In the not-too-distant past, twenty years ago to be exact, a show aired which would haunt me to this day with its comedy (and its theme song). That show featured a man (Joel Hodgson or Mike Nelson, depending on the season) and his robots (Cambot, Gypsy, Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot aka Crooooow!) in the Satellite of Love, some crappy movies and some fantastic running commentary and went by the name Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K). Imagine your funniest friends at their wittiest best and you only get a vague inkling of MST3K.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is best summed up by the theme song which is far too catchy, but I’ll give the un-anointed a primer. The show is divided between the time spent viewing the movie (typically Science Fiction but always B… or worse…) and the time out of the theater which often involved conversations between the host and the robots as well as talks between the host and his Gizmonic Institute captors on Earth. Joel or Mike sit in the theater with robot friends Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. We see their silhouettes as they sarcastically comment and riff while the movie screens in front of them. I could probably write a dissertation on MST3K on just the differences between hosts Joel and Mike, but suffice it to say, Joel Hodgson’s experience as a prop comic gave birth to the Invention Exchange, an interstitial bit between Joel and the evil Dr. Forrester wherein they both share the quirky invention they’ve created. Also, since Joel created the robots (both in the context of the show and in actuality), his relationship with them is less antagonistic than that of Mike and the ‘bots wherein Mike is often tied up and mistreated. One would think that replacing the creator and host of the show would lead to its demise, but since Mike was a writer and collaborator, the transition was considerably smooth and the bad movie riffing kept on coming.
I was fortunate enough to get the chance to speak with Trace Beaulieu and Jim Mallon during the San Diego Comic Con this year. Thankfully, you can probably check that out via a handy link put in by my editor. Here? If you weren’t able to make Comic Con, don’t fret, the reunion panel is captured on Disc 4’s special features.
I’m not sure exactly how these episodes in particular were chosen, but they span the years well. Obviously Manos, the Hands of Fate is a necessity to any MST3K collection and is missing from this lineup, but that could be due to the fact that it’s assumed everyone owns it. I’m sure every fan has their particular favorite episode (mine might be the Devil Doll episode because I came to the MST3K party during my college years). The four included films are: First Spaceship to Venus, Laserblast, Werewolf and Future War. First Spaceship on Venus comes from the second season on the Comedy Channel, Laserblast from season seven on Comedy Central (note the network name change), Werewolf from season nine on the Sci Fi Channel and Future War from the tenth and final season (also on Sci Fi). As you can tell from just the titles, there is much for the Satellite of Love crew to riff on here. Future War has the great distinction of being the most current release to get the MST3K treatment.
The 1.33:1 image played equally well on my HD TV (with an upconverting DVD player) as well as my crappy standard definition television.
Can I just say that I love the little CG Crow and Tom Servo that appear in the menus? The menus are as fun as the packaging. Both were thoughtfully put together. My only sad note, there is a version of this set (a limited edition version) that comes with your very own Crow T. Robot figure and, alas, I didn’t get that one.
Each of the four DVDs contains the trailer corresponding to the film in question.
The history of MST3K is spread out over the first three DVDs in the set. Part 1 from DVD one runs twenty-five minutes and traces the show from its KTMA years. Part 2 (DVD 2) runs twenty-three minutes and follows the show’s move to The Comedy Channel (Comedy Central’s initial incarnation) to the departure of host Joel and beginnings of host Mike. Part 3 (DVD 3) runs thirty-two minutes and goes over the move to the Sci Fi Channel, the loss of Trace Beaulieu and its ardent fan base. Interviewees include: Joel Hodgson, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy, J. Elvis Weinstein, Trace Beaulieu, Michael J Nelson, Bridget (Jones) Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Paul Chaplin, Frank Conniff and Bill Corbett. It’s amazing to learn how the show grew and just how big of fans the writers were before coming onto the show. It was definitely a labor of love for all involved.
Trailers on startup: Oban Star Racers, Code Monkeys and Swamp Thing: The Series.
MST3K at Comic-Con ’08 — thirty-eight minutes from The San Diego Comic Con with host Patton Oswalt and cast/crew members Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, Bill Corbett, J. Elvis Weinstein, Paul Chaplin and Bridget Jones-Nelson.
Variations of a Theme Song — all the different versions of the theme song as affected by host and villain changes. Just when I get it out of my mind, it comes back and I’m wandering around humming it endlessly.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a fantastic show that I personally miss every day of my life. As a bit of a screenwriter myself, I wish I could submit my own film for the MST3K treatment. The four films from this collection span the breadth of the series and the bonus features provide both the history of its creation and growth as well as a look back. Ultimately, watching this collection has made me scour the net for the new work these comedic talents continue to put out.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 works best as a shared experience so pick up this collection, call over a couple friends and enjoy!
Final Grade – A (A plus when it comes with a Crow T. Robot)