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Thursday, November 7, 2013

DVD Review: Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition

I can’t believe it’s been twenty-five years since Mystery Science Theater 3000 first aired. The new 25th Anniversary Edition box set contains four episodes that were previously unreleased on DVD – Moon Zero Two, The Day The Earth Froze, The Leech Woman and Gorgo. That’s two Joel episodes and two Mike episodes. On a bonus disc are two fan-favorite episodes, Mitchell (which is one of my personal favorites) and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. There is also a three-part documentary on the series and several other bonus features. And it all comes in an attractive tin case. Yes, this is perhaps the best box set for the series that’s been released so far.

Disc 1: Moon Zero Two

The first disc features an early episode from 1990, when Josh Weinstein provided the voice of Tom Servo. The gang is subjected to a terrible science fiction film, and during its first scene, they remark, “It looks like they’re shooting this out of the back of a van.” When one character says, “You can’t tell this man anything about anything,” Crow adds, “But feel free to tell him something about nothing, or a little about a lot.” On the moon base, a girl says, “It’s funny to think that with no air out there, nobody can just open up a window.” Joel responds, “Oh, we’ve done that, but you just have to be really fast.”

When one character is interrupted by another character, the gang jumps to his defense: “Hey, pal, I’ve got a small part. Let me finish my own lines, if you don’t mind.” Some characters are attempting to capture a giant sapphire asteroid. One of the astronauts muses: “A six thousand ton jewel. How would you like to meet the broad who could hang that around her neck?” Joel comments, “Oh, she’s probably got a boyfriend.” The movie is on the dull side, and Crow jokes, “In space, no one can hear you yawn.”

As always, there are plenty of pop culture references, including The Beatles, David Bowie, and Fawlty Towers. During a break, the gang re-enacts the first moon landing. This DVD includes an introduction by Hammer Films historian Constantine Nasr, who talks about why Moon Zero Two is a bad film, but also talks about its merits. The Moon Zero Two theatrical trailer is also included.

Disc 2: The Day The Earth Froze

The second disc contains a Joel episode from 1992. It begins with a short film, Here Comes The Circus, before the feature, The Day The Earth Froze. Early on, the film’s narrator says one character would “save the village from the most horrible, cruel misfortune it would ever know.” Tom Servo clarifies, “The Reagan-Bush administration.” When there’s a shot of a bear, the gang jokes, “John Irving wrote the screenplay.” Perfect. When a witch says “You’ll never see the face of your pretty sister again,” the gang asks, “Can we see the other parts?

The witch demands something called Sampo, leading to one of the series’ funniest comedy breaks, with Joel and the robots guessing what a sampo is. It ends with a message on screen: “If you know what a Sampo is, write it on a piece of paper, throw it away and then try not to think about it. You’ll be glad you did.”

This episode contains pop culture references to The Beach Boys, Star Wars, Popeye, Gilligan’s Island, Macbeth, Flashdance, Jack Kerouac, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Stalag 17, Billy Idol and The Birds, among others. This DVD contains “MST Hour Wraps,” which are the introductions and conclusions to the two episodes of Mystery Science Theater Hour that this show was divided into. The theatrical trailer for The Day The Earth Froze is also included.

Disc 3: The Leech Woman

The third disc contains a later Mike Nelson episode, with Pearl and the apes. The Leech Woman opens with an old woman slowly walking down a hall. Crow quips, “It’s so embarrassing having to report your own death.” While the doctor’s wife is explaining why she drinks, the doctor stands blandly, blankly in the background, leading Mike to joke, “Still not my line, do not act.” (Later Crow says, “You know, he’s a master of not acting.”) When the doctor finally sees the old woman, the gang jokes, “Well, the tests came back, and it turns out you’re old.”

There is plenty of stock footage, which the gang dutifully points out and makes fun of. When some stock footage begins, Crow says, “Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in actual Africa.” And then: “And now back to our set.” During footage of the Africans dancing, Mike (in the tone of a documentarian) says, “Sadly, this tribe of extras no longer exists.” Later, there is a bar called Bar, so they joke, “Oh, I love going to Bar. I usually order sandwich and have drink.”

During one of the breaks, there is a great bit about the nanites going on strike. The DVD includes “Life After MST3K: Mary Jo Pehl,” in which Mary Jo talks about traveling and writing, as well as Cinematic Titanic. She talks about how the experience of working on MST3K has shaped her life. The theatrical trailer for The Leech Woman is also included.

Disc 4: Gorgo

The fourth disc also contains a later Mike Nelson episode. That obnoxious bastard Leonard Maltin makes an appearance in this episode. I can’t help but thoroughly detest that guy – I’m sure you understand. He pitches his fucking book. Other than that, this is a really great episode. One of the characters looks like Samuel Beckett, so during a break the gang puts on a special one-act play, Waiting For Gorgo.

When the monster comes ashore in Ireland, the guys joke, “Sorry, I’m a little lost, can you tell me how to get to Tokyo?” The next morning, when an angry group has gathered outside a building, Tom Servo jokes: “Open the pub. Come on, it’s 9 a.m.” When the main character is submerged, Crow says, “If they don’t let me up to go soon, it will be a yellow submarine.” At one point, Gorgo is transferred to a circus. When we see a shot of a panther in a cage, the guys joke, “Free Huey.”

As you might guess, this one contains references to Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra and other monsters. There are also references to The Poseidon Adventure, Jaws, Hamlet and Lulu. The DVD includes a short documentary, Ninth Wonder Of The World: The Making Of Gorgo. There is information on the films that led up to Gorgo, as well as information on the King brothers and on the actors, including several that were uncredited. The bonus material also includes the theatrical trailer for Gorgo and, for some reason, Leonard Maltin plugging his new book (I still hate that guy).

Disc 5: Mitchell/The Brain That Wouldn’t Die

The special fifth disc contains two of the series’ best episodes, both from 1993: Mitchell, which was Joel’s final episode, and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, which was Mike’s first episode. Mitchell is one of my favorites, and I’m glad to finally have it on DVD (I bought it a couple of other times, but gave it as gifts to friends). In an early scene, Mitchell asks, “All those guns loaded?” John Saxon answers: “Some of them. Not always sure which.” Crow jokes, “They’re randomly loaded. It’s a little game I play.” Linda Evans shows up in a fur and asks Mitchell for a beer. Crow says: “You like ‘em half empty? Some of them got cigarettes in them.” During a slow car chase they joke, “Hot merging action” and “I’ve seen faster funeral processions.” Then, a little later, they point out, “Hey, the headlight fixed itself.” When John Saxon asks Mitchell, “How do you like your Scotch?” the gang answers for him: “By the quart.”

This episode contains references to KC & The Sunshine Band, Deep Purple, Kurt Vonnegut, and The Lovin’ Spoonful. There is also a bonus feature, “Last Flight Of Joel Robinson: Making The Mitchell Episode,” which includes interviews with Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy. They talk about the transition, but Joel doesn’t say why he wanted to leave.

At the beginning of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, the robots train Mike, preparing him for this week’s film. When a doctor on screen says, “I should have known he was as good as dead when they wheeled him in,” Tom Servo says, “’Cause he got me as his doctor.” The doctor’s son asks for permission to take over. Crow jokes: “Have at him. We’ll make it a closed casket.”

This episode contains references to The Beatles and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Also, in the voice of Darth Vader, there is the line, “Luke, join me or you’ll star in Corvette Summer.” There is a bonus feature, an interview with actor Marilyn (Hanold) Neilson, who says the first time she ever saw the film was the night before the interview. She also mentions how her name is spelled incorrectly in the film’s credits.

Documentary: Return To Eden Prairie

Return To Eden Prairie is a three-part documentary on the series (parts are included on each of the first three discs). The first part focuses on some of the show’s crew, and includes interviews with Jef Maynard (art director/set designer), Beez McKeever (prop master/costume designer) and Patrick Brantseg (art director/actor). Most of the time is spent focused on the costumes and sets of the show’s later years.

The second part is for me the most interesting, and includes interviews with Joel Hodgson (creator/writer/actor), Trace Beaulieu (writer/actor), Kevin Murphy (writer/actor) and Jim Mallon (producter/director/actor). This part focuses on the inception of the series. Joel talks about how he used to do stand-up, and he started making robots from found objects. He mentions Silent Running as an inspiration for the series, but interestingly there is no mention whatsoever of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There is also footage of the set being built.

The third part also features interviews with those cast members, along with Mary Jo Pehl and Paul Chaplin. One thing I didn’t know before was that Joel Hodgson got the name Crow from that Jim Carroll song (by the way, that song is from the Catholic Boy album, one of the best records ever recorded). One thing that stands out is that there is no interview with Mike Nelson.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition is scheduled to be released on November 26, 2013 through Shout! Factory.

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