Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXVI
Cast - Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff
Country of Origin - USA
Discs - 4
Distributor - Shout Factory
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
Date - 03/28/13
The Episodes (4/5)
**Warning Standard MST3K INTRO **
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.
** End Standard MST3K INTRO **
We are now on the 26th volume of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is the 13th volume of 4-5 episode sets that have been released since pop culture distribution kings Shout! Factory have taken over the MST3K license from Rhino. Rhino did a decent-enough job with the MST3K brand, I mean at least we got the episodes. However, in the 5 years since Shout! Factory has taken command of the Satellite of Love we have gotten what can only be considered the Criterion treatment for the show, and this set here is further proof of that loving relationship between the cats over at Best Brains Inc. (the makers of MST3K) and Shout! Factory.
As is the standard with these sets we have 4 episodes from the shows run (the only set to break this mold was the Gamera themed set with 5 full episodes). These episodes include Alien from L.A., The Mole People, The Magic Sword, and Danger Death Ray. The episodes in the set range from excellent to very good with not a stinker or even an average episode to be found amongst the four in this collection.
The Magic Sword
There are certain filmmakers, and producers whose work gained notoriety during their appearances on MST3K such as films made by K. Gordon Murray, Coleman Francis, Sandy Frank, and the man behind the Magic Sword Bert I. Gordon. Gordon's films typically were contemporary films, the Magic Sword, however, was an attempt by Gordon to produce a fantasy a film with cheesy and hysterical results. The film is truly great MST3K-fodder, and offers many great riffing opportunities for Joel and the 'Bots. There are certain films within the MST3K filmography that I could actually see watching without the riffing, and as much as I love fantasy films this is certainly not one of them. That being said it is an extremely funny episode, and a welcome addition to this set.
Alien from L.A.
Now I'll admit outright I am a fan of the cinema of Albert Pyun. The man has made films in every conceivable genre, and a few of those films could be considered classics in there own right (Sword and the Sorcerer!). Of course, working in the genres he has worked in, and at the budgetary level he was forced to work with there are quite a few stinkers in his repertoire, and one of those is Alien from L.A.
Watching the credits on Alien from L.A. was sort of a treat on to itself. Not just to see the name Albert Pyun on an MST3K episode, but the film was produced by former Cannon Films impresarios Golan and Globus, and the film certainly bears there aesthetic of a great title, and a named starlet (in this case 80's supermodel Kathy Ireland) over a decent plot, FX, acting, or pretty much anything that could possibly save this flick from B-Movie Hell. Not to say these cats didn't make great films, when they were on fire they made some pretty awesome stuff (Lifeforce, Missing in Action, etc). That pretty much makes the film perfect for riffing by the Satellite of Love Crew, and this episode is another top notch one. Mike and the 'Bots are really having a good go with the film, and the host segments from the Vend-A-Gut that opens the episode onward are a blast to watch.
Danger! Death Ray
I will preface this by saying this was my favorite episode in the entire set. I have a thing about 60's spy films/James Bond knock-off's and this one is admittedly bad, but at the same time surprisingly entertaining. There is a certain rare film to play on an MST3K episode where I find myself interested in the film as much as the riffing, and this was definitely one of those films. That being said the riffing on this episode was certainly top notch, the film being entertaining was just the proverbial icing on the cake. The plot of the film which involves an inventor and his death ray being kidnapped and stolen respectively. The FX in the film are on the very low budget end of the scale, but that is part of the fun, and these guys really know that.
The Mole People
When I pulled out the case of the Mole People, I thought we were getting another KTMA episode of MST3K. For those unaware MST3K has it's origins in public access and the actual first season of the show was broadcast utilizing public domain serial like Commander Cody and the Radar Men from the Moon, and public domain B-Movies like The Green Slime and Invaders from the Deep. I was quite surprised to find out that Mole People was a series 8 episode with Mike Nelson doing hosting duties rather than an early Joel episode. That being said although the effects for the Satellite of Love crew are much improved, and the writing and pacing of the riffs are certainly better than the KTMA episodes this is the least episode of the set, and actually feels like a sharper, more polished version of those early episode.
The riffs that occur during this obscure Universal oddity come at a more relaxed pace that is uncommon for the Mike Nelson era of MST3K, and are simply just not as funny as many other episodes. There are certainly some fun moments, and this is certainly a decent episode but it is far from classic MST3K. However, if Mole People is the least of the 4 the rest of the set certainly makes up for it.
If you've seen the prior Shout MST3K editions 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.
I seriously love that Shout! Factory have decided to treat MST3K as it should have been treated since the beginning. They have added extra additional content to the episodes either pertaining to the movie that is the subject of the episode or at least related to MST3K itself. In addition to that they have continued including mini-poster reproductions of the poster artwork for the episodes. The Magic Sword features an short 8 minute interview with Bert I. Gordon that should please longtime MST3K fans curious about putting a face and voice to the maker of some of MST3K's most interesting moments. There is also a trailer for the film and MST3K Hour Wraps. Danger! Death Ray contains an interview with host Mike Nelson called Life After MST3K it runs around 12 minutes, and offers an insight to the post MST3K career of the shows second host. Alien from L.A. contains an interview with the films director Albert Pyun (which coincidentally like the Gordon interview runs 8 minutes). There is also a trailer for the film. The set rounds off with the Mole People disc which for lacking in the episode department certainly has some decent extras. There is Of Mushrooms and Madman the Making of Mole People a 17 minute making of documentary about the film, and also the films trailer.
You will never read a review where I do not recommend the latest MST3K set. The show with it's very diverse sense of humor holds up extremely well to this day, and is really a treat for the open-minded film viewer. Shout! Factory continues to do great work putting these episodes to disc with decent A/V and great and entertaining extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.