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Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

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    Ian Jane
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  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: September 3, 2013.
    Director: Jim Mallon
    Cast: Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy
    Year: 1996
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Every year Hollywood makes hundreds of movies… this is one of them!

    When the crew from the Satellite of Love went Hollywood in the mid-nineties, the potential was there for Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and company to take what they're more or less perfected on TV's Mystery Science Theater to a new level after the Comedy Channel opted not to renew the show (Sci-Fi later picked it up). Free from the confines of television censorship, there was the opportunity here to maybe break some new ground and try something a little different. What wound up happening was that the major studio behind the project (Universal) kept tight control over the editing and ran interference so often that, by all accounts, the MST3K crew were miserable during the experience and unhappy with the results.

    When the movie begins, a mad scientist named Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) explains to the audience how and why Mike Nelson and his robot companions Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo have been imprisoned on the Satellite Of Love deep in the far reaches of outer space. Basically, he plans to take over the world by showing the worst movies ever made and is using them as guinea pigs, and they push back against the experiment by making smart ass remarks as the movie plays out. To test things out, he forces them to watch Joseph Newman's 1955 sci-fi film, This Island Earth. The plot for that one is pretty goofy - a test pilot named Cal Meachum is contacted by an alien race of giant foreheaded geniuses. Later he and his lady friend Ruth are brought to the alien home planet where they learn the truth about their intentions and have to fend off a hulking insect like monster.

    It's a typical fifties era sci-fi picture in that it's got loads of stilted dialogue, hokey effects and a goofy plot but the design work and execution of the obviously low budget effects work is all so odd and off the wall that it's hard not to love the movie. For whatever reason though, Universal insisted of shoring This Island Earth of twenty-minutes or so, which even when you throw in the host segments in which Mike and the robots try to outsmart Forrester with some help from another robot named Gypsy, the movie clocks in at under seventy-five minutes in length (which, strangely enough, is shorter than the average MST3K episode's running time). While much of the humor in the movie that comes from the riffing is clever and funny, This Island Earth is hardly bottom of the barrel material and would seem an odd choice for the MST3K crew's movie debut. With that said, they cram so many pop culture references and clever jokes into the commentary that even if you're a fan of the movie in its original form, it's still fun to watch it this way (so long as you don't need to take it all that seriously).

    The plus side of that short running time is that the movie goes by pretty quickly. There are some episodes of the series that can drag and this movie never does. The jokes don't come quite as quickly here as they do on the TV version, they needed to leave some gaps for audience laughter. Make sure you watch his one all the way through the end credits, as Mike and the robots keep going over the credits for the MST3K movie even after the plot that makes up the host segments has been resolved.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer is framed at 1.85.1 and it looks okay, not great, but okay. It definitely offers more depth and detail than DVD could manage though it doesn't seem to look quite as good as it could during the host segments. During the scenes in the theater, This Island Earth looks like a reasonably clean print while the black shadows in front look just like that - black shadows in front. Close up shots show okay detail, medium and long distance shots not quite as much. Colors look nice, they're well defined and nice and bold, and black levels are decent. There are no compression artifacts but some mild edge enhancement shows up in a few spots as does what looks like some mild noise reduction. The previous DVD was fullframe and of fairly lousy quality - this is a nice upgrade, even if it's far from the best looking transfer you're ever going to see.

    The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is pretty front heavy. Given that most of the movie is made up of the riffing scenes, there isn't a load of channel separation here. Some of the host segments have some noticeable surround activity though, and there are moments where the music is spread around well. Not the most enveloping track you're ever going to hear but it suits the nature of the movie just fine. No alternate language options or subtitles or any kind are provided.

    The extensive selection of extra features starts off with the five minute archival featurette, The Making Of Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Movie, which is taken from a tape source and which is made up of some clips from the movie, some alternate footage and some talking head style interviews. It's not deep but it's neat to see.

    Far more interesting is the Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey featurette which includes a bunch of brand new interviews with cast and crew and bunch of exclusive behind the scenes footage. A thirty-three minutes long, it's a pretty in-depth look at how and why this movie came to exist and it contains input from Mike Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Jeff Stonehouse, Jef Maynard and director Jim Mallon. These guys are all pretty honest about their feature film experience as they discuss the issues that they ran into with the studio, ideas that they had and weren't able to execute and what they like and don't like so much about the movie (it's not much of a secret that no one was in the least bit pleased with the editing, for one thing). It's quite an interesting piece.

    Complimenting that is the thirty-seven minute featurette, This Island Earth: 2 1/2 Years In the Making, which includes input from genre experts and historians Tom Weaver, C. Courtney Joyner, Ted Newsom, David Schecter, Robert Skotak, Joe Dante and more. It's a fascinating look back at the history of the movie that gets riffed here by a group of guys that obviously knows that they're talking about. From there we also get twenty-three minutes worth of deleted scenes taken from a tape source (the only one really available). Here you'll find the alternate ending to the movie, some deleted bits from the bridging story bits with the MST3K crew, and a pretty good selection of riff segments that were cut from the feature version of the movie. These are presented with some contextual clips that did make it into the feature cut so that we know where they were originally intended to appear in the movie.

    Rounding out the extras is the original trailer for the feature, animated menus and chapter stops. As this is a combo pack release a DVD version of the movie is also included and hey, that cover art? It's reversible. Neat. The Blu-ray case fits nicely inside a slipcase, for those keeping score.

    The Final Word:

    Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie isn't on par with the best episodes of the show but it's definitely in the top tier of their output. The audio and video on Shout! Factory's new Blu-ray release won't floor you but it certainly improves over the past DVD release. The real reason you'll want this one though? The extras, there's lots of them and they're all very interesting. A pretty solid package overall, one which MST3K fans should be happy to upgrade on.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

































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