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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Satire > Science Fiction > Horror > TV > Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition (Shout! Factory)

Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition (Shout! Factory)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: A+     Episodes: A+



The folks at Shout! Factory are celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of cable television's best-loved shows, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), by picking up the rights to the classic series.  Fans of the show and regular readers of Fulvue Drive-in may remember that we have extensively covered Rhino's previous releases of MST3K product.  For those new to the show, MST3K features three zany characters forced to watch bad sci-fi movies, while making irreverent comments during the entire affair.  In a wonderful homage to Silent Running, the human character creates a number of robot companions, chief among them Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo.  Trapped on a satellite high in Earth orbit, they are also subjected to weird experiments and verbal abuse by their captors, the mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester and his assistant, TV's Frank.


This boxed set from Shout! Factory (also available in a limited edition collector's tin complete with lobby cards and a Crow T. Robot figurine) features four episodes never included in previous collections.  The episodes (and the films they spoof) cover the major "eras" of the show's long history, including selections featuring original host Joel Hodgson and his successor Mike Nelson.  All four films are excellent selections, each fulfilling the major criteria for MST3K fans--they're really awful!



Episode 211 - First Spaceship on Venus


This episode features Joel at his Laconic best, possibly at the height of his comic powers.  The set design and production values are high, and the performances of Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff as the mad scientists both sparkle.  The junk-drawer invention exchange is one of the best for its comic simplicity.  The movie itself represents the kind of wretched sci-fi dreck churned out by the studios during the 1950's and 1960's.  Its only redeeming quality is its ham-fisted attempt at multi-culturalism in space.  Joel and the 'bots have plenty to send-up during this one.



Episode 706 – Laserblast


This horrid offering from the 1980's actually received 2 ˝ stars in Leonard Maltin’s movie review guide, a fact Mike Nelson and his robot friends gamely point out during the movie's interminable ending credit sequence.  They also point out that Maltin gave Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 2 ˝ stars as well!  Badly acted, poorly shot, and ill-conceived from its inception, Laserblast seems well-suited to MST3K's not-so-gentle treatment.  Beyond the film, this episode also features some significant plot movement in the plight of Mike and the 'bots.  During the opening they are freed to roam the galaxy when Dr. Forrester's funding is cut.  This sets up one of the most amazing MST3K sketches in the show's long history.  While trying to escape a black hole, Tom Servo, Crow, and fellow robot Gypsy are suddenly joined by Mike Nelson in sci-fi drag, dressed as Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) from Star Trek: Voyager.  The bit is hilarious, working on several levels.



Episode 904 – Werewolf


This color feature represents the very worst of the "werewolf" sub-genre of horror films, and Mike and the 'bots pull no punches.  Once again, Mike Nelson gets into drag during one of the sketches to perform a hilarious riff on 1950's boyfriend ballads.  The song entitled "Where O Werewolf" highlights the zany musical talents of the entire crew.



Episode 1004 - Future War


What do you get when you mix a Jean-Claude Van Damme look-alike, cheesy dinosaurs, and sci-fi action set on planet Earth of the 1990's?  A really bad movie. This episode features Mike and Co. toward the end of the show's run, and also showcases the evil trio of Dr. Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl), Bobo the Chimp (Kevin Murphy), and Brain Guy (Bill Corbett).  By this time the in the show's history the "villains" had gone through many changes, but this trio of characters really seemed to hit the right comic notes, and this episode is no different.



Beyond the four episodes, this set features an amazing 3-part documentary on the history of MST3K.  Extensive interviews with the cast, writers, and producers reveal the wonderful details of the show's early history and how it evolved over time.  These details reveal the perfect convergence of circumstances that allowed the principles to get the show up and running and retain its unique mid-western identity in the face of pressure of both East and West Coast studio influences.  The fact that the creators were able to retain their rights to the show and its trappings gave them a unique ability to rise again when it was cancelled by Comedy Central.  The documentary also highlights MST3K's legion of enduring fans, called MSTies. Through letters, online, and at conventions they express their love and support for the show.


A wonderful San Diego Comic Con panel interview finishes off the major extras in this box, and gathers the entire cast and writers together for an amazing round-table discussion of the show and its history.  What's amazing about this gathering is that everyone still seems to genuinely like each other, not an easy feat for a large cast of creative people in an ego-driven business.


Shout! Factory is off to a great start with this first MST3K offering. The slick packaging and excellent content will make this a must for fans of the show, and fans of cheesy sci-fi movies everywhere.



-   Scott R. Pyle


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