Rock climbing, Judge Erich Asperschlager. Rock Climbing.
Our reviews of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIV (published February 18th, 2009), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIX (published November 9th, 2010), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV (published July 3rd, 2009), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVI (published November 27th, 2009), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVII (published February 22nd, 2010), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX (published March 3rd, 2011), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXI, MST3K vs. Gamera (published July 25th, 2011), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII (published November 24th, 2011), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIII (published March 16th, 2012), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV (published July 17th, 2012), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXV (published December 5th, 2012), and Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI (published April 1st, 2013) are also available.
"This movie stops at nothing—and stays there."
From the days of VHS releases to the four-episode DVD packs that became the standard, bringing Mystery Science Theater 3000 to home video has been tricky. Because movie rights have to be renegotiated for every episode, releases have been determined more by availability than popularity. Plenty of fan-favorites have yet to get their due on DVD, whether because having been on MST3K made a formerly cheap movie prohibitively expensive to license, or because directors were so offended by the treatment of their work that they refused to let them resurface. In a few cases, episodes were released only to be later pulled from shelves. It was a mess.
These days, things are looking a lot brighter for MST3K fans. Since the series moved over to Shout! Factory, the box sets are coming out quicker, with more episodes from the Comedy Central years, and including some movies fans had given up on ever getting an official release. Except for the controversial inclusion of season one episodes in the first few sets, MSTies the world over have praised Shout! for the way they've handled the franchise on DVD.
Having raised the bar this high for themselves, it seems inevitable that one of these days Shout! Factory is going to stumble and release a disappointing set. I guess we'll just have to wait and see if they drop the ball with Volume XIX, because Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVIII might just be their best yet.
The set kicks off with the Robert Lippert stinker Lost Continent, a season two classic remembered by fans for one thing: "Rock climbing, Joel. Rock climbing." Sure, the movie features a top secret expedition to recover a nuclear rocket, stop-motion dinosaurs fighting to the death, and big names like Cesar Romero, Leave it to Beaver's Hugh Beaumont, and Sid Melton (a.k.a. "the guy from The Danny Thomas Show"), but it's the extended mountain climbing sequence that fills fan memory banks almost as much as it padded the film.
Lost Continent was always one of my favorites, and it doesn't disappoint here. Aside from the soul-crushing rock climbing section, the movie actually isn't terrible. Okay, it is terrible. But it's not unwatchable—meaning Joel and the bots have plenty of meat to chew up and spit back at the screen. Perhaps the best thing about this opening episode is that it's not from season one. I know some fans appreciate Shout! Factory's inclusion of the series' early days, but I'm not one of them—at least, not when they take a slot that might be filled by an episode as awesome as this one.
The worst thing about Lost Continent is that the visual quality of the episode is not up to snuff compared to past releases. The disc begins with a warning/apology letting the viewer know that, although they used the best surviving master, the transfer isn't perfect. Black lines pop in during several of the host segments, and the last third of the movie has a subtle tracking line running across the top of the screen. The flaws don't ruin the experience, though, and if the alternative is not having the episode at all, I'll gladly take the minor visual hiccups.
The Lost Continent disc has two extras: the movie's original theatrical trailer, and a new introduction for the episode recorded by TV's Frank Conniff.
Next up, season four's Crash of the Moons, the second of the Rocky Jones space adventures. In this installment, Rocky, Winky, Bobby, and crew must save the populations of the Gypsy Moons—twin planetoids that are on a collision course for each other for some reason. The leader of one moon is a jovial guy played by Hogan's Heroes' John Banner, who has a cute baby son and a lightning bolt on his chest. The leader of the other moon is an icy queen who'd rather commit genocide than play nice with the intergalactic equivalent of the United Nations. The movie is preceded by a General Hospital short, in which two people who aren't married are in love, and a perfectly good cake gets thrown away.
Shout! Factory must have bought the rights to General Hospital in bulk, since this is the third released episode to feature one of the shorts—completing the trilogy started in Manhunt in Space (the first Rocky Jones adventure) from Volume XIV, and continued in The Beatniks from Volume XVII. The aging soap opera isn't the draw of this episode, though. It's the rock-solid riffing as Joel and the bots dismantle this failed space serial. Episode highlights include the Satellite of Love crew pitching a "Banner Gram" greeting service, the endless shots of toy rockets launching and landing, and John Banner's hammy mispronunciation of everyone's names. "Boopie!"
The lone extra on the Crash of the Moons disc is a collection of wrap-around segments from the episode's appearance on the Mystery Science Theater Hour.
The third episode, The Beast of Yucca Flats. is from season six—the first full year for Mike Nelson. Directed by Coleman Francis of Red Zone Cuba fame, Yucca Flats is a Cold War-era monster movie notable for two things. First, it stars Swedish professional wrestler cum Plan 9 from Outer Space star Tor Johnson, as the titular beast. Second, there is no synced dialogue. Every spoken line was recorded after the fact and inserted in such a way that you never see anyone's lips move. Whether off-camera, hidden by shadow, or filmed from above, you never see any of the actors utter a line. Even weirder? I just used the word "actor" to describe the people who appear in this movie. The Beast of Yucca Flats is preceded by not one but two shorts. In "Money Talks!" the silhouette of Ben Franklin teaches a high schooler the value of making a budget, on behalf of the American Bankers Association, while "Progress Island, U.S.A." promotes business and tourism on behalf of Puerto Rico.
Yucca Flats is a painful movie. The Mads know it, which is why they present it to Mike, Crow, and Tom as the centerpiece of their "Proposition Deep 13" campaign to crush the Satellite of Love. It's not quite Manos: The Hands of Fate bad, but that's probably because it's not as long. Francis is a creative director, but that creativity exists solely to cover up just how little he knows about making movies. Mike and the bots give Yucca Flats a good skewering for everything from its pretentious narration to laughable special effects. Along with the two solid shorts, this is a standout episode from MST3K's meaty middle years.
Whether because of an affinity for the episode or its director, The Beast of Yucca Flats disc has by far the most bonus features. There's a nearly half-hour documentary called "No Dialogue Necessary: Making an 'Off-Camera Masterpiece'"; an eight-minute interview with cameraman Lee Strosnider about the director; a still gallery; and the movie's original theatrical trailer.
Volume XVIII's last episode is the only one on the set from MST3K's Sci-Fi Channel years, and also the only movie in color. Before you get too excited, Jack Frost isn't the cult classic horror movie. It's also not the late-'90s dad-turned-snowman Michael Keaton vehicle. It's a Russo-Finnish co-produced fairy tale about a young girl who has a wicked stepmother, a hero who gets turned into a bear by a mushroom fairy, and the legendary man of Winter who brings them together.
Jack Frost was one of the first times the Sci-Fi Channel bent their rules requiring Mike and Co. to only riff science fiction movies. Hearkening back to the "Russo-Finnish Troika" of the Comedy Central years (The Day the Earth Froze, The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, and The Sword and the Dragon, if you were wondering), Frost is crazy Russian folktelling at its best—including cannibal witches in houses with legs, an enchanted staff with the unfortunate power of freezing forever anyone who touches it, and walking tree monsters. Mike, Crow, and Tom have a field day. What's most impressive is that they're able to take something brain-scramblingly ridiculous and make it even goofier. They really frjykyn the koscatskkyz out of it.
Only one extra on the Jack Frost disc: an introduction to the episode recorded by Kevin Murphy.
Audio-video quality is in line with past Mystery Science Theater 3000 releases, aside from the Lost Continent problems mentioned above. The episodes look pretty good for the age of the material, especially considering the movies themselves were never in the best of shape. In addition to the on-disc bonus features (which feel a little light compared to previous releases), this set carries on the tradition of rewarding early adopters with collectible mini-posters for each of the episodes, designed by Steve Vance.
I feel like I write this every time I review one of these MST3K sets, but this time I really mean it: Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XVIII is the best yet. Four killer episodes split between Joel and Mike, spanning the Comedy Central and Sci-Fi Channel years (though favoring the former over the latter), featuring movies and shorts from a variety of genres. Maybe there are better single episodes to get someone started with MST3K, but I doubt there's a better collection. Granted, I'm a diehard Comedy Central guy with a soft spot for Joel, but when it comes to Mystery Science Theater 3000, it's all the same in the dark: hilarious!
I finally figured out what the Cool Thing is: this box set. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Episode Intros
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