The Episodes (4/5)
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is one of the cornerstone shows of my childhood and teenage years, and helped make me the cinema fan I am today. It is a show that has consistently been on my list of favorite TV shows of all time (right behind Doctor Who!). It is also a show that holds up extremely well to repeat viewings. The jokes you may not catch on first viewing, are caught on a second, and so on.
The shows premise is extremely simple. A guy (either Joel or Mike) is sent into space to be experimented on by a pair of mad scientists. They test the victims sanity by forcing them to watch bad movies. The host of the show joined in the movie theater by robots Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot spend the running time of the movie riffing (making fun of) the film they are being forced to watch.
For a long time Rhino was releasing Mystery Science Theater 3000 sets, however, a few years ago they lost the rights to Shout Factory, who have been putting out excellent editions starting with Vol. XIV. What we have here is Vol. XVIII, and it continues the Shout Factory tradition of including 2 Joel episodes, and 2 Mike episodes.
Volume XVIII kicks off with this second season piece of Sci-Fi trash starring Ward Cleaver himself, Hugh Beaumont. The film concerns itself with a rescue mission gone awry, a plane crashes onto an island that is populated by dinosaurs, and they have to do whatever they can (especially mountain climbing) to survive. The second season is where the MST3K gang were really starting to find there way, and this episode marks a point where you can still feel the rawness of the first season, but can see where the comedy would evolve. This particular episode is notable for the excellent riffing over the endless mountain climbing sequences.
Crash of the Moons
This set is truly a set of highlights featuring 3 really excellent top shelf MST3K episodes, however, this episode may be my favorite of the set. It is a feature film edited together from episodes of 1950's Sci-Fi serial. The plot involves some sort of mission to stop a planets 2 moons from crashing into one another. The riffing courtesy of Joel and the 'Bots is particularly excellent here, and had me in stitches throughout the running time (It didn't hurt that it was my first time seeing this one). The episode is padded out by a General Hospital short film, that provided as many laughs as the feature film itself.
The Beast of Yucca Flats
A legendary episode of MST3K, this one features Coleman Francis' debut cinematic atrocity The Beast of Yucca Flats. This film is a typical 50's Sci-Fi yarn about a man exposed to radiation near a missile testing site that becomes an insane mutant killer. The film is notorious for it's budget saving techniques, such as not recording sound on set, and dubbing it all in during post. The film's already flimsy plot, is strung together by a hilariously horrible narration.
Beast of Yucca Flats is a very short film, and so to pad out it's running time 2 short films precede Beast of Yucca Flats. The first is a public service announcement called Money Talks about a teen learning to save money with the help of Benjamin Franklin. The second is a Puerto Rico advertisement called Progress Island U.S.A. These 2 shorts make great riff fodder for Mike and the 'Bots and at times prove to be funnier than the feature itself.
Jack Frost is the final episode of the set, and coming from the prior 3 has a pretty high standard to live up to. It is not a bad episode by any means, but does not hold a candle to the 3 that preceded it. Jack Frost is a Russian film, and feels more like a cinematic fairy tale than anything else, sort of in a Snow White vein. This film more than any other film in the set, really feels like a movie, they either had a budget or a technical competence that hid the low budget well. That being said the story is fairly ridiculous, and the acting atrocious. Luckily, that makes it easier for Mike, Tom Servo, and Crow to riff on it.
Shout Factory has presented the episodes contained in MST3K Vol. XVIII in their original 1:33:1 aspect ratio. The show doesn't look perfect, but it looks as good here as it probably ever will. Also, the Lost Continent episode is prefaced with a warning that the episode was culled from less than materials, and it shows. There is a good deal of scratching and print damage throughout the episode.
The audio is presented in a 2.0 English Stereo mix. The audio is fine, there is no distortion or background noise, which is usually heard on a lot of older low budget genre films. The riffing comes through loud and clear, and the dialogue in the host sequences is perfectly audible.
Shout Factory have put together a nice set of extras for this release. Lost Continent includes the films original trailer, and an introduction by Frank Coniff. Crash of the Moons features wrap segments from the Mystery Science Theater Hour. The Beast of Yucca Flats gets the Criterion treatment in this set. The most substantial extra is a documentary retrospective on the film called No Dialogue Necessary: Making an Off-Camera Masterpiece. This is followed by an interview with the film's DP Lee Strosnider entitled Coleman Francis: The Cinematic Poet of Parking. The disc is rounded off by a theatrical trailer, and a stills gallery. Jack Frost features an introduction by Tom Servo, himself, Kevin Murphy.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XVIII is an excellent set for long time fans, and to newcomers to the show. The set contains 4 excellent episodes of the show. The transfers are solid for the most part, and the audio is good. Shout has done a great job producing bonus materials for these episodes, doing much more for the show than Rhino ever did. The set also includes mini-posters of the newly created DVD cover art. This set comes highly recommended.
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