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Thursday, February 27, 2014

DVD Review: Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXIX

I’m always happy when a new DVD box set of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is released. This show is guaranteed to make me laugh and put me in a good mood. Volume XXIX contains four episodes that were never before released on DVD – two with Joel Hodgson and two with Mike Nelson. There is lots of bonus material as well, including the original version of one of the films that the guys are subjected to.

Disc One: Untamed Youth

This is a very early Joel Hodgson episode, from when Josh Weinstein was doing the voice of Tom Servo, and when Joel gave a very brief explanation of the show at the beginning. In this episode, the gang is forced to watch a teen exploitation movie from the 1950s, one starring the sexy Mamie Van Doren.

When the film opens, a man is running across an empty field, leading Joel to comment, “It looks like he’s playing football against Claude Rains University” (a reference to his famous role in The Invisible Man). Two sexy young women are arrested for hitchhiking. The judge tells them, “You are vagrants, without visible means of support,” to which Crow quips, “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.” The two girls are sentenced to be cotton pickers, and they do a song in their room to cheer themselves up. Though they only have one guitar, and the girl is only plucking one string, we hear a whole band, leading Crow to observe, “That guitar makes amazing sounds.” And when one character says, “You’ve got plenty of hands working for you,” Crow says, “Two per person.”

The gang does a funny bit about Greg Brady during one of the breaks. “Then in 1974, Greg was faced with the biggest shock of his life – his family was canceled.”

Disc One Bonus Features

This disc includes an introduction by Joel Hodgson, as well a bit where Joel talks about his one-man show, Riffing Myself. There is also an interview with Mamie Van Doren, in which she talks about the beginning of her career, telling some interesting anecdotes. And of course she talks about Untamed Youth. The DVD also includes the film’s trailer.

Disc Two: Hercules And The Captive Women

This is a Joel episode from 1992. The invention exchange in this episode is actually really funny – the lawn mower with the baby seat. Then, after begging for the opportunity, Gypsy gets to watch the film with the gang. She doesn’t quite understand how things are done, and tells the characters on the screen to stop fighting. After a short time, Gypsy realizes the movie is terrible and leaves.  The others, of course, have to remain and suffer. As always, they ease their suffering (and ours) with plenty of funny comments.

When a voice over says, “History tells us of the war,” the gang jokes, “And now I’m going to too.” When Hercules lies down for a nap on the boat, they joke, “Wake me up when you get to the plot point.” When the film cuts to a different shot of the boat, Tom Servo says, “Meanwhile, in the very same scene.” And then: “Maybe if they pulled up the anchor, the plot would move a little.” Later Tom Servo says, “I tell you, this would really be exciting if I knew what was going on.” There’s a midget in the film they watch, who at one point is running alongside a mountain. Joel says, “Wow, these mountains really make you feel small."

And there are plenty of pop culture references, including references to Grease 2, The Birds, Get Smart, Star Trek, The Banana Splits, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Star Wars, Network, Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, The Rolling Stones, The Police, CSN, R.E.M. and “In The Year 2525.”

Disc Two Bonus Features

The second disc includes an introduction by Joel Hodgson, in which he talks about Gypsy’s involvement at the beginning of the movie. There is also a featurette titled “MST3K Artist In Residence: Steve Vance,” with Dave Long (animator of the MST3K DVD menus) talking with Steve Vance, who creates the MST3K posters and DVD covers for the box sets.  The DVD also includes a photo gallery of the individual DVD box covers.

Disc Three: The Thing That Couldn’t Die

This is a Mike Nelson episode from 1997, when the series felt some bizarre need to add an ongoing plot to the non-movie segments. But during one of the breaks, there is a really funny bit about Crow’s documentary on the civil war. And all the stuff with the movie is excellent. At the beginning, when three people show up on horses, one says: “Well, one thing has changed. Jessica was only thirteen when I went away to college.” Mike quips, “Now she’s twenty-nine. I kind of had a bit of a hard time.” Jessica is using a divining rod, looking for water. Crow suggests, “Why don’t you try down by the creek, honey?” At one point when Jessica is using her divining rod, Crow asks, “Wouldn’t it be funny if she found Divine?

One incredibly dumb ranch hand picks up a rifle, and the other takes it from him, saying, “You don’t know how to shoot a gun, you’ll hurt yourself.” The dumb guy says, “I wasn’t going to shoot it.” The gang adds, “I was going to clean it at you.” Later, when the two are struggling over a knife, Tom Servo says, “Suddenly the knife went off.”

This episode has references to Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Westside Story, Neil Diamond, Warren Zevon, Wang Chung, Allen Ginsberg, Van Gogh, Measure For Measure and Macbeth.

Disc Three Bonus Features

This disc includes The Movie That Couldn’t Die, a short piece telling the story of the film’s production, with film historian Tom Weaver. It also includes the trailer.

Disc Four: The Pumaman

This is a Mike Nelson episode from 1998. The Pumaman is a strange and awful science fiction superhero film, clearly a Superman rip-off. At the beginning when a voice from the heavens says “I speak to all humanity,” Mike adds, “Can you hear me in the back?” When a blonde stares awkwardly through a large magnifying glass, Crow jokes, “There’s something wrong with this mirror.” Regarding the gold mask, the blonde then says, “This is proof of an outer space presence in our history.” Tom Servo jokes, “She said that about waffles.”

When Pumaman is flying, the gang jokes, “He has the power to rear-project major cities.” Mike says, “I hate to be picky, but pumas aren’t really known for flying.” Then he adds later, “Are pumas also known for their whining?” When Pumaman looks up and says, “Thank you,” Mike adds, “Guy who lives on the second floor.” The gang also constantly pokes fun of Donald Pleasence’s odd pronunciation of “puma,” as well as the terrible score’s similarity to “The Hustle.”

This episode has references to This Is Spinal Tap, The Poseidon Adventure, Goldfinger, Macbeth, Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Beach Boys, Eddie Rabbitt, Van Halen and The Greatest American Hero (with Crow singing, "Believe it or not, this movie's still on/It should have ended two hours ago").

Disc Four Bonus Features

The bonus features to this disc include the regular version of The Pumaman. I watched that version before watching the MST3K rip on it, just in order to give the film a fair shot. I didn’t think I’d be able to take it at all seriously after watching Mike and the robots tear it to shreds. Well, it turns out I couldn’t take it seriously anyway. It is one of the worst films ever made. But I love that it’s included on this disc, and I hope in future MST3K releases, more original versions will be included. The version here is full-screen.

This disc also includes a nice long interview with Walter G. Alton, Jr., who stars as Pumaman. Interestingly, he was a lawyer who started acting after playing football in the park with some actors. And of course he talks about The Pumaman. Shockingly, he didn't like the original costume. Can you imagine a costume worse than the one he wears in the film? He also talks about Donald Pleasence, and also gives his reaction to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version.

Much Ado About Nanites features interviews with Kevin Murphy, Patrick Brantseg, Mary Jo Pehl and Beez McKeever about the nanite characters.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXIX is scheduled to be released on March 25, 2014 through Shout! Factory.

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