For the fans of the Satellite of Love and Mystery Science Theater 3000, there is Joel and there is Mike. Most old timers prefer Joel and he’s the sleepier, less sarcastic commentarian, but it’s always a question for fans: who do prefer? Most sets have had a mixture of the two hosts, with some even delving into the Sci-Fi episodes that replaced Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) with his mother (Mary Jo Pehl), which are often consider the least of the run (though every season has its highs and lows). The most recent set is all Joel, and features both Master Ninja episodes – classics of their kind. But it also contains one episode from season one that has J. Elvis Weinstein portraying as Tom Servo instead of Kevin Murphy. The best of MST3K is not always the first. For Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume 20, the episodes are Project Moonbase (Season 1, Episode 09, or 109), Master Ninja I and II (322 and 324) and The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (505). My review of the set follows after the jump.
Master Ninja I and II are actually taken from the failed TV show The Master, which brought together Lee Van Cleef, Sho Kosugi and Tim Van Patten. Already – if you’re a fan but haven’t seen these – you can tell you’re in for a treat. Though packaged as a film for home video, both are just two episodes of a TV show glued together. Master Ninja I offers the pilot, where Van Cleef and Van Patten meet, and also run across some trouble involving Demi Moore, Claude Akins and Clu Gulagher. The second episode (also a part of Master Ninja 1) offers Crystal Bernard as a pro-union motorbike rider. Master Ninja 2 features George Lazenby and the cute college student from Ghostbusters. The formula of the show is simple and familiar to anyone who grew up watching television. It’s an adventure/mystery show with the odd couple of the old guy who’s a master ass-kicker (especially when in costume and played by someone else) teamed up with the wisecracking but well-meaning would-be fighter, who also gets all the love interests (there seems to be one an episode).
This is just about the perfect example of what these guys can do, and there’s something about early to mid-80’s cheese that plays well to what they’re doing. Yes, 50’s and 60’s bad movies are or can be just as good, but stuff like Ator, or this feel a little more deserving of their punishment. Some of the older films can be seen as films of passion, whereas this stuff was bad television made by hacks. What’s supposed to make this somewhat more exciting is that there is ninja action – but as I joked before, it’s obvious Van Cleef has a body double, and the boys go to town on how stupid this show is. The between segments are excellent, and this is prime MST3K. They kill it.
The Magic Voyage of Sinbad was a Russian adventure film purchased by Roger Corman for dubbing and sale in America. The dubbing is terrible, but the spectacle is there. The boys hit this one out of the park as they mock the conventions and odd editing of the film. Basically this is a foreign fairy tale, and the mixture of bad dubbing and unfamiliar conventions give them a buffet of things to make fun of.
Project Moonbase starts with a Radar Men from the Moon short, but then moves into a classic black and white science fiction film that’s set in the then future of 1970, where a woman is the president of the United States. Regardless of its forward-thinking intentions, the film is a byproduct of its time, and that’s definitely worth a good sassing.
I don’t know if any of these episodes would crack my all time top five MST3K episodes (though they sometimes change, Ator, Manos, Santa Claus Vs. the Martians, Mitchell, and Pod People would be my go-to), but there wasn’t a bum episode in the bunch, and this is as solid a collection as you could hope for. I mean, you’ve got two discs of Film Ventures titles, so you’re already in winning hands.
Rhino’s sets are godsends for the fans, and this late of an entry should feel like scraps, but it speaks to the quality (and sometimes the availability) of their episodes. Each is presented on their own disc, with the show in full frame (1.33:1) and 2.0 Stereo as originally broadcast. The video quality of the show is dated but charming, and nothing will make the episodes look better. Master Ninja I comes with an interview with Master Ninja guest star Bill McKinney (6 min.), while Master Ninja II comes with a Ken Plume-hosted conversation between J. Elvis Weinstein and Kevin Murphy about Tom Servo (43 min.), Servo’s iterations, and how the voice and style got developed. The Magic Voyage of Sinbad offers a new introduction by Trace Beaulieu (5 min.) and the intros (5 min.) for the hour-long versions of this episode (from when Comedy Central was trying to figure out how to syndicate the show). It’s funny to see how Nelson’s parody of the stupid host is still just as cutting as it was in the mid-90’s. Project Moonbase comes with the featurette “Exploring the Look of MST3K with Director of Photography Jeff Stonehouse” (9 min.) and Moonbase’s theatrical trailer.