The cult classic television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 features a man and his two robots trapped in outer space and wisecracking through some of the worst movies they (and you) have ever seen. DVDs for the show were originally handled by Rhino, but in 2008 those duties were taken over by Shout! Factory. The company has truly outdone themselves for their ninth Mystery Science Theater 3000 box set (and their largest set to date), all five episodes featuring the giant flying turtle that is a friend to all children, MST3K Vs. Gamera: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI. Now while Shout! Factory had released the Gamera movies themselves, we were told at the time that Daiei Studios was not interested in releasing the rights for the MST3K episodes. It turns out, however, that the company that licensed the movies from Daiei was okay with it, so that’s what enabled these rare episodes to be released to DVD at last.
The first episode is the original Gamera which is, as Dr. Clayton Forrester describes it, “a love story between a giant turtle and downtown Tokyo.” While this is the most serious of the original Gamera films, he has still found time to befriend a little boy named Kenny. Kevin Murphy took over the role of robot Tom Servo during the previous season of the show, and the transition was rocky for some people, but I think he won a lot of people over when he got a chance to show off his beautiful singing voice in “Tibby, Oh Tibby,” a sweet (but silly) ballad about Kenny’s little turtle.Bonus features for this episode are the documentary So Happy Together: A Look Back at MST3K and Gamera, MST Hour wraps, and the original Japanese trailer. In the documentary, cast members express their affection for these movies and how they very likely contributed to the show’s success. It’s mentioned that all five of these movies were also used when MST3K was first shown at a local Minneapolis station, and it would have been nice to see some clips from these early shows. Nevertheless, this is a very entertaining and informative extra for this episode. The Mystery Science Theater Hour was a short lived syndicated version of the show, in which a two hour episode was shown as two one-hour shows. The shows were hosted by Mike Nelson as a thinly-veiled impression of Biography host Jack Perkins. These wraps are all fun to see, and rare even for many of us fans who never saw this version of the show.
Bonus features here are the documentary Gamera Vs. the Chiodo Brothers and the original Japanese trailer. This documentary features special effects team the Chiodo brothers speaking about the history of men in suit monster effects, a subject they know well from their own work in such movies as Killer Klowns from Outer Space (a movie I highly recommend as well). Some stills are shown from many of the movies talked about, but it’s too bad they weren’t able to include clips too.
Gamera vs. Barugon ditches the kid sidekicks totally and features a hunt for what is believed to be a giant opal. The opal is revealed to be an egg containing the monster Barugon. (The egg hatches because the man has put it in his trunk along with an infra-red lamp (that gets turned on accidentally) that he uses for his athlete’s foot. No, I didn’t make that up.) Gamera has precious little screen time here, but he is ultimately able to take care of the mess everybody else has made. Here’s another great skit from the episode that features Tom Servo doing a fake ad for a toy set related to the movie that many young boys would have loved.
Once we get to Gamera vs. Guiron things really start getting crazy. Here we have two young boys, one of them Japanese and the other one American. The boys find a spaceship and, like kids in movies like this are wont to do, randomly push buttons until the ship takes off into the sky. Thank goodness Gamera is patrolling space now. He tries to help, but the spaceship is being piloted by remote control by a couple of space ladies. A monster with a knife for a snout, a kid obsessed with a world with no traffic accidents, and a policeman affectionately known as Cornjob make for one odd movie, even before the hilarious riffing by Joel and the robots is added. This movie also introduces us to the insanely catchy Gamera theme, which provides fodder for the MST gang in both this and the next episode. Bonuses here are the MST Hour wraps and the original Japanese trailer.
Finally, Gamera vs. Zigra rounds out the set. This one isn’t quite as wacky as the previous entry, but it’s close. Another spaceship with another beautiful woman trying to take over the Earth. This lady, however turns out to be one of our ladies that was hypnotized by the alien Zigra. This time Gamera makes friends with a little boy and a little girl (who’s always asking for a Coke). When Gamera defeats the spaceship turned fish monster, he picks up a couple of rocks and plays his theme on Zigra’s spiny back! The only bonus on this DVD is the movie’s original Japanese trailer.
You’d think these guys would run out of material after riffing on five very similar movies, but they find a way to keep the laughs coming. Included with the set are postcard-sized reproductions of each DVD’s cover lovingly illustrated by Steve Vance and a collector’s edition tin (shown at the top of this review). I know I mention this whenever I review these sets, but one of the highlights of these DVDs are the menus. Each one of these uses computer animation and soundbites from the episodes to create a skit with Crow and Servo. I don’t know who puts these together, but they deserve to be commended for the wonderful job they do on this. Also, if you order this set directly from Shout! Factory, they include a set of Gamera postcards and an MST3K stress ball! As always, this set comes highly recommended.