Shout! Factory // 1996 // 74 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // September 2nd, 2013
"This Island Earth can be yours...if the price is right!"
After six seasons on television riffing bad movies, the folks behind Mystery Science Theater 3000 were given the chance to bring their show to the big screen. The idea for an MST3K movie began long before Universal threw their weight behind the project, with wild pitches for Dr. Forrester and Frank attending a mad scientist convention and Crow escaping a POW camp by motorcycle. In the end, they were given the money to make a big budget episode of the TV show. It was an interesting experiment that didn't quite pay off for Universal or the MST crew. Studio notes hampered production, while lackluster promotional and a limited release assured box office failure. The MSTie faithful who trekked to the theater were thrilled to see the show they loved writ large, but it failed to connect with general audiences.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie found new life on home video, reaching fans who weren't able to see it in theaters. Now, 17 years and several middling DVD incarnations later, Shout! Factory is giving this forgotten gem the release it deserves with a Collector's Edition Blu-ray/DVD set packed with bonus features.
For all the problems the MST3K crew had working with Universal, the studio connection allowed them to riff the B-movie jewel This Island Earth. This 1955 sci-fi flick follows a handful of Earth's top scientists, recruited by aliens with large foreheads to help save their planet from destruction. It may not be the best in '50s science fiction, but there's a plenty to enjoy. There are those who argue This Island Earth is too good for the Mystery Science Theater treatment. It's hard to tell because studio notes forced the Best Brainers to chop MST3K: The Movie down to 74 minutes including host and wraparound segments. With nearly half an hour of the original film out the window, it's no wonder some fans cried foul. This Island Earth isn't a cinematic classic, but it does a lot of things right. It's colorful, stylish, and deals with weighty sci-fi themes about war and man's insignificance in a larger universe. It also has goofy aliens, big explosions, and brain-bug creatures who wear pants. It might be better than its post-MST3K reputation, but This Island Earth is most certainly not "too good" to be riffed.
Mike, Crow, and Tom are in top form for this shortened flick, taking shots at the effects, the costumes, the aliens' non-disguises, and the shaky movie science. They also take advantage of the PG-13 rating by shoehorning in naughty language here and there -- possibly another studio note. Still, it's nice to see an early example of the no-holds barred approach the show's writers would take years later with Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax.
There are funnier episodes of the TV show than Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, but this big screen outing holds up well. It would probably be even better in a theater with a like-minded crowd. In 1995, the idea of seeing MST3K in a large group setting was a big deal. These days, there are multiple ways for MSTies to experience in-theater riffing between Cinematic Titanic shows and Rifftrax Live simulcasts. As great as it is to have a definitive home release of MST3K: The Movie, it's bittersweet knowing that the best thing about its original release can't be replicated at home.
Shout! Factory continues their excellent Mystery Science Theater 3000 work in the series' first hi-def release. This Collector's Edition set includes the film and bonus features on both Blu-ray and DVD. The 1.78:1 1080p image is a marked improvement from previous releases. The 35mm source material shines in a sharp, colorful transfer. There may be some slight smoothing at play, but close-ups are rich with puppet textures and Satellite interior detail. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is crisp, with a beefy low end and surround effects. The movie looks and sounds great -- in the host segments, anyway. The upgrade is less obvious when Mike and the bots are in the theater. The silhouettes are slightly sharper but This Island Earth looks iffy as always. You might be able to convince yourself there's more detail but the print is faded with flecks and specks galore. It's not a complaint, since the presentation is true to the source material. Those who go in with realistic expectations will have a good time.
The audio-visual upgrade is impressive, but the best thing about Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie Collector's Edition are the extras. Where previous releases have been barebones, Shout! has assembled a wealth of bonus features that eclipse the running time of the feature film. Besides a DVD copy of the film, including all the bonus features, the set includes:
* "The Making of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie" (5:17): This standard-def featurette hails from the '90s and has a promotional feel. It's a peek behind the curtain, but doesn't dig nearly as deep as:
* "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Motion Picture Odyssey" (33:07): The first of two brand new featurettes from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. This candid documentary is part making-of, part confessional as the MST3K crew looks back on the film's rocky production. It's a fascinating story, as early excitement gave way to studio interference, focus groups, and Universal's unfortunate decision to throw their promotional dollars behind Barb Wire instead.
* "This Island Earth" (36:45): The second Ballyhoo featurette takes a closer look at this Universal classic, continuing the story -- began in the past few MST sets -- of producer William Allend's attempt to give the studio new life after the end of the monster movie craze. Film historians and director Joe Dante chime in on the movie and addressing legitimate criticisms of the way Universal and Mystery Science Theater chopped the film to confusing pieces for The Movie.
* Deleted Scenes (23:10): As mentioned in the "Motion Picture Odyssey," Universal was adamant that large chunks of the movie be cut, including theater material, another host segment, and an alternate ending. Shout! includes those scenes here, "sourced from the best available masters." Unfortunately, those masters aren't great. The six deleted scenes (mostly extended versions of things already in the film) are sub-VHS quality in non-anamorphic widescreen. It's not so bad during the theater scenes, but it's tragic that these are the best the missing meteor shower host segment and alternate "Scrotor" ending are ever going to look.
* Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie Theatrical Trailer (1:40): A full screen, standard-def film trailer that pushes the "uncensored" angle.
* Dave Alvin's version of the MST3K theme song: Although not an official bonus feature, Shout! was able to track down the original masters for the song that plays as an instrumental over the film's closing credits -- including it here in its entirety, as looping music for the extras menu.
* Reversible cover: This might not be a big deal to everyone, but those who keep a tidy DVD collection will appreciate that the Blu-ray cover can be removed and flipped over, revealing different cover art that matches the hand-drawn poster style of the TV episode box sets. It won't match the slipcase, but the choice is yours.
Just when it seemed that Shout! Factory couldn't lavish any more attention on the franchise, they release Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie Collector's Edition on Blu-ray. Whatever the movie's quality relative to the TV show it's an important piece of history, and this is the definitive version. It looks and sounds great, jam-packed with bonus features whose quantity more than makes up for the occasional lack in visual quality. Every year, Hollywood puts out thousands of Blu-rays. This is one of them -- and you should buy it.
Interociterrific! Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 74 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* IMDb: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
* IMDb: This Island Earth
* IMDb: MST3K
* Official Site
* Official Fan Site