It’s hard to believe that Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that ran for 10 years in the 1990s (and hasn’t been on TV in almost 12 years) remains so popular today. Twelve volumes of four episodes each (and various one-offs) were released by Rhino, and Shout! Factory picked up the ball and continued with the 20th Anniversary Edition (technically Volume 13) and has continued the numbering from there. After 86 episodes released on video, four more join the club with Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XX. While the multi-volume sets usually contained a mix of episodes featuring Joel Hodgson and Michael J. Nelson (the two human hosts), all four shows in this volume star Hodgson. Let’s take a look at the episodes included in this set:
We start with Project Moonbase from the show’s first season. There were a number of differences in this season, most importantly the presence of Josh (now J. Elvis) Weinstein as Dr. Erhardt and the original Tom Servo. There were also fewer comments during the movie, as the performers were still learning how densely to pack the jokes in. That’s not to say that the riffs aren’t funny. There’s just not as many of them. Joel and the bots take on this movie about an astronaut, his female commanding officer, and a scientist (who turns out to be a spy) on a space mission in the far-flung future of 1970. This episode also includes two chapters of the old Commando Cody and the Radar Men from the Moon serial.
Next we have Master Ninja I, which is actually two episodes of the 70s TV show The Master clumsily edited together. The show (I mean the movie) stars Lee Van Cleef as an aging ninja coming to America to find his daughter, and Timothy Van Patten as a guy with a van and a gerbil (yes, a gerbil) who agrees to help Van Cleef as long as he can learn some sweet ninja skills. Also featured is a young Demi Moore as a woman on the run from an abusive sheriff. This is just as cheesy as you would expect an action show from the era to be, and Joel and the bots have a field day mocking Van Patten’s marble-mouthed line delivery and how Van Cleef somehow gets much thinner when he’s pulling off stunts in full ninja regalia, as well as how people and plots from the first half of the movie never seem to be mentioned in the second half for some reason.
And, since there’s still plenty to joke about with this motley crew, we have Master Ninja II which, as you might expect, is two more episodes of The Master, featuring guest appearances by David McCallum, one-time James Bond George Lazenby, and episodic television standby Monte Markham. The jokes tread a lot of the same ground as the first Master Ninja movie, but this is still a funny episode.
Finally, we have the best movie in this bunch, The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. In this movie (actually dubbed by Roger Corman from the Russian film Sadko), Sinbad and his crew go on a series of adventures to seek the Bird of Happiness. Despite the ludicrous dubbing job, this film stands quite well on its own, and Joel and company add an extra layer to the fun.
Now for somebody like me who has all the episodes of MST3k on video, there is a big interest in the extras included in this set. I have to admit to being a bit disappointed in the extras this time, partially because Shout! Factory has set the bar so high with their previous sets. Project Moonbase includes the movie’s original trailer and an interview with MST3k’s Director of Photography Jeff Stonehouse. While I always enjoy hearing from people behind the scenes, Stonehouse didn’t start with the show until after the episodes in this set were produced. This would have worked better in a set that showed off his contributions to the show. Master Ninja I features a new interview with Bill McKinney, the guy who played the sheriff in the movie. It’s a good interview, but it’s too bad they couldn’t get Van Patten, who’s still working in the business as a television producer. The best feature is on the Master Ninja II DVD. It’s from a Dragon*Con panel with Weinstein and Kevin Murphy called “Tom Servo vs. Tom Servo.” The two men are interviewed about their experiences with the character. The camera work and the audio are much better in this panel than in the “Crow vs. Crow” panel released on a previous volume. Lastly, The Magic Voyage of Sinbad sports a new introduction by performer Trace Beaulieu (where he confirms that this was a good movie done in by bad dubbing) and host segments from when this episode was featured on the syndicated Mystery Science Theater Hour, which I always like seeing because the syndicated shows were never shown locally.
Each DVD is housed in its own thin plastic case, which fit snugly into the outer box. The covers feature wonderful new art by Steve Vance (pictured above). These pictures are also included as mini-posters, that are the same size as the covers.
The thing I probably look forward to the most on these releases are the animated menus that Shout! Factory comes up with. They basically take soundbites from that specific episode and, using computer animation, create what amounts to their own host segment for the movie featuring Crow and Tom Servo. Seriously, if there’s any sort of award for DVD menus, these guys should win for the imaginative job they do on these.
This volume comes highly recommended by me, even if the extras weren’t as in-depth as usual. And if you order the set directly from Shout! Factory, you also get a stress ball shaped like the Mystery Science Theater 3000 logo. I can’t review it directly because Shout! Factory didn’t include one with my review copy, but how could that not be all kinds of awesome!