• Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXIII



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: March 20, 2012.
    Director: Various
    Cast: Various
    Year: 1955/1969/1977/1948
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    The Movie:

    The latest in Shout! Factory’s excellent series of MST3K collections bundles together another four great entries in the fan favorite series and slaps’em all in a nice slipcase package and throws in some great extras too! What will you find this time around? Why, all of this…

    KING DINOSAUR (1955):

    This one starts off with a fun short, a New Jersey Department Of Motor Vehicles film called X Marks The Spot, a strange morality tale about what will happen to you if you kill someone while driving poorly complete with angels! From there, the feature itself kicks in, the Robert Lippert produced trash classic, King Dinosaur. Once Lippert’s name appears on screen, the bots start riffing fast and furious as we watch what happens when a pair of astronauts wind up doing some science work on Planet Nova. Once they land, they run into strange animals and dinosaurs and it all just gets more and more ridiculous from there.

    The highlight of the set, this is a classic episode through and through, but at the same time, it’s such an easy target that it sort of has to be. The commentary is killer though, making poignant observations about just how much stock footage has been cut into the film to how un-exotic the locations used for the actual footage shot for the movie looks. It’s hard not to have a great time with this one and the jokes fly fast enough that it holds up well to repeat viewings as they really do cram a lot of Grade A comedy into things this time around, so much so that you probably won’t catch it all the first time. The movie itself, directed by Bert I. Gordon in 1955, ranks towards the bottom of Gordon’s filmography, a truly terrible film featuring some staggeringly awful dialogue and amazingly wooden acting from William Bryant and a few others.

    THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1969):

    This 1969 film by Jess Franco produced for Harry Alan Towers stars Christopher Lee awkwardly cast as an evil Chinese supervillain who plans to freeze all the oceans of the Earth with a new gadget he’s invented. Thankfully for all of mankind, his arch-rival, Dr. Nayland Smith (Richard Greene), is on hand to put a stop to his nefarious plan. Thankfully for those of us watching on TV, the scorchingly hot Rosalba Neri shows up and looks as lovely as always.

    This is the weakest entry in this set simply because the movie, while goofy in a lot of ways, just isn’t as truly dire as the other three in the set. Franco actually tells a halfway decent story here and the movie is some good, pulpy fun when seen in its proper uncut form and proper aspect ratio (which it isn’t in this set). It was made fast and cheap (and it’s bad, but not bad on the same level as the others) and without a lot of attention to important details – typical of Franco in many ways – and so the crewmembers have some decent opportunities to slam the film, which they take advantage of, but this doesn’t work as well as the others in the set. It’s not a terrible episode by any stretch, just merely average.

    CODE NAME: DIAMOND HEAD (1977):

    This 1977 made for TV movie tells the fairly stupid story of government spy agency based out of Hawaii run by the mysterious Aunt Mary. Here we meet a top agent named Diamond Head (Roy Thinnes) who has to stop an agent named Tree from getting his hands on some nerve gas that he intends to sell to some evil foreign government. Along for the ride are Diamond Head’s pals, Dragon Lady and Zulu. Originally intended as a pilot for what executive producer Quinn Martin had hoped would be a successful television series, it fails on pretty much every account it can fail on and thus winds up a perfect candidate for the MST3K treatment. Not even a guest spot from Ian McShane cans save this one…

    The worst part of the movie is, erm, Tree – a horrible villain who uses many different disguises throughout the plot, none of them even remotely effective. The crew have a good time just taking apart Tree alone, but there’s plenty of other opportunities offered for riffing and they take advantage of each one offered. This is a great episode, it moves at a very solid pace and contains a consistent amount of humor that is as effective as it is clever and genuinely smart. If the last episode, The Castle Of Fu Manchu, relied too heavily on the endurance test aspect of the movie and ground the joke into the ground by the half way mark, this one is a fine return to form and almost as good as King Dinosaur. Almost. History fans take note, this is the first episode in which Mike Nelson takes the lead. The episode is preceded by the short, A Day At The Fair, where a family of farmers head to the fair to enjoy some livestock judging competitions and other assorted nonsense.

    LAST OF THE WILD HORSES (1948):

    Last but not least we get another Robert L. Lippert film, this time one that he directed. The movie follows a cowboy named Duke Barnum (James Ellison) who may or may not be a good guy and who may or may not be making time with some of the cowgirls in the area. He gets himself into trouble when some of the wild mares out in the boonies start getting scooped up and Duke tries to put a stop to the horse rustlers. When one of them winds up dead, he has to clear his name.

    This one works in a lot of funny Star Trek references (no seriously, they are funny) throughout the commentary that shouldn’t work but do quite well. Additionally, there’s a great bit about the film’s score that is carried on throughout the movie rather nicely. Definitely a top tier episode, the commentators keep the humor coming fast and almost all of it works really well. A great episode to round out a very solid collection.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The fullframe interlaced transfers that grace this DVD set won't blow you away but they’re certainly watchable enough particularly when taken in the intended context. You will see the MST3K silhouettes in front of the screen (and occasionally interacting with the images!) so purists take note, and the transfers are taken from old TVs master so those expecting the movie to appear here as it was originally intended will be disappointed. That said, generally the picture looks as good here as it did on TV when it first aired and pristine video quality isn't really the point here. If you’ve seen MST3K before, you’ll know what to expect. The first and last films are in black and white, the other two films all in color, but the skits in between viewing sessions are in color throughout and understandably and look a fair bit better than the movies themselves do.

    The commentaries come through nice and clear for each of the five episodes and there are no problems understanding the participants as they're balanced nicely against the audio from the movies. As far as the quality of that aspect is concerned, the tracks are on par with the transfers. They’re not great; in fact, there are times where it sounds a little shrill. Overall though the audio is perfectly serviceable.

    Extras on disc one start off with a few featurette from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures entitled The Incredible Mr. Lippert, which is an excellent retrospective look back at the life, times and career of B-movie producer Robert L. Lipper, the man behind King Dinosaur and quite a few others like Lost Continent. A few film historians pop up here as do a few people who were involved with him and this makes for a quite an interesting and respectful feature that should put a smile on the face of anyone who is interested in the history of vintage low budget exploitation pictures. Aside from that, look for some spiffy animated menus, chapter selection, and a fun trailer for King Dinosaur.

    Disc two starts off with an optional introduction from Frank Coniff, who speaks rather earnestly about the movie. From there, we get an eighteen minute promo for the maybe some day to be released interactive movie/game featuring the MST3K crew, Darkstar: Robots Don't Need SAG Cards. The audio quality on this featurette is flat out bad which makes it tough to follow. A trailer for The Castle Of Fu Manchu, some more spiffy menus and chapter stops are also found.

    On the third disc we get a seven minute featurette entitled Code Name: Quinn Martin which is basically an interview with Jonathan Etter, a Quinn Martin biographer. It’s not as in depth or as fun as it could have been but it’s worth checking out. A second featurette, the ten minute Life After MST3K: Kevin Murphy, is an interview with the founding MST3K member who talks about what he’s been up to since the show finished. He speaks about his book and his Riff Trax work (you can read our interview with him here). There’s no trailer on this one but the fun menu screens and chapter selection options are of course included.

    The fourth and final disc includes just over fourteen minutes of vintage MST3K promo spots, animated menus and chapter selection. Inside the slipcase packaging are four mini poster inserts replicated the cover art found on the thinpack DVD cases.

    The Final Word:

    Another great set in the ongoing line of MST3K releases from Shout! Factory, this set gathers up four very worthwhile episodes with some pretty decent extra features as the cherry on top. Maybe not the best set in the line, but definitely up there and highly recommended for fans of the series.