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Reviewed by Will Harris
ard to believe it’s been 20 years since it first became socially acceptable to make smart-ass comments over top of crappy dialogue in bad movies.
Wait, check that: it’s socially acceptable if your name is Joel Robinson, Mike Nelson, Tom Servo, or Crow T. Robot, you’re trapped in the Satellite of Love, and you’re being forced to watch cheesy movies by Dr. Clayton Forrester. Or, if it’s a later season, by his mother. Otherwise, you’re liable to get your ass kicked.
“Mystery Science Theater 3000” has been through a lengthy evolution over the years, first starting on local television on KTMA, in Minnesota, before finding its way onto Comedy Central, where it first began to develop its nationwide cult following. The original host of the series, Joel Hodgson, was best known as a prop comedian, but although he’d actually gotten quite well known (he was on “Saturday Night Live” and co-wrote Jerry Seinfeld’s first TV special), he decided that he’d gone as far as he could in the field, so he opted to try something different. Teaming with fellow comedians Trace Beaulieu and Josh Weinstein, Hodgson and producer Jim Mallon created the show that would soon come to be abbreviated as “MST3K.”
The purpose of “MST3K: 20th Anniversary Edition” is probably as much to celebrate 20 years of the series as it is to trumpet the fact that the show is now going to have its DVD releases come out via the fine folks at Shout Factory. The bonus, however, is that it features four episodes of the show which have never before seen issue on DVD. Given that so much of the origins of the show are detailed within the special features (more on that in a moment), it’s mildly disappointing that only one of the four episodes included in the set comes from the Joel Hodgson era of the show. Still, the one that’s included (“First Spaceship on Venus”) is a good one. The real winner of the set is “Laserblast,” which not only served as the Comedy Central swan song of the series but was arguably one of the worst films ever to appear on the show. Of the other three episodes, two of them (“Werewolf” and “FutureWar”) come from the later years of the show, where the evil Dr. Forrester has been replaced by the equally evil Pearl Forrester; they’re perhaps most notable for being some of the most recent films ever tackled by the series, but “Werewolf” earns instant classic status by featuring Joe Estevez (Martin Sheen’s brother) within its cast.
It’s a given that we’ll see other “MST3K” sets from Shout Factory in the not-too-distant future, and those sets may prove to contain funnier episodes than this 20th anniversary set, but for fans of the show, any episode of “MST3K” is a good episode, so it’s unlikely that they’ll do anything but snatch this box up like they’ve done for all of the sets that have preceded it. (Indeed, they’ve been so excited about the limited edition metal box version of this set that it was sold out before it ever hit stores!)
Special Features: Although you can never go wrong with watching the original trailers for the films being tackled by “MST3K,” the real selling point here is the three-part saga, “The History of ‘MST3K,’” which examines the show’s earliest beginnings through its incarnations on Comedy Central and the Sci-Fi Channel, tackles their lone theatrical outing, and spotlights the diehard fans of the show who have kept its memory alive for so many years. All of the players have been interviewed for the documentary, and it provides a wealth of information and footage that most fans have probably never seen before. (The only slight disappointment: there’s no mention of the cast’s post-“MST3K” projects, The Film Crew, RiffTrax, and Cinematic Titanic, which almost certainly would’ve been of interest to the fans that aren’t aware of their existence.) Also enjoyable is the “MST3K” reunion panel from the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, though there’s inevitably some repetition with the full-length history. And speaking of repetition, if you’re able to get the show’s theme song out of your head after watching “Variations on a Theme Song,” which plays every different version from the run of the show back to back, you’re a better man than I am.