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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXVI DVD Review

I’ve long been a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and am always happy to revisit episodes of the program. There are some episodes that I’ve seen nearly a dozen times, and somehow they always make me laugh, and raise my spirits. For those who are unaware of the program, the idea behind it is simple: a man (Joel Hodgson in the early episodes, Mike Nelson later on) is sent into space and is tortured by having to watch bad movies. He survives by poking fun at the films with his robot companions, Tom Servo and Crow.

Volume XXVI contains four episodes – one Joel episode, three Mike episodes. Each episode is on a separate disc, and all of the discs have bonus features.

Disc 1: The Magic Sword

The first episode, in which the gang watches The Magic Sword, is a Joel episode from 1992. In this film, a princess (Anne Helm) is kidnaped by Lodac (Basil Rathbone), a sorcerer who is upset because the king’s father executed his sister for witchcraft. He’s going to feed the princess to his dragon. George, the son of a sorceress, is in love with the princess (though they’ve never met), and wants to save her. The sorceress spoils his birthday surprises by showing him his gifts early – a magic sword, shield and armor (well, an outfit of some sort anyway).

When the princess says she’s furious, the guys quip, “I am furious – yellow.” When the sorceress goes on about her family, they joke, “She’s got more stories about her relatives than Gabe Kaplan” (a Welcome Back Kotter reference). When George looks around in a cave, the guys joke, “Nope, nothing happening with the plot over here.”

As always, there are lots of great pop culture references. This time there are several Shakespeare references, as well as a Tom Robbins reference. There is also a reference to Where’s Poppa?  And during a break, the gang does a fake ad for Basil Rathbones, snacks for dogs.

Bonus Features

There are a few bonus features on this disc, including Bert I Gordon: The Amazing Colossal Filmmaker, which is an interview with Bert I. Gordon, the man who wrote and directed The Magic Sword. He talks about watching movies as a child, and about moving from St. Paul to Los Angeles in order to make movies. He says was not encouraged in his endeavors. (This is approximately eight minutes.) The second bonus feature is MST3K Hour Wraps, which is approximately five minutes of intros and outros to the two episodes when the show was divided into hour segments. This disc also includes the theatrical trailer for The Magic Sword.

Disc 2: Alien From L.A.

Alien From L.A. is a Mike Nelson episode from 1993. In the film, Wanda (Kathy Ireland) is dumped by her boyfriend. She tells him, “I want to change. Just tell me what you don’t like about me.” The gang jokes, “Wow, she’s got a lot of pride and dignity.” Wanda then receives a letter that her Dad, an explorer, has died in Africa. So she goes there to find him. She quickly falls down a hole and meets an Australian guy, who takes her to an underground city. One important question the gang asks is, “So why is it that the action sequences slow this movie down?

Mike Nelson and the robots rip on Kathy Ireland’s acting throughout the film, particularly her voice. “I like acting, especially the scenes when I don’t have to talk.”  During a break from the film, the gang sings a pseudo-Irish tune to Kathy, “I’d like to come over and roll in your clover, and kiss your Blarney stone.”

There are pop culture references to William S. Burroughs and Peter Greenaway, among others. There is also a Casablanca reference: “The problems of two second-rate actors don’t amount to hill of beans in this crazy underworld.”

Bonus Features

This disc has two bonus features, the first being an interview with Albert Pyun, the director of Alien From L.A. And yes, he talks about Kathy Ireland’s voice. (This is approximately eight and a half minutes). The second bonus feature is the theatrical trailer for Alien From L.A.

Disc 3: Danger!! Death Ray

The third disc contains the best episode of this collection. In this one, Mike Nelson and the robots are forced to watch Danger!! Death Ray, a truly terrible film. But as is often the case with this series, the worst movies yield the best episodes. A dull scientist shows a group of dull scientists his new Death Ray. But two seem to be planning on stealing it and kidnaping the inventor. During a lame gun battle outside, Crow quips, “Peckinpah’s Wild Parking Attendants.” As the bad guys make their getaway, Mike points out, “The Death Ray’s just rattling around in the trunk. I hope they wrapped a blanket around it.” Then when they get into a helicopter, Crow realizes, “Anybody bring the Death Ray?” When a clearly fake submarine surfaces, Mike says, “Ah, the ocean is beautiful in this part of the tub.” Crow adds, “Special effects by Billy.”

They occasionally joke about the film’s title, like “Danger!! Smalltalk” when special agent Bart Fargo is talking to the woman next to him on the plane. And “Danger!! Drywall.” Regarding a gondola, Crow says, “A poorly designed subway.”

They all sing along with the movie’s theme song whenever it pops up, which is often. Mike says, “I can’t run without my theme.” Tom Servo adds, “If the music speeds up a bit, I can catch her.” And, as Crow says, “It was an interesting choice not to have any suspense in this movie.”

There are lots of music references in this episode, to such folks as The Lovin’ Spoonful, Grateful Dead, Taco, Chad & Jeremy, and Wes Montgomery. On a break from the film, Tom Servo builds his own Death Ray (“made for peaceful purposes only”) which he then uses to attack Crow.

Bonus Features

There are two bonus features on this disc. The first is Life After MST3K: Mike Nelson, a 12-minute interview with Mike Nelson in which he talks about the show, about writing and, of course, about Rifftrax. The second bonus feature is the film’s theatrical trailer, which, by the way, is from Something Weird Video – the “SWV” is in the bottom right corner of the screen.

Disc 4: The Mole People

The fourth disc contains the weakest episode of the collection. This is a later Mike Nelson episode when the Planet Of The Apes story is in place, with the evil woman, rather than Doctor Forrester and Frank, sending the films. But that is not at all important.  The film they watch is The Mole People.

Interestingly, Crow makes a Rocky Horror Picture Show reference right at the beginning of this episode. MST3K really owes a lot to that film and to the audience participation phenomenon that grew around it. When the movie starts, a little card reads, “Africa.” Mike quips, “Well, that narrows it down.” When men dressed like Keebler elves take the main characters prisoner, Mike says, “It’s got to be humiliating to be tortured by a Smurf.” Shining a flashlight causes the underground dwellers to run, so the gang jokes, “Oh, light that’s slightly brighter than we’re used to, no!” When the female love interest is playing an instrument, the gang sings a bit of “Dark Hollow.” When the girl says, “Our gods are always angry and give orders,” Crow responds, “Oh, she’s Catholic.” And then while a somewhat inept dancer does her thing before a sacrifice, the guys quip, “Amateur night of the gods.”

Bonus Features

This disc has two bonus features, the first being Of Mushrooms And Madmen: Making The Mole People, a 17-minute documentary on the making of The Mole People. It’s interesting to learn where the stock footage of the mountain-climbing comes from, but this documentary has no interviews with any of the cast or crew. The second bonus feature is the theatrical trailer.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXVI is scheduled to be released on March 26, 2013 through Shout! Factory.

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