I first discovered "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (MST3K) during a Thanksgiving marathon on Comedy Central in 1991. The movie the guys were taunting was the Roger Corman science fiction film "It Conquered the World," and all I could think was "This is the best print I've ever seen of this movie and these guys are ruining it."
How little I understood. It didn't take long for my wife and I to become big MST3K fans.
Created by stand-up comic Joel Hodgeson, MST3K had a great premise of poking fun of bad movies making some of the most unwatchable films actually enjoyable. Set on the "Satellite of Love," Hodgeson played a man marooned on the spacecraft by a pair of evil scientists who force him to watch bad movies as part of their experiments. Aided by two smart aleck robots he created from spare parts on the satellite, Hodgeson is able to wisecrack his way to mental health.
Shout Factory is now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the start of the show with a lavish boxed set that includes four MST3K programs, prints of the new cover art for the four films, a three part documentary on the history of the show, footage of the cast reunion at this year's San Diego Comic Con and a statue of Crow T. Robot.
What is amazing to me about MST3K is that even with cast changes for instance, Hodgeson left his own show and was replaced on camera by the program's head writer Michael J. Nelson the show remained consistently hilarious.
In the documentary, Nelson said the writers, who were all stand-up comics, had an affinity for the Monty Python style of humor of mixing both the silly and the cerebral. With hundreds of jokes in each show, the pop culture and literary references came so fast that repeat viewings were needed just to hear all of the gags. It's little wonder the program won a prestigious Peabody Award for its writing.
In many ways the MST3K shows were mini-film classes on what not to do. When I taught film classes at a local college I always showed a truly horrible film in order to provide a comparison for a good production. The MST3K cast frequently pointed out continuity mistakes, bad camera works, as well as bad performances and putrid plot points.
The four movies in this set are great examples of the kind of film dregs with which the cast and writers had to work. "Future War," which the cast points out is neither about the future or a war, involves dinosaurs trained to track escaped slaves. "Laser Blast" is about a troubled teen his mother is always leaving him to go to parties in Mexico who finds an alien ray gun and starts shooting everything. "The First Spaceship on Venus" is a deadly earnest science fiction film showing international cooperation. "Werewolf" may be the dumbest movie of its kind ever made and it is a very satisfying MST3K experience,
All of the films are making their DVD debut in this set.
The films are cheesy, the writing is sharp and this set made me wish the show was still on the air. MST3K is still in production, though, in a way. Hodgeson and a number of cast members are involved with Cinema Titanic (www.cinematictitanic.com) and are producing MST3K-like DVDs ridiculing bad movies.
Nelson and two other cast members are the brains behind Riff Trax (www.rifftrax.com), at which folks can download their commentaries onto their mp3 devices to play along and skewer the latest Hollywood blockbusters.
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