James Reviews Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XX [DVD Review]

“Uh-oh. Seven years bad acting.”

It always feels like Christmas (no puns about Santa Claus films) when a new Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD set comes out. For all us fans out there, we wait with bated breath for every release, each time getting four new DVDs, usually with two Joel and two Mike episodes. This time around it’s four episodes from the Comedy Central era, all featuring the show’s creator and original host, Joel Hodgson. In the past I would have been a bit disappointed by this news, considering I grew up watching Mike Nelson’s run but now that I’ve watched the complete run of the show, I’ve grown to appreciate and even love Joel’s dry wit. And these four episodes give a great selection to people who might not be too familiar with the inhabitants from the Satellite of Love.

First up we get a season one episode, Project Moonbase, with a ‘double dip’ of the awful serial Commander Cody series, a very popular part of the early episodes. The serial doesn’t get much better here, but it does give us one of the great classic lines from MST3K, “He gets in trouble/every week/but he’s saved/by the editing”. Kills me every time. The feature film itself takes place in the future of the 1970’s (which doesn’t look to futuristic at all) and considering I’m not the biggest fan of the first season episodes, this one had me laughing a lot more than I remembered. It seemed to me that they were starting to get the hang of their respective characters. I still didn’t like Tom Servo’s voice yet, but that’s a little nitpick on my end.

Next up are the two Master Ninja films, Master Ninja I and Master Ninja II, starring Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten. Both were edited together from episodes of the NBC series “The Master” and you can definitely tell this from the way the pacing changes halfway through it. It’s during a time when ninjas were popular in the film world, so these films were perfect to make fun of by our crew. Demi Moore is a guest star in the first episode, I mean ‘movie’, which has Crow saying, “I’ve dreamed of her running out of the woods into my Chevy van!” and the many times they make fun of Van Patten’s line reading. Both episodes are from season 3 and are great to watch directly back to back.

Our last episode is one from season 5, one of their fantasy Russian-Finnish films called The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. What’s great about this is that you can plainly see that it’s called a Sinbad film just to capitalize on the Harryhausen films. It’s a Corman acquisition, which means it has horrible dubbed dialogue that has nothing to do with the original film, which makes perfect material for Joel and company to rip on. Joel tends to have the best zingers in this one, with one being, “Man, I never knew Arabia was so Russian!” The strange thing is that this is probably the hardest film for them to actually make fun of because of how surreal it all is, which makes for the weakest entry in this box set.

Joel would leave a few months after that fifth season episode, but this set showcases why Joel is the reason this show got a hold on audiences right away. Shout! Factory again provides a fantastic set for fans, making us wish Rhino would have given up the rights years ago. This time around we get a new introduction from Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Forrester and Crow originally) which runs about 5 minutes and the Mystery Science Theater Hour Wraps, with Mike Nelson in old man makeup. We also get a new interview with Bill McKinney, who plays the evil sheriff in the first episode of Master Ninja, and he just adds a few fun tidbits at the audience. Project Moonbase‘s original theatrical trailer and a Exploring the Look of MST3K with Director of Photography Jeff Stonehouse is a fun discussion. But the best is the Tom Servo Vs. Tom Servo at Dragon Con 2010, which runs 42 minutes and has both Tom’s, Murphy and Weinstein, and is a fun uncut panel discussion with Ken Plume. It’s a lot of fun, with Murphy stealing the show and having old clippings and fan mail saying how much they hated the new Tom Servo voice. I would beg to differ.

Like I said earlier, Shout! Factory has once again outdone themselves with this Mystery Science Theater 3000 set. This being the 20th set is a milestone in some ways, meaning 80 (technically 81) of the films total 198 episodes have now been released. We have a long way ago, but I’m glad Shout! has been the one to keep up the legacy of this amazing show. It’s hard to review comedy in general, with some comedy being hysterical to some and boring to others. MST3K is something I can always throw on and laugh repeatedly, and it’s good to get some of these earlier episodes on DVD now, which I haven’t seen in over a decade. A great release again and here’s hoping XXI comes rather soon.

9/10

[You can currently order the DVD set from Amazon.com for $29.99 (that’s 50% off!)]

Order the DVD from Amazon.com

Here’s some choice scenes from Project Moonbase.

The Master Ninja theme song.

And some favorite moments from The Magic Voyage of Sinbad.

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