DVD Review: “Mystery Science Theater 3000: XVII”
Released By: Shout Factory
Release Date: March 16, 2010
Number of Discs: 4
Approximate Running Time: 400 Minutes
Special Features: Introductions, Interviews, Trailers, Photo Galleries
Suggested Price: $59.97
A working class schlep from Gizmonic Institute is trapped by evil scientists aboard an interstellar spaceship and forced to watch bad movies while they observe the results. He survives with the help of a group of robots who watch the films with him and poke fun at them in a running commentary.
The Fanboy Factor:
I probably should have been a bigger fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or MST3K, than I was during its original run. My friend John once summed up my opinions of the show very precisely when he said “They’re paying these guys for what we’ve been doing for years for free”! Adding to the fact that I liked to make my own jokes about bad movies was the occasional mockery of a film I considered to be a classic like Revenge of the Creature or The Mole People. This made me a casual viewer at best. Thankfully, I have reassessed those feelings in recent years and been able to enjoy many of the better episodes that have been released on home video. This seventeenth entry in the box set series has one of the best selections of films to date in terms of both ridicule potential and historical perspective.
Episode 101 – The Crawling Eye
This was the very first episode broadcast nationally on The Comedy Channel after the MST3K team left their original home at Minnesota television station KTMA. With a larger budget, they were able to flesh out their original concept but the show is still very obviously a work in progress. At this point in the series, the cast was mad scientists Drs. Clayton Forrester and Larry Erhardt tormenting janitor Joel Robinson. Their first selection for their larger audience is a real gem, right down to the battered print and muddled sound. American actor Forrest Tucker stars in this British science fiction film (known as The Trollenberg Terror in the UK) about intergalactic giant eyeballs attacking a Swiss observatory. Scenes of the “fried eggs with tentacles” crawling up the mountain are priceless. While the jokes are slower paced and more erratic than in later episodes, Joel and the Bots manage to hurl a respectable amount of zingers.
Episode 415 – The Beatniks
While MST3K was best known for showing science fiction and horror movies, no genre was off limits. This tale of post-juvenile delinquents on the fast track to self destruction after one of their members embarks on a promising singing career is a perfect example of a more straight laced film selection. This low budget teen pot boiler, staring Peter Breck from Big Valley, is sparse on production values and loaded with continuity errors that make it a perfect target for the barbs. This is an entry from the fourth season on Comedy Central, formerly The Comedy Channel, when the show had hit its stride. Mad Scientist lackey TV’s Frank had replaced Dr. Larry and a smooth routine had been established. The movie is preceded by an episode of the daytime soap opera General Hospital, with Roy Thinnes, that proves that some material is almost too dry even for this satire.
Episode 910 – The Final Sacrifice
This ninth season episode is one of the strangest films ever shown on MST3K even though it had lots of competition. Sacrifice is a Canadian feature about young boy searching for a lost city and clues in the mysterious death of his father. He is pursued by a hooded devil cult and aided by a boozing loner named Zap Rowsdower! Slow pacing, erratic acting, and a miniscule budget afford this time killer no mercy from the bots! This is a huge jump forward in MST3K chronology with Mike Nelson in the host seat after having replaced Joel in the middle of the fifth season. Mike’s nemesis is Pearl Forrester, megalomaniac mother of Clayton, and her incompetent assistants Professor Bobo the ape and The Observer (a.k.a. Brain Guy). This was also the show’s second season after moving from Comedy Central to The Sci Fi Channel. Fortunately, the later cast was all firmly in place by this time so the transition isn’t too jarring.
Episode 1005 – Blood Waters of Dr. Z
Shout Factory saved the best for last in this set with Jacksonville, Florida’s own ZAAT under its notorious alias of Dr. Z. A crack pot scientist in a bargain basement lab transforms himself into a human / catfish hybrid to seek revenge on his colleges and one day dominate the world! Originally broadcast near the mid-point of the tenth and final season, Dr. Z finds the later MST3K cast at their satirical best, firing off one liners like a machine gun (“invisible cracker mom” is one of many classics) at the ripe source material. The host segments for this episode are also very amusing, working gags and themes from the movie into fast paced comedy bits. MST3K may have been on it’s way out at this point but the show never suffered for it and repeats would still be aired for another five years on the Sci Fi Channel.
The audio and video quality on this set is excellent overall. The prints used as source material range from passable to marginal condition but that is part of the charm of the series. If anything, these films look better now on the DVDs than when originally broadcast. The extras are both plentiful and varied. The Crawling Eye contains a special introduction by series creator and original star Joel Hodgson while The Beatniks has footage of cast members at a science fiction convention. The Final Sacrifice DVD has an interview with the film’s star Bruce J. Mitchell and Blood Waters includes original trailers and promotional material – all courtesy of one ED Tucker. It should also be noted that the disc menus are very well done and cleverly tied in to the accompanying episode. Also included as an added bonus are four mini-posters of the DVD box art.
The Bottom Line:
Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will purchase this box set with little provocation but it should also be of particular interest to anyone just discovering this unique television program. Set XVII provides one of the best overviews of the entire series of any release to date and that makes it a perfect jumping on point for new viewers. It’s also a whole lot of laughs. Highly recommended.