The year is 1995. Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been a part of Comedy Central for six years, but with changes in the CC hierarchy (and with only six episodes ordered for the sixth season), it looked like the show was down for the count. This gave the show’s producers the perfect opportunity to do their very own feature film version of the show. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
has just been released in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo set. How does it fare up against the show itself? Let’s take a look.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the claustrophobic feel of the show is gone. We see more of the Satellite of Love, as well as opening out on Deep 13, the hideout of Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu), the evil scientist that subjects our hero Mike Nelson (Michael J. Nelson) to the worst movies he can find. (La-la-la.) With some quick exposition from Dr. F to any audience members who might not know what’s going on here, we’re off to the races with the 1955 science Fiction classic This Island Earth. Nelson and his robot pals Crow (Beaulieu) and Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) watch the movie along with us, making silly comments all the way.
This Island Earth really isn’t that bad a movie. (It’s arguably one of the best movies they’d ever tackled.) But it’s in color, it looks nice, it has a familiar face (Russell ”the Professor from Gilligan’s Island“ Johnson), it has aliens with abnormally large foreheads in cool flying saucers, and even a requisite Bug Eyed Monster. All the typical elements are there but, to be honest, MST3K the Movie isn’t quite as good as many of their TV episodes. It’s not bad by any means (especially for fans of the show), but it could have been better.
Shout! Factory has also been handling box sets of the show, and they lavish the same attention and care to this as they have to the shows. And, just like with their other releases, they include a number of wonderful extras. The first is The Making of Mystery Science Theater: The Movie . It mentions how the show’s producers were able to convince a studio to finance the movie by doing a live version of it for the first MST convention, (And it was awesome too, because I was there!) and how they ended up choosing This Island Earth for the movie they would riff. This was made to promote the movie when it came out, and is the usual mix of information, behind the scenes clips, and interviews with the cast. This was a fun short to see, but not really groundbreaking.
Next is Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey. This is a newly filmed featurette that goes into the trials and tribulations of getting the movie made. Best Brains (the producers and performers of MST3K) were continually instructed what they could and (mostly) couldn’t do, until the feature was cut down to 74 minutes (a good 30 minutes less than a standard episode of the show). The guys explain that they even had to cut This Island Earth so much that it was barely comprehensible. They were even told to cut and change jokes. When the feature was done, Gramercy (the studio who produced the movie) decided to put all their marketing force into the other movie they had coming out, Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire. Therefore, the MST movie played in relatively few theaters, despite the generally good reviews it received. This experience (along with the fact that the Sci-Fi Channel picked up the show shortly thereafter) is probably why we never got a second MST movie.
There’s another featurette on the disc called This Island Earth: 2 ½ Years in the Making (which is an actual quote from the movie’s trailer). This provides extensive background into the making of this classic science fiction film. It’s admirable that they even talkrd to people who weren’t happy with the cut of the film used for the MST movie, saying that it deserved better. This points out one of the few problems I see with this release. This really would have benefited with a DVD of the original film (or even better, a Blu-Ray). I’m guessing Shout! Factory might not have had the rights to do so, but it would have been a great addition to the set (and a way for those unhappy with the cut used in the movie to be vindicated).
There’s also the original theatrical trailer for the MST movie. As a fan of the show, I would have been excited to see this preview in a theater, but I never did.
The last extra on this disc is a Holy Grail of sorts for the fans: deleted scenes from the film. Many of these were only shown in public once, during the second MST convention (which, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend). There exists a fan recorded version of that viewing, but it was about as good as you’d expect a handheld fan recording of the movie to be. Here we have a couple of different (and I think, better) host segments, and even some cut riffing segments that I wasn’t aware of. It’s great to finally get a chance to see this rare footage. I’m wondering if this was a last minute addition, because the only mention of this being available was on a sticker on the DVD box.
Since Shout! Factory handles the regular MST episode box sets, they also carried over a couple of popular features from those. We have another great menu screen, with a computer animated Crow and Tom Servo doing a host segment cobbled from sound bites from the movie. It’s really remarkable how well done these are. And for who like the Steve Vance illustrated DVDs from the box sets, he has illustrated the other side of the Blu-Ray’s reversible sleeve if you prefer to display it that way.
There is also a standard DVD included, with the movie and all the same extras from the Blu-Ray. While this is nice to have, I really wish they would have included a video of This Island Earth instead, especially considering how much it was talked about in the extras. I found it odd that the movie was rated PG-13 ”for some sexual humor”, but I didn’t find it any worse than a typical episode of the show. This is still a lot of fun, and highly recommended.