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Disks: 5 DVDs
Label: SHOUT! Factory
Release Date: Nov 12th, 2013
- Moon Zero Two
- The Day The Earth Froze
- The Leech Woman
Bonus Disc Double Feature:
- The Brain That Wouldn’t Die
- Three-part documentary Return To Eden Prairie: 25 Years Of Mystery Science Theater 3000
- Ninth Wonder Of The World: The Making Of Gorgo (MST3K Edition)
- Last Flight Of Joel Robinson
- Life After MST3K: Mary Jo Pehl
- MST Hour wraps
- Leonard Maltin Explains Something
- Interview with Marilyn (Hanold) Neilson
- Original trailers
- 4 exclusive mini-posters by artist Steve Vance
If the movie Fight Club has taught us anything it’s that insomnia makes people see some pretty strange things. This is especially true when it comes to television. As a young insomniac, I often remember staying up late with my brothers to watch the most inane programming. Everything from bad Howdy Doody episodes, groovy reruns of failed 70s sitcoms, to chinsy jewelry infomercials, those timelessly cheesy “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” PSAs, and those strange British light crime dramas usually involving a granny detective suspecting trouble afoot, typically somewhere in sheep-entrenched South Wales. This land is the world of television refuge. The garbage heap of cultural debris. My brothers and I would routinely revel in the absurdity of TV saturation by sarcastically riffing on excesses of televised culture. Yet even amidst our ridicule of this programming, these discarded pop culture objects retained an apparent charm in their failure to succeed as quality media products. This was my first introduction to camp. Mystery Science Theater 3000 was my first introduction to pastiche.
For anyone who isn’t aware, the premise of this cult TV show (which purposefully makes no sense) centers around a man shot into space by an evil scientist who makes him watch bad movies as part of a sick psychological experiment. To cope with his predicament, the man creates two robots to help him stay sane by providing a running commentary on oceans of bad editing, bad acting, terrible screenwriting, and countless other flaws. Their wisecracking is at times roll-on-the-floor hysterical and most of the time the movies never fail to disappoint!
The show first aired on independent station KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 24, 1988. The show was later picked up by The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central for six seasons before canceling it in 1997. The show continued for another three seasons on the Sci-Fi Channel until its final cancellation in August of 1999.
Jam packed with bizarre movies, zany puppet robot antics, and dry Midwestern humor, this DVD set celebrates the show’s 25th year anniversary and is chuck-full of special features offering a rare behind the scenes look at the show that made movie riffing a coveted artform. This DVD package contains several important making of/“behind the scenes” specials that are appealing to both diehard fans and for newcomers to the MST3K universe. In one segment, creator Joel Hodgson explains that he feels much of the success of the show was dependent on the close relationship he had with his fellow writers. Hodgson later adds that the show felt more intimate than his standup act. For him, doing the show felt more like pulling back the curtain so the audience could see the writers’ room. The humor was that organic. Hodgson reasons this is because “Movie riffing in MST3K works and it works [even] without the show.” This is essentially true for much of the time. The bad movies do a lot of the heavy lifting. And sometimes the jokes do practically write themselves! However, Hodgson is being far too humble, as the show’s origins and success truly stem from the wit of its creator and contributing writers. During its eleven year run, MST3K attained critical acclaim. After 197 episodes and one movie, the series won a Peabody Award in 1993, was nominated for two Emmy Awards (both for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing for a Variety or Music Program) in 1994 and 1995), and was nominated for a CableACE Award. In addition, the show also listed in Time magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All-Time.”
In another “making of” segment when asked about the overall success of the series, Joel Hodgson speaks of himself as a standup who was obsessed with cultural debris. After a three year stint as a standup comedian, Hodgson revealed that he always saw himself more as a creator than a comedic actor. After quitting stand up he worked at a T-shirt factory because, in his words, he believed he had his best ideas “while bored.” Hodgson also reveals that at the time he became fascinated by “kitbashing,” when the parts of commercial kits are mashed together and used to create new and interesting models. Out of these ideas of “kitbashing” and boredom, Hodgson formed a pastiche all his own, after teaming up with a group of fellow writers and producing their own public access-esque TV show. Playing an “amplified version of himself,” Hodgson provides a thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating account of the genesis of his ideas and influences. Interestingly enough, Hodgson also recounts his experience leaving the show as host and moving onto other pursuits, such as developing Cinematic Titanic, a movie-riffing project that even features a few former MST3K cast members.
In another segment, the switch over from Hodgson to Mike Nelson as host is discussed at length and is actually as heart warming and endearing as it is illuminating. A similar segment discusses the show’s slight format change around this time—when the show switched from Comedy Central to the Sci-Fi Channel—which was really quite telling. The show’s overarching storyline did become more “sci-fi” themed. Mike and robots Tom Servo, Crow, and Gypsy all had to contend with bad guy Pearl (Mary Jo Pehl) as they traveled through time and space to different worlds (deep ape, roman world, et al) before settling at Pearl’s castle.
Other previously unseen content includes several trailers, a “making of” special on creative production design of MST3K and Gorgo, a special recounting just how bad the made for TV movie Mitchell is, the strange awkwardness of an inordinately long cartoon opening moon themed credit sequence in the atrocious Moon Zero Two, and much more! This is a must for anyone even the slightest bit interested in behind the scenes looks at TV and film production, featurettes dealing with writing and the creative process, and documentaries on B movies.
One of my personal favorite aspects of the show that I always enjoyed as a young late night riffer myself was that no matter how much money was pumped into it, the show still held onto its campy lo-fi, public access look. Hodgson stood by this format and believed it to be integral to the creativity of the show’s premise. “Every camera in the world of MST3K was motivated. This is to say that every camera was a camera.” Because of this, the audience intuitively would believe they were watching a satellite feed. The character of Cambot served as a nice way for them to “cheat,” as they could more readily direct the camera for the show’s audience by instructing Cambot.“I really thought MST3K was like a pirate radio show, the idea of a guy with these robots circling the Earth and he beams into your TV channel.” For many of us, it was that and so much more. At a time when TV saturation was at its peak, MST3K represented a subversive dissenting voice whose amalgamation of unsophisticated puppetry, cheesy sci-fi, and peanut gallery sarcasm created a unique and critical pastiche that was just as clever and biting as it was entertaining and charming. The show has stayed with me since my youth and continues to beam onto my computer screen in this current “not so distant future.”
The 5-DVD set comes in a handsome tin box, with collectible poster-art cards. Highly recommended for fans of the show.