Mystery Science Theater 3000 XX (2011) – By Duane L. Martin

Mystery Science Theater 3000 became a total cult phenomenoa, and as such, its popularity with lovers of cheesy films has never waned. Most people, even if they’ve never seen the show, have at least heard of it and know a little about it. For those few who haven’t even heard of it though, here’s what it’s about.

Joel was working as a janitor at some big corporate entity, and then suddenly found himself shot into space as part of an experiment. He was to be isolated and exposed to the worst movies ever made. Joel, not wanting to be alone, constructed himself some robot friends out of various parts from the ship. However, some of the parts he used were from the unit that displays the movies so he doesn’t have any control over them (when they start and stop, etc…). The show basically is a combination of those old horror host types of shows you’d see on television late at night, and Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

Included in this four disc box set are four episodes, including Master Ninja I, Master Ninja II, Project Moonbase and The Magic Voyage of Sinbad.

Now I’ll admit something here. I’ve never really been a fan of the show. I love classic b-movies, but the few times I’ve watched MST3K, I’ve always found it annoying because they were talking over the movie and cracking lame jokes when I would have preferred to just watch the movie and make my own jokes. So has this new box set release from Shout Factory changed my mind? In some ways, I’d have to say yes.

While I find that many of the jokes thrown around by Joel and the bots fall pretty flat, occasionally they’ll toss out some comment that’s just absolutely hilarious. So much so in fact, that it makes it worth sitting through all the stuff that isn’t so funny just to come across these little gems of hilarity. I also quite enjoyed the scenes in between the film where they’d come back out onto the main deck of the ship and interact with the scientist and his assistant back on Earth and do their invention exchanges and such. While some of this wasn’t all that funny, some of them were great and very entertaining.

The films themselves, even though the guys are talking over them and cracking jokes, are entirely watchable. I’m not sure how complete they are. Master Ninja seemed to make a sudden jump from one storyline to another. That was an episodic television series though, so either they combined two episodes, something was cut out that connected it all together or it was just like that to start with, which doesn’t make much sense. I’m not sure what was going on with that, but I have to say that the robots singing the master ninja song on there was way awesome. It’ll stick in your head for a while after you see it too. At least it did for me. Master Ninja II was one coherent story througout. What’s funny is, as cheesy and lame as Master Ninja was, when I was done watching them, I actually wanted to see more of the series. The show stars Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten, but also has appearances by Demi Moore, Crystal Bernard, Jennifer Runion, Sho Kosugi and more. Unfortunately, it only lasted for thirteen episodes. Still, even though we only get a taste of it between these two discs, the jokes about Lee Van Cleef’s ponchy gut never got old…unlike Lee Van Cleef.

Project Moonbase I had seen before a few times, as I own the actual film, and it’s quite enjoyable, with a notable appearance by Hayden Rourke (Dr. Bellows from I Dream of Jeannie) as…what else? A general in the space program. It’s a good movie, and Joel and the boys had a good time making fun of it, but it was probably relatively, the least funny of the batch.

The Magic Voyage of Sinbad is apparently a Finnish incarnation of the Sinbad character. In this story, Sinbad heads out with his magic harp to find a magic bird that sings of happiness, so that all the people in his land will be happy and want for nothing. He had given up all of his worldly belongings except for his harp to help the poor, so how he has to find a way to build ships and form a crew to make his magical journey across the seas to a far away land, which turns out to be India (hey, that’s pretty far!). There he must face the evil and greedy ruler in a game of chess, with the stakes being Sinbad’s horse (which he stole from a bunch of vikings after they attacked him and his crew), against the phoenix, which has the head of a woman and whose songs actually put men to sleep rather than making them happy. The guys made a lot of fun of this film as well, but it didn’t have the same energy as the others, and watching the introduction by Trace Beaulieu on the special feature, we find out why. Apparently Joel Hodgson, who played Joel in the show, was ending his run with the long running series, and this was one of his final shows. I’m not sure if he was just bored with it or if something else was going on, but it just didn’t have the same energy as the others. Not that it was bad, or way noticeable, but you could feel that something there was a bit off. Still, the film was enjoyable and it was a fun episode. The only problem I had with this one was that they talked over the dialogue a bit too much and drowned it out at times when I wanted to hear what was going on.

This is a great release from Shout Factory. I think my only complaint about it would be that I would have liked to have seen the full films included as well so that people could watch them on their own. I seem to remember many of the early MST3K (probably from a different company) including the full films as well as the episode of the show. Is it totally necessary? Not really. It would have been nice though. Other than that, I think fans of the show will be really happy with this one.

This box set will be available starting 3/8/2011 and will be available through the Shout Factory website, and I assume all the other normal outlets. If you pre-order it through the Shout Factory website, you’ll get a free MST3K stress ball with your purchase.