish as the film itself.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
It's taken a long, long time for Mystery Science Theater 3000 to finally arrive on Australian DVD shelves, but the wait has been worth it. While the first episode isn't the best example of what the series can do, the remaining three combine hysterically bad movies with sharp, hilarious commentary. Beyond's DVD release (re-badged from the Region 1 Shout Factory release) features excellent, informative extra features, while the original trailers are the icing on the cake. Here's hoping there are more volumes to come.

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