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Saturday, November 9, 2013

'Mystery Science Theater 3000' 25th Anniversary Edition DVD Set: Worth Waiting Quarter Century

Every beyond expectations perfect element of Shout! Factory's 5-disc DVD set "Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition," which Shout! is releasing on November 26 2013, affirms that Shout!'s union with the Best Brains boys from Minnesota is the best show business marriage since Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz tied the knot.

The pop culture gods at Shout! prove once again that they "get" and love the show that we Misties know (and love even more) as "MST 3K." Misties can only pray that the Shout! and Best Brains union has a much better outcome than Lucy's and Desi's marriage.

Shout!'s celebration of both this tremendous release and "MST 3K's" wonderful "Turkey Day" marathons on a handful of Thanksgivings includes a month-long sale that slashes the prices of different "MST 3K" single and multi-disc sets each day.

The  bonus disc episodes, which are the final episode of "MST 3K" creator and original host Joel Hodgson and the first of his successor (and "MST 3K" head writer) Mike Nelson, in the "MST 3K 25th AE" set alone would have warranted this celebration.

Placing the individually cased discs in the truly collectible tin depicted above, including a very comprehensive feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary titled "Return to Eden Priarie" on this mother-of-all-cult-shows, and throwing in the other typically awesome features in the forms of interveiws with film experts on relevant topics and "where are they now" features of "MST 3K" stars keep the fun and the knowledge coming.

The special feature "The Last Flight of Joel Robinson," which perfectly discusses the genuine kismet regarding Hodgson's last episode, deserves special recognition. Another special feature in which film critic Leonard Maltin discusses appearing in the "Gorgo" episode, which the "MST 3K 25th AE" set includes, is a second especially good one.

The also typically awesome mini-posters that put the "MST 3K" 'bots in the action of the "cheesy movie" around which the episodes reolve is the cherrry on the sundae.

On top of this, the selected episodes show that Shout! was holding out on Misties by putting episodes that rate an 11, which is "louder" than the 10 that virtually every other episode in a Shout "MST 3K" set scores. On a related note, Joel and his cronies merely determined in naming the series that "3000" was more than "2000."

The basic premise, which prior Unreal TV reviews of "MST 3K" releases have described in greater depth, of this beyond awesome show is that mad scientists shoot slacker into space for torture in the form of forcing him to watch really horrible (and mostly low-budget) feature-length movies and shorts, slacker survives said abuse by hilariously riffing on said films with puppets that look like robots (or 'bots), and slacker and said puppets present equally side-splitting skits before and after commercial breaks.

The subjects of the riffs range from classic literature, to historic figures, to pop culture, and every subject in between. The scope of riffs in "Gorgo" range from a quasi-subtle reference to the Black Panthers, to the John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara film "The Quiet Man," to billionaire yachtsman Robert Maxwell's death.

The premise of the series gets tweaked a few times, largely in response to cast changes.

The fun in  "MST 3K 25th AE" starts with "Moon Zero Two" from the height of the Joel era. This movie starring a cast of mostly American actors in a British-produced film gets off to a great start with a wacky animated opening credit sequence with a rocking theme song that gets Joel dancing in the aisles. This also starts a hilarious series of riffs regarding the lack of "atmosphere" in public gathering places on the now populated moon.

The twin (and ultimately overlapping) plots of "Moon" are that a has-been space explorer who now largely makes his living collecting and selling space debris is coerced into wrangling a large asteroid made of sapphire so that it lands on the moon for subsequent harvesting. This coincides with said pilot agreeing to transport a woman to the dark side of the moon to check on her brother who is mining a claim there.

"Moon" itself is a fairly entertaining film, and the riffs of the "MST 3K" gang are among the best of the series. Commenting that the monocled villain is making a spectacle of himself and remarks related to the repetition regarding the dance numbers are prime examples of the wonderfully silly humor. References to "Gilligan's Island" and "Hogan's Heroes" are terrific examples of the pop culture themed riffs in the show.

"The Day the Earth Froze" is the second film in the set. This is another great Joel episode and has the genuine bonus in the form of fall-on-the-floor hysterical unusually dark riffs even for the "MST 3K" crew during the short "Here Comes the Circus."

Examples of the 11-level "Circus" segment remarks includes the gang commenting that a trapeze artist swings both ways and noting the inclusion of legendary clown Emmett Kelly. The crew also has a nice series of its "but this is not it" riffs that are as legendary as the "would you believe" and "that's the second largest .... I've ever seen" from the awesome Mel Brooks '60s sitcom "Get Smart." As an aside, "Smart's" opening credits directly inspired the series of doors leading into the "MST 3K" movie theater.

The plot of "Earth" revolves (pun intended) around a Swedish fable that has an evil witch kidnapping a fair maid as part of a plot to acquire a magical Sampo that creates the valuable assets of salt, grain, and gold. The film's title relates to said crone pulling the sun out the sky when a dashing young hero thwarts her plans.

This film has terrific elements of the classic Sid and Marty Krofft Saturday morning series "H.R. Pufnstuf" that extends beyond involving the quest of a wonderfully bizarre hag to acquire the coveted item of her dreams. Both productions have the elements of the directional winds and a prominently featured magic boat.

The only surprise in this episode is that the "MST 3K" crew misses several opportunities for "Pufnstuff" themed riffs. They more than make up for it by having even better riffs than the ones in "Moon." A personal favorite is "birch, birch, birch" is response to complaints by a talking white-barked tree.

"The Leech Woman" bats next and is from the middle of Mike's tenure. This wonderfully bad sci-fi film centers around a scientist studying how to stop, and even reverse, the aging process leading to taking his trophy wife turned alcoholic shrew on an expedition deep into the African jungle in search of a reported youth-restoring procedure. Mayhem predictably ensues.

Classic film buffs can think of this as an especially macabre Ed Wood style version of Mike Nichols' 1966 classic film "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."

The best humor in this one relates to the "MST 3K" commenting on "Woman's" obvious use of stock footage and the behavior of the animals in said footage. One example is referring to a crocodile peeing while swimming in the river.

"Woman" is also from one of the best "MST 3K" eras and arguably has the most hilarious skits from that period. Mike and the 'bot are living far into the future during a time that apes rule the earth and the gang's current evil overlord has bluffed her way into dominating those creatures. The battle between the apes' desire to be more civilized and their instinct to engage in monkey shines is hilarious.

The last entry in the group of "regular" episodes is the aforementioned British monster movie "Gorgo." This one has shades of "Jurassic Park III" in that it has capturing a large baby sea monster for the purpose of  displaying it in a circus prompting its mother wrecking London in her search for her offspring.

In addition to the unusually great riffs referenced above, the "Waiting for Gorgo" skit in the episode is arguably among the top 20 such presentations during "MST 3K's" 10 seasons.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of this skit should whet the appetites of non-Misties for this awesome set.

The first bonus episode in the "25 AE" set is 1975's "Mitchell," which is Joel's final episode. "Mitchell" stars Joe Don Baker as the titular character, who is an out-of-shape and not-so-bright cop whose form of bucking authority consists of pursuing a murder investigation involving the stereotypical three-piece-suit clad upstanding citizen. John Saxon of "Falcon Crest" plays said pillar of society.

This episode starts great with an exceptional bit regarding the 'bots threatening a project to which Joel devoted a great deal of time. The other skits simultaneously introduce Mike's persona and have frantic 'bot Gypsy trying to warn an oblivious Joel of serious danger that he faces; the close-ups of Gypsy are priceless.

"Mitchell" itself is a classic example of the "Dirty Harry" style cop films of the era, and having Linda Evans of "Dynasty" playing a prostitute who seems to enjoy client Mitchell's abuse adds to the fun.

The "MST 3K" crew is in particularly rare form in this one, and takes special pleasure in commenting on the tubby Baker's running.

The second bonus episode "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" wraps up this epic "MST 3K" set. It is Mike's first episode as host and gets great humor from orienting him to his new reality. A spoiler is that the 'bots train him by having him practice riffing on bad movies before he is subjected to the horror of watching "Brain."

"Brain" has elements of the Walt Disney and Ted Williams stories in that it centers around a scientist decapitating and subsequently reanimating the head of his very recently deceased fiancee. The limited period in which this man of mad science can keep his boo sentient without a body leads to  searching for an appropriate female form that its original owner is still utilizing.

The sloppy writing of "Brain" gives Mike a great gift for his first outing, and having fan favorites Dr. Forrester and his sidekick "TV's Frank" along for the ride is a treat for Misties.

The bottom line is that "MST 3K 25th AE" will thrill Misties beyond belief and make fans out of the rest of you; resistance truly is futile in this case.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "MST 3K 25th AE" is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also find me on the newly public Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

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