The Series (4/5)
For those of you who aren't familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000(referred to as MST3K for the rest of the article) MST3K was a show created by Joel Hodgson in the late 80's. It was original broadcast on Minneapolis public access station KTMA for one season, before being picked up by Comedy Central. It ran on Comedy Central for a few years, before being picked up by the Sci-Fi channel(now Sy-Fy).
The shows premise is fairly simple, a guy name Joel(and later Mike) is imprisoned by a couple of Mad Scientist who want to experiment on Joel by showing him frequent doses of cheesy, and just plain bad movies, and they “monitor his mind” in the process. To help him retain his sanity Joel used the parts that would have allowed him more control over how the movies played to make a few robot friends to accompany him on the Satellite of Love. Joel/Mike along with robots Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot riff (make fun of) these movies as they play.
I have always been more of a Joel guy, than a Mike one. Mike actually was the host of MST3K, when I first started catching episodes of the show in my early teens, but when Joel episodes were on I would find myself laughing harder.
The last few MST3K sets from Shout Factory, have given Joel and Mike each 2 episodes per box. This has given me more time to reflect on both of them as host, and while I still consider Joel my favorite of the 2 MST3K host, however, I found the two Mike Nelson helmed episodes (Blood Waters of Dr. Z and The Final Sacrifice) in Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol XVII to be the better ones. This opinion can of course be justified with the inclusion of the Final Sacrifice in Vol. XVII.
Final Sacrifice is one of those MST3K episodes, which fires on all four cylinders to become a classic in the shows history. The fact that it is part of this set alone makes Vol. XVII an essential purchase.
MST3K Vol. XVII, as usual, contains 4 episodes of the series. This set includes the aforementioned Final Sacrifice and Blood Waters of Doctor Z., alongside Joel-era episodes the Beatniks and The Crawling Eye.
The Beatniks is the story of Eddie Crane, a beatnik rebel who catapults into stardom after a chance meeting with a record executive in a diner. With his star on the rise, Eddie has to choose between his career as a legit singer, or his gang loyalty.
The Beatniks is a pretty horrible movie, it feels more like an after school special than an actual movie. There are a few movies that MST3K has riffed on that are completely watchable, and sometimes great, without the commentary. This is not one of them, the commentary by Joel and the bots elevates this commentary making it into a funny watchable film. That being said the riffs are sort of slow going on this one, and while there are some funny bits, it is far from the best episode of the Joel-era.
The Crawling Eye
The Crawling Eye is a cheesy black and white 50's B-Movie, about Alien Eyeballs who terrorize mountain climbers and scientist in the Trollenberg Mountains. This film is astonishingly bad, the concept seems like it would be a fun way to spend a couple of hours, but it really isn't. This episode is historically significant, simply because it was the first scripted episode of MST3K, and also the first Comedy Central broadcast episode of the show.
This is noticeable in the pacing of the riffing, Joel always seemed to have a sort of drowsiness to his commentary, but during this him and the bots are practically sleeping. The slowness picks up a bit at the end, but between the film, and the lack of interesting riffs I can only recommend this episode to MST3K completist.
The Blood Waters of Dr. Z
The Blood Waters of Dr. Z is one of those films in the MST3K library, that would be watchable with, or without the commentary. This film is a low budget knock off of the Creature from The Black Lagoon.
The story is about a mad scientist (is there any other kind in these movies?), with a severe hatred of humanity, who turns himself into a fish monster, and terrorizes those who attempt to harm sea life. There is a lot of first person narration from the character of Doctor Z. during the film which is just as fun, and occasionally funnier than the stuff that Mike and the Bots come up.
The commentary for this film is one of the highlights of the set, and the menu for this episode featuring Crow and Tom Servo spearing the Dr. Z monster is awesome!
The Final Sacrifice is the absolute highlight of this set, and is one of the funniest episodes in the history of MST3K. The film is sort of a conspiracy/chase movie about a young orphan boy named Troy who finds himself on the run from the cult who murdered his Father. The only hope the boy has is with the help of mulleted Canadian action hero Zap Rowsdower. The riffs in this episode come at a pretty fast and furious rate, and is a non-stop laughfest, so much so that a second viewing maybe in order to catch the riffs I may have missed on the first viewing.
Shout Factory has presented MST3K Vol. XVII with 1:33:1 transfer preserving the original broadcast aspect ratio of the show. The transfer of the actual films are the same as the ones originally broadcast, and are thus, cut unremastered versions of the film. This is fine, however, because they are all watchable, and the riffs were written to accompany these specific versions.
The audio is a basic Dolby Digital 2.0 track in English. The commentary is perfectly audible, the audio for the actual film is about the same quality as the video transfer. It is audible, but far from perfect, which moderate grain and background noise throughout.
Shout Factory has presented MST3K Vol XVII with a nice array of extras throughout all 4 discs. The Final Sacrifice includes a 10 minute interview with Bruce Mitchell, the actor who plays Rowsdower in the film. The Crawling Eye has a 5 minute introduction to the episode by Joel Hodgson, during which he looks back on the episode, and how it is significant in the MST3K pantheon. The Beatniks include an interview called Crow Vs. Crow which is an interview with both Bill Corbett and Trace Beaulieu recorded at Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA, and also includes some promo clips for the Mystery Science Theater Hour spin off. Doctor Z. only includes the films original trailer, and a short image gallery.
Shout Factory has done an outstanding job with MST3K since taking over from Rhino with Volume 14. The highlight of this set is the long awaited episode Final Sacrifice, but the other 3 are a lot of fun too (OK, maybe not the Crawling Eye). The transfer are as good as can be expected, and there is quite a few interesting extras throughout the set. There are also some mini-posters for the MST3K versions of the films included. I would recommend this to long time MST3K fans, and to those just joining the Mistie fold, as Final Sacrifice is a great jumping on point to the uninitiated.