• Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XX

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: 3/8/2011
    Director: Various
    Cast: Various
    Year: Various
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    The Movie:

    Picking up where Rhino left off, Shout! Factory unleashes another four titles from their ongoing Mystery Science Theater boxed set line. For the few out there unaware of who or what the Mystery Science Theater thing is all about, basically, it was a long running show in which a recurring cast of characters - a space castaway and his robot pals - were forced to watch bad movies while doing time on a satellite. This simple premise basically allowed Joel Hodgsen or Mike Nelson (depending on how early or recent the episode in question may be), Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett (who have recently teamed up to pick up where they left off with their Rifftrax project) to crack wise about ‘bad' movies. The series was on the air from 1988 through 1999 and it still has a loyal cult following to this day while it's various participants have gone on to other, similar projects like Cinematic Titanic and the aforementioned Rifftrax downloads.

    This time around, the gang takes on the following four films:


    This bizarre Russian film starts the set off properly. Made in 1953 and originally titled Sadko, Corman bought it up and redubbed it for North America, changing the lead character’s name to Sinbad but failing to do much else in hopes of convincing us that it was made in the Middle East rather than Europe. In the film, our hero, Sinbad, returns to his home town to find out that the people in charge are on the take. With the city run by corrupt politician types, he takes it upon himself to head out on a journey to find the bird of happiness, which will somehow allow the town to get back to the way it once was and make everyone happy again.

    By awkwardly cramming Sinbad style characters and dialogue into a movie obviously not made to carry that type of story, we wind up with an utterly bizarre film ripe for the picking, and the crew rarely misses a beat. Picking up on all manner of odd background details and unusual bits of dialogue, they’re able to keep the jokes coming at a very rapid pace and ensure that they’re consistently funny to boot. This episode, originally broadcast in season five, might seem like an easy target – and it is – but that doesn’t mean it’s any less entertaining than more established classics from the series’ run.


    The second feature is a screwy science fiction stinker from 1953 directed by Richard Talmadge who would later go on to helm What’s New Pussycat? of all things. The film is actually set in the future of 1970(!) and focuses on American efforts to build various bases on the surface of the moon, which makes the title pretty appropriate when you think about it. At any rate, before they can get down to building, they send three astronaut types up there to check it out - Colonel Briteis (Donna Martell), General 'Pappy' Greene (Hayden Rorke) and Maj. Bill Moore (Ross Ford) – but they soon learn that there’s a sneaky spy in their midst intent on ruining the whole project for everyone.

    Rumored to have been assembled from bits and pieces of a TV show that never really made it off the ground, this ridiculously disjointed picture features all the cheap special effects, awkward dialogue, obvious mistakes and illogical characters you’d expect from a low budget 50s cheapie. Preceded by a pair of Commander Cody serials (to pad out the running time of the hour long feature, we can assume), this is a solid series of riffs and gags that’ll keep you snickering along with the commentators. The three really hit a good stride here and it winds up being one of the better first season episodes.


    While the fifties and sixties provide no small amount of fodder for MST3K, it’s frequently when they tear into the eighties that they are at their best and this two part attack on the Master Ninja movies, assembled from the TV series The Master, is a prime example. Starring Lee Van Cleef as an aging potbellied good ninja with a big medallion, Sho Kosugi as an eyeshadow wearing evil ninja, Timothy Van Patten as poofy haired leading man Max Keller and a young and awkward Demi Moore as the daughter of a guy who owns an airport, this is funny enough material without Joel and the Bots doing their thing – but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to watch it anyway.

    The plot revolves around Van Cleef’s mentoring of Van Patten’s character all while trying to uncover a conspiracy and stop Kosugi from killing people. There’s lots of guys in ninja suits skulking around in the dark, bad one liners, poorly staged action with obvious stunt doubles and bad fashion on display, and understandably Van Cleef finds himself the butt of many a joke. A more unlikely ninja than even Franco Nero, here he’s out of shape and past his prime and the fact that his stunt double is in considerably better shape than he adds all manner of unintentional hilarity.

    Riffing on everything from Demi Moore’s chainsmoker voice to Van Cleef’s omnipresent theme song, there’s a wealth of material for the guys to plow through and the make the most of all of it. A perfect double feature for any MST3K fan.


    The fullframe interlaced transfers that grace all four films in this set won't blow you away but they're watchable enough particularly when taken in the intended context. You will see the MST3K silhouettes in front of the screen so purists take note, and the transfers are taken from often times edited down old TV masters so those expecting the movies to appear here as they were originally intended will be disappointed. That said, they look as good here as they did on TV when they first aired and pristine video quality isn't really the point here. Are the transfers great? Nope, but they don't need to be.

    The commentary comes through nice and clear, there are no problems understanding the participants and they've balanced nicely against the audio from the movie itself. As far as the quality of that part is concerned, it's on par with the transfer. It's not great, in fact, there are times where it sounds quite shrill. It gets the job done, I suppose, but it's nothing impressive.

    The extras, which are spread across the four discs in the set, kick off with a featurette that is hosted by the show’s director of photography, Jeff Stonehouse that gives us the lowdown on the show’s intended look and visual style. It’s a bit brief at nine minutes but it’s interesting to hear Stonehouse’s input and it gives fans some info they may not have heard before.

    An intro to Magic Voyage of Sinbad by Trace Beaulieu is exactly what it sounds like, a brief intro to the feature with some witty comments, while Servo vs. Servo at DragonCon is a fun forty-two minute record of the panel that captures Murphy and Weinstein, the two voices of Tom Servo, in conversation together in front of an audience. The six minute A Look Back At Master Ninja With Bill McKinney allows the man who played the sheriff in that turkey to talk about his acting career and about this movie specifically. He seems to take it all a fair bit more seriously than the rest of us, and good for him.

    Rounding out the extras is an original trailer for Project Moonbase, Mystery Science Theater Hour Wraps, animated menus and chapter selection. Inside the slipcase that holds the four discs you’ll also find some mini-posters by Steve Vance which replicate the cover art created for the four individual movies.

    The Final Word:

    At this point in the game, you’re either in or you’re in the way. MST3K fans already know they need this for their collection, while naysayers will continue to say nay and take things far too seriously. Shout! Factory’s release of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XX is a good one, offering as good a presentation of the material as we could hope for along with some solid extra features – and most importantly, four top tier episodes in one handy dandy box.
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