Christopher Judge, Peter Woodward, Graham McTavish, Ricardo Chavira,
Director: Mike Disa
Format: Animated, Color, Widescreen
Region: 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: ANCHOR BAY
DVD Release Date: January 25, 2011
Run Time: 90 minutes
now, the Mystery Science Theater boxed sets
have attained Kabuki-like regularly, with the producers adopting a “we ain’t
gonna fix it ‘cause it clearly ain’t broke” approach and benefiting from the
Things underwent a slight change when Shout Factory took over the line from
Rhino, but the basics remain the same. Each set contains four episodes of
the cult classic series, along with a few bells and whistles to fill up
space. Shout Factory gets a few demerits for neglecting to include chapter
searches on its discs, but otherwise, it’s a case of resolutely meeting
expectations without a lot of monkey business.
So it goes with the twentieth boxed set in the series: a well-managed
package that neither breaks new ground nor rocks the boat unduly. It falls
to the films themselves to sell us on the package, and thankfully, this
latest collection doesn’t disappoint.
Fans of Mike Nelson, who hosted the
series’ later episodes, should be warned that all four films come from the
earlier Joel Hodgson era, though that shouldn’t deter them from making the
purchase. The high points of the set are Master Ninja I and Master
Ninja II; both fan favorites witnessing their first official appearance
here. The producers cobbled them together from a crappy 1980s TV show called
The Master, in which ninja guru Lee Van Cleef (?!) and his apprentice
Timothy Van Patten (double ?!) tool around in a custom van looking for
wrongs to right.
Each film consists of two hastily-connected episodes
presented as a single film. A pre-fame Demi Moore shows up in part one, as
does Sho Kosugi, for whom no ninja movie can pass without a token
The cheese factor borders on the overwhelming, and Master Ninja’s
obvious Stephen J. Cannell envy makes potent targets for Joel and the bots.
The jokes attain a slightly sharper bite than some of Joel’s other entries,
and rarely miss their mark. Long-time fans should rejoice at the arrival of
the infamous “Master Ninja Theme Song” at the end of the first disc.
The set’s other two entries are slightly weaker, but only just. The first,
Project Moonbase, aired during the show’s opening season and features
Josh Weinstein as the voice of Tom Servo instead of Kevin Murphy (he also
plays one of the mad scientists). You can sense the gang still struggling to
find the show’s tone, with more infrequent riffs and much less confidence in
the approach. Luckily, the film itself is truly awful – an embalmed bit of
1950s sci-fi (written by Robert Heinlein no less!) with a deadly earnest
approach to its plot and some staggering bits of sexism thrown into the mix.
It also includes another pair of entries from the Commando Cody serial; the
disc carries more appeal to completionists and as a barometer for how much
the show evolved, rather than a selling point in and of itself.
You can see that evolution first-hand with the last disc in the set: The
Magic Voyage of Sinbad. MST 3K found a gold mine in bad Finnish fantasy
movies, as witnessed by Jack Frost and similar entries. This one boasted
top-notch production values and excellent special effects, only to be kicked
right in the nuts with a goofy redub, courtesy of Roger Corman. The gang’s
rapid-fire jokes show poise and polish, the material begs for a giant “kick
me” sign, and as one of the last episodes which Joel hosted, it lends the
set a lovely sense of closure.
THE DISCS: The extra features constitute a very mixed bag, and don’t
demonstrate much consistency. The best comes courtesy of series DP Jeff
Stackhouse, who talks about the show’s evolving look and increasingly
complex mythology. Cast member Trace Beaulieu discusses The Magic Voyage
of Sinbad, paired with the collected host segments from the “Mystery
Science Theater Hour” (which broke the shows into two hour-long segments for
Master Ninja guest star Bill McKinney reminisces on
his experiences on the first Master Ninja disc, and the second
contains a “Servo vs. Servo” face-off in which Weinstein and Murphy discuss
the evolution of the character. The original trailer for Project Moonbase
rounds out the set, along with four-loose leaf mini-posters for each film.
The extras remain mildly diverting and modestly insightful, though they
don’t merit any undue excitement.
WORTH IT? As I said earlier, there’s no point in
messing with success. MST3K fans know what
to expect from each set and Volume XX doesn’t let them down.
Newcomers will find it readily accessible and can get into the groove of the
show very quickly. Nelson’s presence is missed, but he has an old Rhino set
completely to himself, so we won’t begrudge his absence here.
Science Theater never gets old and the new set continues to deliver the
goods. Fans and newcomers alike should discover plenty to smile about here.