DVD blog review Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XX: Serving up more Servo

OK, another fine Shout! Factory release is due soon, with next Tuesday’s unleashing of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XX. But does anyone really need a review of its four films and their movie mocking by our beloved boys and ‘bots? I didn’t think so. We’re all longtime fans right? Anyone else in the room? Then let us proceed.

For the record, those films are Project Moonbase, The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, Master Ninja I and Master Ninja II. I’ll only say that I prefer the alleged Sinbad movie (what, no Harryhausen effects?), since it’s in the dubbed, fanciful yet silly Euro-Russian vein of Jack Frost, one of my favorite MST offerings of all time.

But to really get down to business, longtime fans should know the extras, extras, read all about ’em. And that’s what they’ll get right here, right now.

Best of the bunch by far, even beyond its weighty running time, is Tom Servo vs. Tom Servo, a Dragon*Con 2010 panel hosted by pop culture observor Ken Plume and featuring the two voices of Servo: the original J. Elvis Weinstein and the long-running Kevin Murphy, who also made a  living playing a smelly ape as the beloved Professor Bobo in Seasons 8-10, but I digress.

This 42-minute single-camera chronicle of their lively exchange is a hoot and a stitch, often thanks to Weinstein’s dry wit. Trace Beaulieu (yes, yes — Dr. Forrester and the voice of Crow) also chimes in from the audience from time to time.

The panel traces Servo’s origins from Weinstein’s KTMA days as “Beeper” through the first nationwide season on the Comedy Channel before Murphy began voicing Servo in season two.  From both we get great assessments of Servo’s character: a puffed up but vulnerable ‘bot who’s a mix of overblown ego and weepy fragility. And don’t forget Servo loved doing drag.

Murphy allows that he enjoyed the role because he’s “just a big old ham” and adored often getting to sing as Servo. But he cautions Weinstein and others about “a general rule: Never bring the puppet home. You end up like Anthony Hopkins in Magic, and that doesn’t help at all.”

For Servo devotees, it just doesn’t get much better. Enjoy.

Other extras are more slim, but welcome. Exploring the Look of MST3K With Director of Photography Jeff Stonehouse is a nine-minute treat for those of us (me included) who cherish the later seasons  adding Bobo, Pearl, Brain Guy and others, often on elaborate new sets which Stonehouse ably shot using forced perspective. But it’s a bit out of place in this set, since none of the four episodes on these discs comes from that era.

As a person who believes CG and other effects can be as much of a curse as a boon to filmmaking, I appreciate that Stonehouse exalts in the show not “jumping on the green screen bandwagon” and instead keeping the action in-camera, “and I loved it.” (See Bram Stoker’s Dracula for more in this vein. And btw, sorry to drop a name, but once when I interviewed Steven Spielberg for the Houston Chronicle and asked him what would have happened if he’d had CG when he made Jaws, he quickly answered, “It wouldn’t have been as good.” So there.)

Other extras include original trailers (um — what was that? — oh yes — fine); a fun intro by Trace to the Alleged Sinbad Movie (might as well formalize that); the good ol’ MST Hour wraps with Mike Nelson as our demented, dancing host, who’s most funny in his lonely traipses across the darkened set beneath the credits; and a new five-minute interview with Master Ninja “guest star” Bill McKinney, a familiar character actor who also did Deliverance. The feisty 79-year-old, it seems, still works out and always enjoyed physical roles.

So there you have it — decent stuff but pretty routine, save for the lengthy Servo panel.

But wait! What’s this? Oh yes — there’s always the newly animated menus that Shout! so welcomely provides. And the best in this bunch is for the Alleged Sinbad Movie.

Take my word for it — it’s as funny as anything in the feature. Want a hint? It’s Pythonesque.

‘Nuff said, face front and all that. And oh yes — thanks to DVD, MST lives.

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6 Responses to “DVD blog review Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XX: Serving up more Servo”

  1. Gern Says:

    Great article, but… I hardly think KTMA qualifies/qualified as “nationwide.”

  2. farsider Says:

    Thanks, Gern, but I never claimed KTMA (a Minneapolis UHF station) was nationwide. I did say Servo’s origins are traced “from Weinstein’s KTMA days as “Beeper” through the rocky first nationwide season.” That would be two seasons of originating the character: first on KTMA, then nationwide on what was then called the Comedy Channel. I really don’t see how you got confused by this statement. “From” the KTMA season “through” the first nationwide season, right? But thanks again for the kind comment.

  3. Joel Says:

    Josh provided Servo’s voice during the first season on the Comedy Channel too though.

  4. farsider Says:

    Joel, I’m well aware that Josh did the voice of Servo during the character’s origins on the first season on KTMA and on the first season on the Comedy Channel. Where in my blog post does it suggest otherwise? “The panel traces Servo’s origins from Weinstein’s KTMA days as “Beeper” through the rocky first nationwide season.” I don’t even mention Kevin Murphy in that sentence–or in the rest of that paragraph. Plus, it would be laborious to spell out everything, as in “from Weinstein’s KTMA days as Beeper through the rocky first nationwide season in which Weinstein again voiced the robot, who this time became known as Servo.” Don’t we all know this stuff? Whatever. I stand by my post.

  5. The Kurgan Says:

    “The panel traces Servo’s origins from Weinstein’s KTMA days as “Beeper” through the rocky first nationwide season — rocky because the riffs were off-the-cuff and the show was still finding its way.”

    I think the confusion is coming from the fact that you state that the riffs in the “first nationwide season” were still improvised (“off the cuff”), which is wrong. The KTMA episodes riffs were improvised, but the nationwide season one episodes were pre-written, just as all the seasons afterwords.

  6. farsider Says:

    Hey, The Kurgan:

    That’s it! Thanks so much for figuring out my inadvertent head-scratcher. I’ve never claimed to be infallible, but just couldn’t see the core goof in that sentence via previous comments. Now I do. Sorry guys–I’ll fix.

    –Bruce

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