Mystery Science Theater 3000
Directed by Jim Mallon
Starring Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy
Release Date: December 6, 2011
In the not-too-distant future, next Sunday A.D., there was a show called Mystery Science Theater 3000, that looks like it was made for me. Sure you can’t put those words to music as well as lyrics written by talented songwriters, but that doesn’t make them any less true. Yes my friends, MST3K just may be one of the funniest shows in the history of American television.
I have reviewed some of the amazing box sets released by Shout! Factory in the past, so I will spare you my passionate sermon on the greatness that people such as Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Jim Mallon, J. Elvis Weinstein, Mary Jo Pehl, and Kevin Murphy, to name but a few, helped to give us outcasts and social shut-ins something to look forward every week during the dark decade that was the 1990s.
As the protocol has dictated with these box sets since they were originally being distributed by Rhino Video, Mystery Science Theater 3000 XXII consists of four films – two hosted by Hodgson, two by Nelson. Following up the epic five-episode Gamera set released over a year ago, this volume includes two films brought to America by the infamous gentleman who gifted this humble young nation of ours with the cinematic adventures of Japan’s favorite rocket-powered giant turtle monster, in addition to a pair of Z-grade exploitation gems beloved in the pantheon of psychotronic film due to who their creators and stars were.
Episode 306 – Time of the Apes
If you’re a devoted MST3K fan then the name Sandy Frank will immediately make you giggle. The crew of the Satellite of Love have made jolly good sport out of mocking movies Frank packaged and distributed in the U.S. including the five Gamera flicks that Shout! finally released to DVD back in the summer of 2011. The third season of MST3K was heavy with Frank product and the first of the non-Gamera features was a intriguing oddity called Time of the Apes. Frank basically took an entire season’s worth of episodes of a Japanese television series that ripped off the Planet of the Apes movies and had it condensed into one nonsensical, boring, asinine feature that rushes through its idiotic (even for a Japanese genre movie) plot with little regard for establishing its characters beyond single lines of expository dialogue. Once they travel forward to a future where talking apes played by horrid actors in cheap ape masks wearing business and military attire rule the roost the plot slows to a dead crawl as our lame heroes spend the rest of the movie running and hiding, rinsing and repeating. A Sandy Frank international endeavor always makes for some good riffing from Joel and the Bots and they get in some tasty shots at Time of the Apes. The host segments are pretty good too with a T-ball almost causing the death of everyone on the S.O.L. and an “Ape Fashion Minute” with Crow.
Episode 314 – Mighty Jack
Some more heavily-edited, re-released Japanese sci-fi action dreck brought to us courtesy of the inimitable Sandy Frank. Much like Time of the Apes, Mighty Jack was a compilation movie made from the best bits (so to speak) of an entire season of a TV series revolving around a team of international crimefighters called Mighty Jack and their amazing submarine, also called Mighty Jack. It’s a mess of confusing action, piss poor English dubbing, and lots of bland Japanese actors running around frenetically hoping to run into a worthwhile set piece or line of dialogue. The riffing is hilarious though and the host segments are even better. In the invention exchange we get a formal flipper and ear muffs shaped like actual ears. The Bots create a commercial for Mighty Jack dog food, which I’d imagine is more tasty than another viewing of the movie, Joel forced into the “blinding light compartment,” and a performance of the classic ditty “Slow the Plot Down.”
Episode 610 – The Violent Years
Few directors’ films are as at home being held up for humorous scrutiny on MST3K as those made by the legendary Ed Wood. Unfortunately The Violent Years was not one of his better screen ventures. A sour, dull tale of a spoiled rich girl indulging in many shameless acts of what was considered delinquency back in the 1950s, Wood’s attempt at making a tawdry youth exploitation drama falls completely apart from the outset and not even some better than average riffing from Mike and the Bots can make this anything but a passably entertaining episode. The host segments make up for it a great deal, with the Mads debuting their insanely catchy theme song “Living in Deep 13″ and a radio station named after Frank called…Frank. Meanwhile we get to see Servo reenact an emotional scene from A Star is Born and Crow directs a one-man show about Keanu Reeves starring Mike. Turn your crank to Frank!
Episode 702 – The Brute Man
Produced at Universal Pictures as a major theatrical release before the studio got cold feet and pawned it off on a distribution company that specialized in peddling fifth-rate schlock to the masses for cut-rate prices, The Brute Man had the distinction of being a rare starring vehicle for Rondo Hatton, an actor and former sports reporter who suffered from a pituitary gland disorder known as acromegaly. Hatton plays a horribly-disfigured man seeking revenge against those he blames for his condition (attributed to an chemical accident) and enjoying a side love story with a blind woman – I wonder if this is what inspired the romance between Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters in the Fantastic Four comic?
As usual every episode is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame format as it was when it first broadcast. The picture quality has suffered a bit from the inevitable aging process, as a television program produced on a small budget in Wisconsin would, but otherwise the shows look highly watchable.
English 2.0 mono tracks are provided for all four episodes, as it always has been with Shout. No complaints here. The sound quality is even farther away from being reference material as the Earth is distanced from the moon but I have no such absurd expectations when it comes to MST3K. I can hear everything that’s being said or played. Good enough for me.
Another bevy of bonuses provided to us by the good and dutiful folks at Shout! Factory kicks off on disc 1 with an introduction by Japanese monster movie expert August Ragone (5 minutes), where he provides some interesting back story and context to the Time of the Apes movie. You might be interested to discover that the show that was compressed into the single feature was birthed into existence thanks to the smashing success of the first Japanese broadcast of the original Planet of the Apes, which reached 75% of households in the country back then.
Mike Nelson returns as Jack Perkins for more of his crazy, grandfatherly musings on five minutes of MST Hour wraps.
Disc 2 has another introduction by Ragone (7 minutes) for Mighty Jack and a featurette about the creation of the animated MST3K DVD menus (7 minutes) featuring interviews with the artists and designers responsible for them. We’re treated to a brief look at the work that goes into each menu and how they have evolved since their inception on the Rhino box sets.
Disc 3 features vintage interviews with Ed Wood collaborators/ex-wives Dolores Fuller (24 minutes) and Kathy Wood (18 minutes), giving us a candid insight into the notorious director’s filmmaking style and their thoughts on the cult following that has emerged around his Z-grade filmography.
Disc 4 contains an introduction by staff writer Mary Jo Pehl (4 minutes), who also played Pearl Forrester on the later seasons, a making-of documentary about Mystery Science Theater 3000 that first aired on the Sci-Fi Channel back in 1997 (23 minutes), and a new documentary entitled “Trail of the Creeper: Making The Brute Man” (30 minutes), which is the best extra on the entire set. The first half of “Trail” focuses on the life and early career of Rondo Hatton and how his exposure to mustard gas while fighting in World War I resulted in the facial disfigurement that became his screen trademark (and led to his first wife dumping him), with the second half devoted to the making of The Brute Man and how it originated at Universal Pictures before being sold off to a Poverty Row exploitation outfit.
A little light will go out in the world the day Shout! Factory runs out of episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to release on DVD. The company continues to do a never-less-than-fantastic job with these frequent box set releases. Kudos to Shout for sorting out the Sandy Frank situation and allowing some of the show’s best episodes from season three to finally see the digital light.