Opening: CultureSmash editor Stephen Lackey sends out a text that he has received the 35th(!) MST3K collection on DVD for review. The review of the set, which consists of 4 episodes, must be completed by March 25. After a quick glance at his schedule, and the realization that the 25th ends spring break week, I decide to accept the experiments.
Intro: I first heard to the MST3K phenomenon from my friend Trey in high school, who was the contact for most of my geeky TV obsessions (including Doctor Who and Red Dwarf). It would be a few years later before a co-worker started lending be MST3K episodes on VHS, and I first experienced the genius of the show. Fortunately, I learned of the show, and had access to cable TV in enough time to watch the final episode at the time of it’s airing. Since then, my relationship with the show changed significantly. I’ve shared a few of my favorite episodes with friends and gone to screenings of high-profile episodes, (Mitchell and Manos: The Hands of Fate fall into those categories) but for the most part, my memories of the show have been directly influenced by RiffTrax, a project from former MST3K host MIke Nelson, and cast members Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy. This would be my first look at the series release on DVD.
Movie Segment 1: Teenage Caveman
This episode is preceded by two great shorts. “Aquatic Wizards” is a racially insensitive look at water skiing. “Catching Trouble” features a wildlife “expert” and his mute, Emo Phillips-doppleganger assist committing offences against nature that would prompt PETA to create a time machine to go back in time and put an end to. The feature film, directed by Roger Corman, plays like an episode of The Twilight Zone that’s 53 minutes too long, and could have served as M. Night Shyamalan’s inspiration for The Village.
Movie Segment 2: Being From Another Planet
The stand out point off this episode is two of the very best invention exchanges from the run of the series. The Mads offer “Tragic Moments” figurines, and the Satellite of Love crew displays the Jack Palance impersonation kits. The feature film is indicative of my condondum of MST3K. While I find the episodes with more modern movies easier to watch, I’m less forgiving when the horribleness of the film. Being From Another Planet, released in the early 80s is a hot mess of a movie, and the production crew simply had no excuse to release a movie like this.
Movie Segment 3: 12 to the Moon
The short of this episode, “Design for Dreaming”, is truly one of the most baffling shorts I’ve seen in the series. A woman has a dream about being invited to General Motors motorama, then has visions of the kitchen of the future, and a visit to the city of tomorrow. The only positive things of the short is the host segments feature a visit from the main character, and a reference to fan-favorite short Mr. B-Natural.
If you’ve ever seen a parody of bad mid-century sci-fi films, you’ll find those tropes in 12 to the Moon. Shots that reveal the stage facades… it’s in there. Wires obviously visible… it’s in there.
Movie Segment 4: Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell
A fantasy wizards and warriors film that could have been shot during a local renaissance faire. Probably the most watchable film in this collection. Two mentions of The Simpsons during the crew riffs are the highlights of this episode!
Exactly what you would expect from a release of a lower budget cable show originally broadcast in SD.
No serious complaints about the audio, although I’d like to have the volume of the Satellite of Love crew louder in parts. Let’s be honest, we’re all watching this to hear the riffs, and not for the craptacular audio of the original film.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
I’m typically not a fan of the slim DVD case, and would usually prefer a folding booklet case for multi-DVD releases. However, if I had the previous 34 MST3K releases in my collection, I could appreciate the slim cases in this case. The release comes with a slip cover, and includes mini-posters of the case covers, featuring Crow and Tom Servo integrated into mock movie posters for the feature films, which are a nice touch.
The bonus features on each DVD include a short documentary about the feature film from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, which are worth a watch. The extras on Being from Another Planet also includes both the trailer, and the original version of the film under the name Time Walker. It’s of note that the original title doesn’t give away the “surprise” ending of the film, although the trailer spoils the hell out of the movie. And while I admittedly couldn’t subject myself to watching the original film in it’s entirety, it’s worth noting that the MST3K version omits the most frightening part of the film, the promise of the series, “To Be Continued.”
What could make this bonus features better? I’d love to see a conversion with the MST3K cast discussing the experiment films, much like some of the insights given in the MST3K episode guide.
Watching these episodes that originally broadcast over 2 decades ago, gave me a new perspective on the show. I’m not sure that the show would hold up for views of the newer generation. So many of the jokes were based on a “Oh yeah, I remember that!” factor at the time that the episodes were first aired that I’m not sure it holds up as well as I’d like for them to. And while back in the day, I was Team Joel, the intervening years, and Mike Nelson’s involvement in the RiffTrax project has me re-evaluating that stance.