Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume 20 review, Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX DVD
Starring
Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Kevin Murphy, Josh Weinstein
Director
Various
Mystery Science Theater
3000: Volume 20

Reviewed by Jason Thompson

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I

s it time for another volume of the great “Mystery Science Theater 3000” already? Fine by me. I appreciate Shout! Factory's ongoing mission to pump these sets out. As much as I'm a fan of the Rhino label, back when they were handling this series, the sets came out every now and then and rather quietly. Now it seems like the classic series is finally getting its due and is in more than capable hands.

Here we are at Volume 20, and, as is often the case with these sets, this one's a bit of a hit-and-miss experience. Included in this outing are Season One's "Project Moonbase," Season Three's "Master Ninja 1" and "Master Ninja 2," and Season Five's "Magic Voyage of Sinbad." The real draw for the fans is "Master Ninja," which was originally culled from a terrible failed '80s TV show entitled "The Master,” starring Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten.

Now, I've been enjoying this show since way back in the Comedy Central days, and I remember seeing "Master Ninja" the first time it was on. It's funny how often memories will paint even total garbage as something far less terrible than it actually is. Such is the case with these two flicks. The first "movie" features a young Demi Moore and Claude Aikins. How can you go wrong there? It's decent, and Joel and the bots' constant digging at Van Patten's incoherent speech patterns and the "Master Ninja Theme Song" are classic, but things don't really get laugh out loud hilarious until "Master Ninja 2," which features a young Crystal Bernard out-acting Timothy Van Patten. Amazing. And for the James Bond fans who never enjoyed George Lazenby, well, he's here too, getting bashed constantly ("You were the worst James Bond ever!"). It's still mind boggling why Lee Van Cleef was even chosen for this disaster. He's likable, but man, a ninja the dude could never be.

The other highlight of this set is "Magic Voyage of Sinbad," which originally had nothing to do with Sinbad until Roger Corman got a hold of it and redubbed it with English-speaking actors and managed to wedge some bizarre Sinbad plot into it that makes no sense at all. The original movie was a 1952 fantasy epic entitled "Sadko" and came straight out of Russia. For its time, the effects are pretty damn good, the costumes really well done, and the sets huge and impressive, but of course, in Corman's hands it became something that needed to be destroyed by the gang on the Satellite of Love.

That leaves "Project Moonbase." Until these Shout! Factory sets, I (and probably many others) had never really gotten to see the early “MST3K” episodes featuring Josh Weinstein, who played Larry Erhardt and voiced Tom Servo. Having now seen a couple of those episdoes, I can only say, “thank heaven for Kevin Murphy.” It's not all Weinstein's fault, as the writing hadn't really picked up steam at this point, but the jokes aren't that hot, and Kevin Murphy will always be Tom Servo, no matter how you slice it. The movie itself is another crummy sci-fi B-movie, preceded by two episodes of "Commando Cody," which fare no better.

To sum up, the really great flicks in this set are "Master Ninja 2" and "Magic Voyage of Sinbad." "Master Ninja 1" is decent, and "Project Moonbase" could have been left in the vaults. But, again, I'm not going to argue with any “MST3K” that gets released on a regular schedule. Of course, some fans are going to dig every last minute of these episodes, and more power to 'em. I just never see the day where "Project Moonbase" becomes as watched as "Mitchell" or "Pumaman" in my living room.

Special Features: As usual, there's plenty to please the fans here. "Magic Voyage of Sinbad" gets a new intro and look back by Trace Beaulieu. "Master Ninja 1" features an interview with guest star Bill McKinney in which he relates that he hadn't even been aware that an “MST3K” version of "The Master" had even been done until he was asked to be interviewed, and also relates how at the time Lee Van Cleef was living on two cases of beer a day for sustenance when they shot the episode. Good stuff. Also included is Trace Beaulieu's Crow T. Robot vs. Bill Corbett's Crow T. Robot at DragonCon, a feature on the look of “MST3K,” a few wraps for "The Mystery Science Theater Hour," and four mini-posters by Steve Vance. All in all, some nice bonuses well-worth checking out.

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