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Featured TV on DVD Review: MST3K: XX

March 7th, 2011

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XX - Buy from Amazon

Mystery Science Theater 3000 reaches 20. The latest four-disc set features episodes from the Joel era of the show. Where do these episodes fit in the show's decade-long run? Are they classics? Are they forgotten entries? Or somewhere in-between?

  1. Project Moonbase - 1953
    Season 1, Episode 7 - January 6th, 1990

    The show starts with two episodes of Radar Men from the Moon, with Commander Cody, who is still dealing with the most inept Alien Invaders of all time. (At least they are getting around to the actual invading part, instead of robbing people to raise the money.) In the first episode, the moon men have rays guns. In the second, Commander Cody and his squad travel to the moon with ray guns of their own. Without Joel and the Robots, these would be painful to watch, but they certainly succeed in making them entertaining. (I especially love the comic book sound effects Joel uses.) Speaking of pain, the feature is Project Moonbase, set in the distant year of 1970. The Americans are building a space station and are sending up a rocket with the whiniest pilot of all time. (I complain about a lack of strong female roles in movies today, but at least we don't have to deal with something like this.) Meanwhile, the Russians have snuck a saboteur on board, but will he succeed in his mission, or will his lack of knowledge of the American pastime give him away?

    Like many first season shows, the timing of the gags is not quite as sharp as the later episodes. There are still lots of very funny bits and this is a movie that really deserves to be ripped apart. Host bits are mostly strong with the juggling water particularly well done, while on the other end I thought the tie fashion show went on a little longer than its premise could handle.

    There is a 9-minute interview with one of the D.P.s, Jeff Stonehouse, who talks about the look of the show and how they did those amazing special effects.

    Overall still a good show, especially for the first season, but it is not among the best episodes in the show's run.

  2. Master Ninja I - 1984
    Season 3, Episode 22 - January 11th, 1992

    Master Ninja is not actually a movie, but a TV series that was made in 1984 but quickly canceled and then, after people forgot how bad it was, it was recut as a couple TV movies. Lee Van Cleef stars as a ninja... Which should make everyone reading this question their sanity. He stars as a master ninja who leaves Japan and travels to the United State to find the daughter he never new he had. Along the way he meets Max, who becomes his sidekick, and the two of them, along with Max's gerbil, drive around in Max's van helping people in need. Think The A-Team, only much worse. They do get to save Demi Moore, so that's something.

    Host segments include the invention exchange with the adult oriented pop-up books (I really wanted to see the last one) and gourmet IVs. Crow explains The Van Patten Project... well, explains is a strong word. The crew of the Satellite of Love have a battle of the theme music, and Frank's not invited. Numchucks spin-offs are next, based on the old invention of numclucks (rubber chickens on a chain, for those who don't remember). Finally, the crew reads a fan letter while singing the Master Ninja Theme Song as a funk-fusion band.

    The only extra on the DVD is an interview with Bill McKinney, who had a guest shot on the TV show mocked here.

    Master Ninja was a show that went beyond "What were they thinking?" bad, which makes it perfect fodder for MST3k. Excellent riffing material and nearly all of the jokes are on target. Every single host segment generates laughs, and that theme song is now stuck in my head. Damn you funk-fusion!

  3. Master Ninja II - 1984
    Season 3, Episode 24 - January 25th, 1992

    More of the same (with Crystal Bernard in a guest shot in the first part and James Bond in the second) which is great news for all involved. For fans of the show, it means more laughs. For me, it means less typing.

    Host segments include an evening of improve, a gerbil biodome, how to customize your van, Crow gives the Patton speech as Timothy Van Patten, Tom Servo explains what pet each crime fighter should have, we get to see the Lee Van Cleef paper dress-up doll, and finally TV's Frank gives an impassioned speech about the long canceled TV show The Second Hundred Years.

    It's Tom Servo vs. Tom Servo as Josh Weinstein and Kevin Murphy are featured at Dragon-con 2010. It's a very meaty 42 minutes long and it's the best extra on this four-disc set.

    Not quite as strong as the previous episode, mainly because the show is too much of the same. On the other hand, had they split up these two episodes, people would have been pissed. However, while it is not quite as strong, it is still an amazingly funny episode.

  4. The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, a.k.a. Sadko - 1953
    Season 5, Episode 5 - August 14th, 1993

    A Russian film that has absolutely nothing to do with Sinbad. At least it didn't before it was dubbed for an American audience. Sadko / Sinbad returns to his home and sees his people are not happy, so he's determined to bring them happiness by finding the mythical Blue Bird of Happiness. This film has far better production values than the average MST3k target, but it is also far weirder.

    The show starts with the S.O.L.ties, the MST3k Awards, in which they hand out the "Best Performance by a Red Gumball Machine-Looking Robot in a Funny Situation". Guess who wins. Nope. Invention exchange gives us... Chinderwear. We look in at the meeting of the Junior Jester Club, and if you are looking for an aerobic workout, try jestering. The three men of the Satellite of Love don impressive beards and pretend to be the rulers of Persia dealing with the scourge of Sinbad. Crow straps on a rocket pack and heads off into space to go on a quest, and now he's doomed. Finally, Joel's got an impressive puppet fish and I want one. I want one almost as much as I want one of those beards. Mr. Fistie. I'd explain Mr. Fistie, but you should really see it for yourself.

    Trace Beaulieu is interviewed about how well the show works as part of MST3k, and I agree. There are also the Mystery Science Theater Hour intros and wraps with Michael J. Nelson as Jack Perkins.

    Upon further reflection, this episode is just as good as the two Master Ninja episodes, maybe even better. There's something about the bizarre Russian fairytales that are so easily riffed. Every host segment hits its mark, and even the extras are good.

Finally, if you buy the box set directly from Shout! Factory, you get a free stress ball. Looks awesome, but I didn't get one.

The Verdict

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XX has one episode that is just average, but the other three are solid hits. With plenty of extras, it's an easy recommendation for fans of the show and a contender for Pick of the Week.

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