MYSTERY-SCIENCE THEATER 3000: VOLUME XXXII
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5)
Joel Hodgson as JOEL ROBINSON
Michael J. Nelson as MIKE NELSON
Trace Beaulieu as CROW T. ROBOT
Kevin Murphy as TOM SERVO
Trace Beaulieu as DR. CLAYTON FORRESTER
Frank Conniff as TV’s FRANK
Studio: Shout Factory
Created by: Joel Hodgson
BY KEVIN CARR
One of my favorite television shows of all time was “Mystery-Science Theater 3000.” I remember my days back in college, lining up multiple VCRs over the Thanksgiving holiday in order to record all 30 hours of their Turkey Day celebration. Heck, my sister and I paid for the cable bill at my parents’ over the summer in order to be able to watch the show between semesters.
Even today, with everyone going their separate ways to RiffTrax, Cinematic Titanic and beyond, I still enjoy the heck out of “Mystery-Science Theater 3000.” Every few months, I bid a huge thank you to the folks at Shout Factory for assembling routine collections of the shows from the series, in four-movie volumes.
Now, the count is at 32 volumes with the latest release. And rather than running a series of “best of” collections, it’s clear that Shout Factory is taking their time to release the smaller and less infamous episodes. For a die-hard fan like myself, this is great, considering many of these movies are only available on old 1990s-era VHS tapes recorded at EP speed. Getting clean DVD copies of these movies and the take that Mike or Joel and the Bots have on them is always a treat.
Like previous releases, there is no general theme to “Mystery-Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXII.” There’s a couple movies with Joel and a couple movies with Mike, and they’re spread around seasons 4, 5 and 6. The original movies are, as to be expected, terrible in their own right, but the gang on the Satellite of Love make them enjoyable by offering their own brand of commentary.
Some select special features are spread around the discs, mainly focusing on some behind-the-scenes interviews and bits with Frank Conniff, who appears in all the episodes in the collection. The collection also comes with slick lobby cards for each film featuring the new cover art.
“Radar Secret Service”
One of the early Mike episodes, “Radar Secret Service” is the quintessential uber-cheap throwaway flick. Following a special task force that catches bad guys using the magic of radar (and by “magic,” I mean it, considering that radar manages to perform tasks that I’m pretty sure are out of its range, if you’ll pardon the pun). Dull and plodding, featuring a lot of padded scenes with people in rooms talking and cars driving outside of Los Angeles, “Radar Secret Service” feels more like a bad Saturday afternoon serial than a proper movie.
Still, as Mike and the Bots are able to do, they make the film entertaining, not just by pointing out the obvious problems but creating their own stories as well within the framework of the movie. Though Mike is still finding his footing as the lone SOL human in the host segments, it’s smooth sailing in the film itself. I’ve always remembered this episode for the inexplicable powers of radar and dull plot. It’s great to see it hold up in the context of the show more than 20 years later.
In addition to a new introduction by Frank Conniff, the featurette included shows Conniff and Trace Beaulieu’s trip to England for MST-UK. Most of it is just them goofing around, site-seeing and interacting with European fans, but it’s a fun off-kilter travelogue with the style of humor you’d expect from this duo.
“San Francisco International”
Another Mike episode, the movie featured falls into the gang’s nostalgic tastes. “San Francisco International” was a filmed pilot for an eventual reworked television series. Featuring has-been stars of the age like Pernell Roberts and Clu Gulager, “San Francisco International” captures the mediocrity of TV movies as the stars struggle to overcome the challenges of a big city airport. Of course, with all the hijackings, plane stealing and kidnapping going on, it might make you refuse to fly out of San Francisco if this happens on a daily basis.
Where Mike and the Bots’ best zingers come from is the essence of the 70s-era TV movie. These were both events and acts of futility by the networks. Tom Servo has a blast riddling the cast and movie structure, and it’s clear the entire writing team had definite flashbacks to watching this kind of drivel on television in the 70s and being ashamed to admit they loved every minute of it.
In addition to Conniff’s introduction, the special featurette on this disc is “Sampo Speaks! A Brief History of Satellite News.” This piece tells how the message board turned into a newsletter, which later turned into an MST-3K information web site under the blessings of the show’s staff.
Back to the days of Joel, this season five episode features the first installment of Steve Reeves as “Hercules.” Even though Joel and the Bots had riffed other Hercules movies, they finally got the rights to the one that started it all for the actual series. Featuring more impressive locations and more cinema spectacle, “Hercules” was always a nice diversion for the series. While the movie kind of flops around from myth to myth with relatively little accuracy, it still provides a somewhat watchable movie outside of the commentary.
This is one of those episodes where the difference between Mike and Joel is quite apparent. Joel rolls through this movie like it was a Saturday morning show the kids are watching, which seems to be how Joel always went. It was less about rapid-fire jokes and a laugh-a-minute mentality. Instead, it felt like you were on your parents’ shag carpet on a Saturday morning, eating sugar cereal and making fun of the out-of-synch voices.
Special features include Conniff’s introduction, the film’s theatrical trailer and the featurette “Barnum of Baltimore: The Early Films of Joseph E. Levine,” which focuses on the producer that brought “Hercules” to the states, along with a host of other classic and not-so-classic (but MST-featured) movies.
Another classic Joel episode, “Space Travelers” is an oddity in the MST-3K vault because of the type of film it is. The allure of an MST movie featuring actors like Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman and Richard Crenna is less shocking in the wake of RiffTrax taking on blockbusters, but it was almost unheard of back then. Additionally, “Space Travelers” is unique because it is the only Oscar-winning film (for special effects, of course) to be featured on the show.
It’s a dull movie, trying a bit too hard to be a new version of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but it’s not a terrible movie. Plus, the running time was trimmed down considerably to fit in the constraints of the MST-3K time slot. Still, it’s a fascinating footnote in the MST archive because they manage to make fun of the movie without taking shots at the typical low-budget problem their movies faced.
Special features on this disc include Conniff’s introduction, the film’s theatrical trailer and the featurette “Marooned: A Forgotten Odyssey,” which takes a look at this film as an MST-3K oddball of a classic film under the SOL’s guns.