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Featured TV on DVD Review: MST3K: XVIII

July 1st, 2010

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XVIII - Buy from Amazon

The latest Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD release, titled XVIII, contains four episodes from almost all eras of the show encompassing seasons two through eight (assuming you don't count the KTMA era as season one). The quality of movies presented in this volume range from merely strange to indescribably godawful. But the quality of the movies is less important than the quality of the episodes. So are these four episodes worth adding to your collection?

  1. Lost Continent - 1951
    Season 2, Episode 8 - November 24th, 1990

    A rocket is test-fired but goes off course, crashing somewhere in the South Pacific. The military sends a group of six men (two pilots, two scientists, a mechanic, and a journalist) on a mission to recover the rocket before the Russians can, which would put the Americans at a disadvantage for the space race. They fly to the location, only to crash when they get close to their destination. And now they have to travel on foot and climb to the Lost Continent. ... And climb. And climb. And climb. And climb.

    The term "Padding" barely begins to describe this movie, but the crew does an admirable job filling the time. Still, there's only so much they can do with this. Some of the running gags get a little stale too quickly, but for the most part the riffing is on target. (It helps that the cast is quite impressive for this type of show and they have a lot of targets because of that.) Host segments are likewise mixed, with the invention exchange working and Mike Nelson playing Hugh Beaumont (a.k.a., Ward Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver) playing one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse is funny. On the other hand, the Quinn Martin production parody misses its mark.

    The only real extra on the DVD is an 6-minute long interview with Frank Conniff, a.k.a., TV's Frank. There's also the original trailer.

    Overall is it a solid episode, but not among the best.

  2. Crash of the Moons - 1954
    Season 4, Episode 17 - November 28th, 1992

    The episode starts with the third installment of General Hospital, a short about... I'm still not sure, as I've only seen parts two and three.

    The main feature is a film called Crash of the Moons, which is movie that is actually edited from a TV show, and you can tell. There are zero character introductions, because it is assumed that people watching knew them from the previous episodes. The movie tells the story of Rocky Jones and his co-pilot Winky, as they try and save the gypsy moons, which are about to crash together. Or something like that. However, while the ruler of one moon loves Rocky Jones, the other is suspicious of all outsiders, so how will Rocky save the day?

    I personally think this is the weakest episode on this set, but even so, it is still quite funny. The movie is more confused than outright bad, while its failings are rather generic and that hurts, at least in my opinion. Host segments are good, on the other hand, with the invention exchange, "Gypsy Moon" song, Crow's screenplay, etc. all hitting their mark.

    The only extra on the DVD are the Jack Perkins segments used when the show was syndicated as the Mystery Science Hour.

    Again, this episode can best be described as solid.

  3. The Beast of Yucca Flats - 1961
    Season 3, Episode 21 - January 21st, 1995

    This episode starts with the short film, Money Talks, which is about the importance of budgeting, and the short film, Progress Island, USA, which is about the modern wonder that is Puerto Rico.

    As for the plot of the main feature... No. No I will not describe the plot. It's too painful to think about it. ... seriously. ... Alright, the film starts with a scene that is inexplicable, and doesn't get more explicable throughout. Joseph Javorsky, noted Russian scientist, has escaped from his home and landed in the United States. However, KGB agents follow him and they chase him into nuclear testing ground and he's caught in the blast. The radiation transforms him from a brilliant scientist to a mindless killer. Now the local sheriff and his ex-paratrooper buddy have to stop him before his body count rises and rises.

    This could quite possibly be the worst movie I've ever seen. Although, apparently it is not the worse film made by writer / director Coleman Francis. An ultra-low budget movie, it was shot without a real script, and without sound. Because of the issue of sound syncing, there's almost no dialogue and the little there is is spoken by people not seen on camera, or who are too far away to see their lips move. To move the plot forward (what little there is of it) there is extensive narration. Rambling, somber narration. "Flag on the moon." "Wheels of progress." It's an absolutely bizarre experience to behold. And it is perfect for MST3K. It is very short, hence the two shorts that precede it, so it never overstays its welcome. As for the host segments, they mostly work. Prop Deep 13 is fun and ties up the episode nicely, the Film Anti-Preservation Society is funny, while "Is it 11:30?" shouldn't hold your attention for the whole thing, but it does.

    The DVD has a huge selection of extras compared to the other DVDs starting with a 27-minute featurette on Coleman Francis featuring B-movie makers, historians, cast of MST3K, and even some who helped make The Beast of Yucca Flats named Lee Strosnider. He seems like a really nice guy and sits down for an 8-minute extended interview. There is also the original trailer and stills.

    Arguably the best episode in this collection. The movie is pure crap, while the gang is at their best.

  4. Jack Frost, a.k.a. Father Frost, a.k.a. Morozko - 1964
    Season 8, Episode 13 - July 12th, 1997

    A Russian / Finnish co-production, it is a re-telling of a fairytale about a girl, Nastenka, living in an abusive home. Her stepmother picks on her while doting on her real daughter, while her father is too spineless to do anything. Meanwhile we meet Ivan, a young man with immense strength. (He defeats a gang of thieves by throwing their cudgels so far into the air that it will take months for them to land.) However, he is also arrogant, so he refuses to say thank you to some strange mushroom man that gave him a strong bow and several straight arrows. After he meets Nastenka, it is love at first sight; however, it is this time that he is punished by being turned into a bear and this scares the poor girl and she runs back home. Ivan is told that he must do a good deed to show he has changed in order to change back, but it has to be a real good deed, not one he does just to turn back. Meanwhile, Nastenka's stepsister is about to be betrothed to a young man, but when thay goes poorly, Nastenka is blamed and her strepmother tells her stepfather to take her to the forest and leave her there. He takes her to the forest but changes his mind and starts to take her back. This is when Nastenka decides to sacrifice herself for her father's happiness, as he will never be able to stand up to his new wife. While in the forest freezing to death, she meets Jack Frost. Yeah, the movie is named after him, but he doesn't show up till more than halfway through. Also, there is a walking cabin, an ugly witch, cute bears collecting giant mushrooms, and other weird things that show up in the movie before that. It's too much to explain.

    This is the only movie in this box set I would watch again without the MST3K gang to give me moral support, even if it was just to figure out if the film is as bizarre in its original language, or if something was lost in translation. Also, Natalya Sedykh, who plays Nastenka, is adorable, and that helps. It is definitely the best movie in this set, and it is one of the best episodes as well. These two facts are related. Because it was a well-shot movie, they could concentrate of the strangeness of the movie. And let's face facts, most fairytales are strange, if you didn't grow up hearing them. Host segments include Lord of Dance, Bobo and the Observer argue over who is in charge and Mike has to intervene, Yakov Smirnoff interpreting the movie, Crow turns into a bear, Tom tries to be very, very, very cute with only mixed results.

    The only extra on the DVD is an introduction by Kevin Murphy, a.k.a., Tom Servo. It's nine minutes long and he gets to talk about why it was chosen, and the benefits of riffing a well-made movie. (I disagree with his assessment of Roger Corman, but that's another matter.) It's worth checking out and I wish there were more extras like this.

    This is in a very close race for The Beast of Yucca Flats as the best episode in this set. It benefits from having a better movie, but the extras are weaker here. Call it a tie.

The Verdict

The episodes presented on Mystery Science Theater 3000: XVIII are better than last time with two that are among the best the series had to offer, and two that are above average. Additionally, the combined extras on these four episodes are above average, which helps make this four-disc set is an easy recommendation.

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