Universal // 1996 // 75 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // May 14th, 2008
"Every year Hollywood makes hundreds of movies. This is one of them!"
Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a fighter; it remained consistently hilarious through ten seasons, three television stations, and two casts. Somewhere in the middle of all this, MST3k spawned a major motion picture which lambasted one of the more respected sci-fi films of the '50s.
Their film adaptation is a great starter for new fans of the show, and a welcome re-release for die hards who missed it the first time on DVD.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie takes the show's classic premise, a man is shot into space and forced to watch crappy movies as part of a large scientific experiment, and introduces it to the masses with a major studio release from Gramercy Pictures (owned by Universal Studios). In the film, Mike Nelson, Crow T. Robot (Trace Beaulieu), and Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) take on the '50s sci-fi classic This Island Earth. Despite the fact that the film met with largely positive reviews from critics, Gramercy only distributed the film in 20 or so theaters at a time, reducing it to quiet cult fame.
MST3k: The Movie was originally released on DVD by Universal back in 1998 and quickly fell out of print. That version of the film was going for as much as $100 online. Now, this latest release on the Rogue Pictures imprint, allows fans to experience "The Movie" again, without emptying their wallets.
I've always viewed Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie as sort of the bridge between the "Joel Years" and the "Mike Years" of the series. The film came at a time when the show was beginning to both build in popularity and find itself on the ropes with Comedy Central. I didn't discover the show in general until it came to the Sci-Fi Channel, and the idea of someone other than Mike Nelson, let alone a movie, was shocking for me as a youngster. Now, having seen almost the entire series, it's easy for me to properly place the film in context. This big(ish) budget film version of the show isn't by any means the pinnacle of the series; rather, it is a hilarious starting point for newbies, and a good primer for those baffled by the idea of watching a bad movie in order to make fun of it.
Because the film was essentially controlled by Gramercy and Universal, it has a much broader public appeal. Whereas the TV show has always been an exercise in obscure trivia and pop culture references, the film adaptation is more literal with much of the riffing in reference to what's seen on screen. Gramercy had a lot to do with the editing of this film, and it shows. The skits during breaks in the film are brief (and many were cut), and the actual runtime of the film is shorter than even a normal television episode. For me, most episodes of the show trump MST3k: The Movie; however, that doesn't mean this movie isn't funny. It's hysterical, in fact.
I've always been under the impression that these guys could even make some of the best movies seem bad (as a side note: Mike Nelson is currently trying to do that, with a venture called RiffTrax). Nelson, Beaulieu, and Murphy's observations and wisecracks send me into fits of laughter, especially because they often take the road-less-travelled approach when making fun of the film. The budding "riffer" may make fun of how lame the mutant at the end of "Island" looks, but not many would point out that he's just wearing some slacks. Their timing and wit is as sharp as ever, even when they're cracking jokes that are firmly set in 1996.
As I mentioned, there are a few skits during breaks in the movie. They serve as more of a vaudevillian breather than anything else, and further add to the series' plot. I've never been too fond of the skits, since Mike isn't a very good actor and the jokes are a little too hokey at times. Really, they're just part of the show's charm, and make a little more sense when you have commercial breaks in there too.
The picture has been digitally remastered for this release and looks about as good as it's going to get. The scenes aboard the Satellite of Love are colorful and vibrant, and there's very little grain -- of course, the This Island Earth filmstock is just as messy as ever. The sound is also very good with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which is an improvement over the previous edition's stereo-only approach. Unfortunately, this is where all the positive news stops.
This re-release is as barren as Yucca Flats. Not much was done for the film when it was originally released in theaters or on DVD, and, sadly, the same is true today. Whereas the show's successful DVD compilation releases have included at least some special features, MST3k: The Movie has nothing. This will surely be Universal's only attempt to re-issue this film, and they merely shoveled it out onto the market with a shiny new cover and not much else. It's sad YouTube has more deleted scenes and trailers for this movie than the DVD. There isn't even a chapter menu.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 will always have a place in the heart of pop culture. They made it cool to watch bad movies, and the show's two hosts are still doing that today (Joel and a bunch of other MST3k vets started up another web-distributed series called Cinematic Titanic). For anyone who has been interested in the show, but unable to purchase the expensive compilation sets, this is a good starting point. MST3k: The Movie is more accessible than the regular series, but still hysterical. Hidden behind the bigger sets and fancier budget is the same charming cable-access show that debuted back in 1988 on KTMA in Minnesota.
Sadly, this disc is just the theatrical release of the film and nothing more. So while I rate this film high in the numbers, know that deep down I'm brooding over the lack of special features and extra content. I guess this is better than paying $100 for the out-of-print copy.
GUILTY of a repeat offense with no added charges.
Review content copyright © 2008 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
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