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Running Time: 360 minutes
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu
Retail Price: $59.95
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Stereo, Chapter Index (20 Chapters, 6 Chapters), 4-Disc Set
Released: October 26th, 2004
With its brilliant concept, droll humor, lovable characters and cheesy-but-excellent sets, there should be no reasons doubting why "Mystery Science Theater 3000" has become one of the most beloved cult television series of all time. Originally a local show on Minneapolis' UHF television station KTMA in the late 1980s, the show soon made the move to Comedy Central (then the Comedy Channel) and then eventually was picked up by the Sci-Fi channel (before getting the ax a few years ago). In all this time, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" had cast changes, plot changes and rightfully the wonderful feature film so boldly titled "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie."
If you're unfamiliar with the series, here's the premise (which is handily explained in the show's great theme song): Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson, later replaced by Mike Nelson) was a janitor at the Gizmonics Institute and was shot into space by Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu), a mad scientist. Forrester forced Robinson into an evil assignment aboard the spaceship the Satellite Of Love: he'll have to watch the worst of cinema, and his mind would be studied in the process. Joel ended up building some robots: the wisecracking Tom Servo, the wry Crow and Gypsy. Crow and Servo joined Joel for the movies (Gypsy worked the ship), and while they watch (we see that in silhouette form) they comment on what their viewing. Don't expect insight from them though - just incredibly funny, and dead-on humor relevant to the screen and popular culture in general.
Those with a love (or at least familiarity) of the 1990s probably remember the show in some vague way - even if it was this local show that then became yet another quirky cable show of the era. The show's fanbase was strong from the start (yes, when it was on a single UHF television station) that of course just exploded when it hit cable. As great as the series is, it's not exactly something you can just sit down and enjoy for a few minutes (well, usually not): since the series shows movies, it's a program you have to invest time into (with commercials and all when the series aired, it tended to be a good two hours worth). Many willingly and happily did spend hours and hours aboard the Satellite Of Love - the show had a healthy run, produced an incredible amount of episodes and really did become a phenom all of its own. And it wasn't just the film commentary that was funny; each episode was bookended (and had portions in-between the films) by live-action segments involving the characters on board (on a sidenote, Crow T. Robot is certainly my favorite character).
The idea and the overall essence of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" has been referenced and even copied many times before in a variety of ways (certainly a number of DVD commentaries copied the style, right down to the silhouettes), but nothing beats the true original. Rhino - who originally released the show in VHS installments starting in the mid-1990s - has been churning out DVD volumes of the series making many fans quite happy in the process. With that said, MST3K and its fans are not artifacts or have been totally forgotten - the show's popularity is still very much alive.
The latest volume of the show on DVD collects some real treasures: "Attack Of The Giant Leeches" (with the short "Undersea Kingdom"), "Gunslinger," "Teenagers From Outerspace" and 80 minutes worth of shorts (those are definitely killer). There are plenty of hilarious comments to be had from Joel and his robot companions, within these films and were solid choices to put on this volume. Fans of the show will definitely want to see these episodes again (assuming your VHS copies are all worn out), and so will the fans who (gasp!) missed them the in their original heyday. For you newbies though who are intrigued and have the time... check the set out. You'll probably get a good feel of the show's concepts and humor, and will have a damn good time too.
All the episodes are presented in 1.33:1 full screen, just as they were aired on television. The qualities of the movies and short films vary, and certainly the transfers of the show couldn't fix the prints. What's really left to judge are the silhouettes (noise is detected on them but they are pitch black), and the live action segments (decent color saturation, okay detail, good fleshtones and plenty of noise). With that said, you're watching this show for comedy and not drop-dead gorgeous presentations of these awful films.
The only tracks on the set appear to be English stereo, and they are pretty good. Given the show is mainly dialogue, there isn't much to comment on. During the live-action bits you can hear the characters well, and of course, you can hear all the movie dialogue and wisecrack comments perfectly. There are some sound effects to be had in the live-action segments which are straightforward but audible, and the show's catchy theme song sounds pretty nice too. Everything here fits the bill as you'd expect. There are no caption or subtitle options.
Sadly, there are no extras.
"Mystery Science Theater 3000" has always had its fans, and there is no better way for them to revisit the show then with another DVD boxed set. While it'd be nice for Rhino to include at least some form of supplements in the future, the show looks and sounds fine for what it is (and getting four discs worth of shows. You die-hard fans probably don't need me to tell you that you'll want this set, but for the casual viewers of the show - as well as the ones who have never heard of it - try to give it a rent, and have fun.