Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXI (MST3K Vs. Gamera)
Cast - Joel Hodgson, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff
Country of Origin - USA
Discs - 5
MSRP - $64.99
Distributor - Shout Factory
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Films (5/5)
About 2 years ago when I started the site I did an interview with Kevin Murphy for one of the first MST3K releases reviewed for ECAV. I wouldn't suggest looking for it, it never got posted, as the audio was too terrible to post in .mp3 format, and I could barely hear it myself to transcribe. However, during our conversation I asked him if there were any MST3K episodes he could see have a difficult time getting released.
I assumed he'd come back with a Paramount title like one of my all-time favorite films (period, not MST3K related) Danger: Diabolik. Instead he replied with should of been my expected answer, the films of Sandy Frank. Frank is a producer who initially allowed the Best Brains gang to use his films for the show, but has been reluctant to allow them to be used for the home video market due to high licensing fees. So getting a single Frank episode would have been an accomplishment, but getting not just 5, but getting the GAMERA episodes is practically like the the holy grail of MST3K Fandom. Not only are giant monster movies fun on their own, but they make great MST3K fodder.
A little history on these episodes. The Gamera films are sort of Showa Studios response to Toho's successful Godzilla series, albeit more directly aimed at children. During their first season on public access station KTMA the MST3K crew riffed on these films, those editions are not included in this set. Honestly, that is not a complaint. Almost every MST3K set since Shout! took over has included a KTMA episode, and while interesting from a historical perspective are really not as interesting as what they would do on Comedy Central and the Sci-Fi Channel. This also makes the Gamera episodes, the few rare episodes that were riffed twice by the MST3K gang, and possibly because of that offer a greater degree of polish.
For those that may be out of the loop Mystery Science Theater 3000 basically follows the antics of a man (Joel in the early years, Mike in the later ones) who are trapped on the Satellite of Love by a couple of Mad Scientist, who subject them to cinematic experiences. Every week Joel or Mike get sent a movie, and their reactions are observed. Accompanying them on the satellite are a few robots that Joel created as not to be lonely in the depths of space. These robots are Cambot, Gypsy (included as an action figure with this set), Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot. While in the theater Tom and Crow sit to Joel or Mike's side, and together they proceed to riff on the movie as it plays out.
The set kicks off with the original, and best film in the series Gamera. It begins with a bomb being dropped by American's in the arctic waking up the sleeping Gamera who begins to wreak giant monster havoc the world over. This episodes lays the template for some pretty heavy, and excellent riffing from Joel and the 'Bots and is one of the best episodes in this set.
Gamera Vs. Barugon
Gamera Vs. Barugon is sort of the Hellraiser: Inferno of the Gamera series. It feels more like an adventure film that started production, and they just happened to insert a couple of Showa monsters into it due to the success of Gamera. The Inferno reference feels applicable, because much like Pinhead in that film Gamera only appears for a short period in the film.
This film gets a lot of flack from fans of the Gamera series, but I am for one actually enjoy this one as a standalone film, and as MST3K fodder, and Joel and the Bots so an excellent job riffing on this film.
Usually, the host segments in MST3K episodes take a back seat to the riffing (for me at least), but throughout the Gamera run there are quite a few memorable ones, with the toy commercial put together by Joel and the 'bots here being one of the sets many highlights. This is only the 2nd film, and they are still really on top of this. No shortage of funny material here.
Gamera vs. Gyaos
We have now reached Gamera Vs. Gyaos a marked improvement over the prior film just for having more Gamera in the film. Aside from that it introduced the monster Gyaos, who is not only a pretty badass flying beastie, but would also return in the 90's Gamera trilogy. The Gamera films were still on a pretty film ground on this point, and even minus the riffing were pretty darn entertaining.
The riffs in this one fly pretty fast and furious. I find it amazing that 3 films into the series Joel and the 'bots can still keep the hilarious momentum going without having to mine the same jokes again and again.
Gamera vs. Guiron
Not the best or most original film in the Showa Gamera cycle, Gamera vs. Guiron is vastly improved by it's skewing at the hands of the Best Brains gang. It's the first film in the Gamera series to introduce the now-famous Gamera song, and a lot of the riffs provided by Joel and the 'bots in the early portion capitalize on that piece of music, and sing their riffs over it. This is my favorite episode of the series as far as the MST3K portion is concerned.
Gamera Vs. Zigra
The horror, the agony, the pain. That is pretty much what went through my mind the first time I watched Gamera Vs. Zigra sans MST3K, thankfully Joel and the 'Bots were around this time to make the whole thing much less painful. As I said earlier children were always an important part of the Gamera series, but this is the episode where I feel the shark gets nuked, and it gets a little too skewed in the children's direction.
Luckily in MST3K world, the worse the movie, the better the riffing, and Gamera Vs. Zigra is riffing gold. The 5 films Gamera set ends with some fantastic laughs as the riffs fly fast and frequent in this final film. I personally loved the host bits where they have a party celebrating this as their final Gamera film.
All 5 episodes of MST3K vs. Gamera are presented in their original 1:33:1 broadcast ratio. The transfer are quite good, but due to the nature of the source material are never fully excellent. The black levels on the silhouettes are solid. The color and clarity during the host segments are similarly good. The movies themselves are in the same terrible condition they were in when the show was originally broadcast.
The audio is similarly good, and is presented in the films original 2.0 stereo mix. The dialogue during the host segments is clear and audible throughout. During the movies the riffs come through clear, although sometimes the movies dialogue is a bit muddled, but that is more due to the nature of the show than the presentation.
Once again Shout! has rewarded us MSTies with a nice offering of extras to complement the main features. The set kicks off with a short documentary called So Happy Together: A Lock Back at MST3K & Gamera and interviews the cast and crew of MST3K on the Gamera-sodes. We then have Gamera vs. the Chiodo Brothers which is pretty much an appreciation of giant monster films including Gamera from the creators of the cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space. We then have an interview Gamera uber-historian August Ragone called Gamera Obscura where he discusses the background of Japanese giant monster flicks, and Gamera specifically. The extras are wrapped up with MST hour bumpers, and trailers for the Japanese Gamera originals.
This set is a must. Not only is MST3K is essential viewing, but if you are a fan or a new convert these are simply essential episodes. Considering the fickle nature of rights-holders to properties that were used on MST3K there is no guarantee these will be out very long, and trust me the tin case these are housed in look very very nice on my shelf, and will probably look similarly awesome on yours. Very Highly Recommended, one of the years finest home video releases.