Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXII
Cast - Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff
Country of Origin - USA
Discs - 4
MSRP - $64.99
Distributor - Shout Factory
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Episodes (4/5)
**Warning Standard MST3K INTRO WARNING COMPLETE**
I have been a fan of MST3K from the moment I first saw it on Comedy Central in the mid-90's. My friends and I were used to watching bad movies on shows like USA Up All Night, but never before had we seen a show that built itself around cheesy/bad movies. On top of that they made fun of these films like we did, only they were actually funny.
For those that may be out of the loop Mystery Science Theater 3000 basically follows the antics of a man (Joel in the early years, Mike in the later ones) who are trapped on the Satellite of Love by a couple of Mad Scientist, who subject them to cinematic experiences. Every week Joel or Mike get sent a movie, and their reactions are observed. Accompanying them on the satellite are a few robots that Joel created as not to be lonely in the depths of space. These robots are Cambot, Gypsy (included as an action figure with this set), Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot. While in the theater Tom and Crow sit to Joel or Mike's side, and together they proceed to riff on the movie as it plays.
The MST3K guys did this for 10 years, and over the years the humor evolved from sort of funny, but slow burn humor during it's initial seasons on Minneapolis public access station KTMA, and on Comedy Central, to a much faster paced with a greater variety of topical humor in the later Comedy Central and Sci-Fi channel years. Interspersed throughout the episodes are host segments which feature Joel and Mike, the robots, and their captors, and are essentially short comedy sketches that allow the cast to shine outside of the theater, and even add some minor character development and plot to the whole proceedings.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXII is a landmark release in the DVD release history of MST3K. It contains 4 episodes like most of the other sets (excluding the recent Gamera sets), but 2 of the episodes feature content from reluctant MST3K film contributor (and butt of many jokes) Sandy Frank. Sandy signed an agreement during the shows initial run to allow the Best Brains gang to riff into his movies, but upon seeing the results would never allow their release on home video. It appears that he has lost the license for a couple of these ditties, and so we have a pair of truly classic MST3K episodes included in this set. Time of the Apes and Mighty Jack in addition to 2 very good, but not quite nearly as classic episodes The Violent Years and The Brute Man.
The Violent Years
I saw Edward D. Wood Jr's name on the cover of this not-quite-a-classic roughie, and knew this had to be first up. I knew of the Sandy Frank awesomeness to come, but Ed Wood is the King-Queen of the 50's B-Movie scene, and I had never so much as heard of this film let alone seen it, and so it was the first. I did not regret this decision, as not only did I get an MST3k-riffed Ed Wood movie, but a short film that may have been funnier than the actual feature itself. It was called A Young Man's Fancy, and from what I gather may have been an indirect advertisement for kitchen appliances, and the riffing was spot on.
We then have The Violent Years which is a roughie about a female gang, and I guess a parable about juvenile delinquency, or something like that. Whatever the message was it took a back seat to Ed's filmmaking, and the sheer entertainment value. Honestly, I would watch this without the riffing, but with Mike and the 'Bots going off on it, it was like an added cherry on top. The Violent Years has a lot of dialogue-less moments, which gives them plenty of room to riff on the film, and boy do they take it. There are a few slow moments, and the host segments weren't that memorable, but overall a great episode.
The Brute Man
I don't know how the MST3K gang found these awesome short films throughout the series run, but some of my favorite MST3K riffs can be located on various short films (See Hired Parts 1 and 2, and Progress Island U.S.A. for great examples). The short film which opens the episode is called "The Chickens of Tomorrow," and just the title alone had me interested. The short is a documentary piece from the 50's about how raising chickens on larger farms will make the price of poultry and eggs decrease in the long run.
We then have the Brute Man which is sort of a mix of the Frankenstein-misunderstood-monster/killer genre, and a revenge film, and both films make great MST3K fodder for Mike and the 'Bots. The film stars Rondo Hatton (you'll know him when you see him) as The Creeper a killer who is intent on bumping off the people he blames for his "facial imperfections." Hatton has a great presence, and while I probably wouldn't grab this film if it weren't for the MST3K association, I found certain sequences entertaining in their own right. Overall, a great episode that offers plenty of laughs.
Time of the Apes
I am totally embarrassed to admit that I actually enjoyed Time of the Apes as a movie. Yeah, it was a cheesy, horrible post-Apocalyptic Planet of the Apes knock off that turned out to be a dream (sorry for the spoiler). But I love stuff like this! It was cheesy, and fun in the best way possible, and the riffing just added to the fun.
The film was about a baby-sitter, and the 2 children under her care who are cryogenically frozen during an earthquake, and wake up in the distant future to an Earth that is ruled by apes. They must escape, and with the help of a fellow human, and a flying saucer attempt to get back to their own time. The riffs on this episode are solid, but there is a bit of repetition which works for certain MST3K episodes (see Manos: Hands of Fate, Final Sacrifice), but here was a bit of a let down. That being said the movie was watchable, so while the riffing was average the movie made up for it, and to be honest this ended up being my favorite film in the set, so that should say something about the overall experience.
If I had to describe Mighty Jack in a couple of words, those 2 might be batshit insane. Granted, that would be what happens when you take a Japanese TV series about an Airplane/Submarine, and cut it down from a bunch of episodes into a 90 minute movie, but damn this thing has no plot, it just jumps from scene to scene, and that's part of the joke.
In the final host segment of the episode there is even a catchy little jingle from Joel and the 'Bots about how skewed the plot is, and how it just needs to slow down. If I had to pick a best episode of the box, Mighty Jack would be it. The host segments are uniformly excellent, the movie is entertaining enough to watch, but terrible enough to make great riff fodder,
If you've seen what Shout has done with MST3K thus far then there are no surprises with the A/V here. The episodes are presented in their original 1:33:1 aspect ratios, and for the most part look fine. They look much better than I remember them on TV, and are much better then the VHS copies I've seen in the past. Overall, a fine upgrade.
The audio is presented in a 2.0 English Stereo mix. The audio is fine, there is no distortion or background noise or any other sort of audio anomalies. The riffing comes through loud and clear, and the dialogue in the host sequences is perfectly audible.
Shout! Factory have put together a nice slate of extras for Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXII. Each disc has a little something on it. The Violent Years features an 18 minute interview with Ed Wood's wife Kathy, and a 24 minute interview with Violent Years actress Dolores Fuller. The Brute Man features an introduction by Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl), a short 30 minute documentary on the Brute Man himself Rondo Hatton that discusses his career, but concentrates on the Brute man, and also a 1997 documentary Making of MST3K. Time of the Apes and Mighty Jack are similar in the extras department and feature introductions by Japanese film expert August Ragone, who discusses the background for each film. There are also MST Hour wrap segments for each of the pair.
It's Shout! Factory's latest volume of MST3K and it contains 2 Sandy Frank episodes (And an Ed Wood movie!). If you're a fan, you are definitely getting this (or already did). If you're new to the fold it's a good place to start, as the episodes are a good entertaining chunk of MST3K history.