DVD Review ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIII’: Dinos and Horses and Fu, oh my!

Remember when MST DVDs had NO extra features? That’s so Rhino.

Thanks to Shout! Factory — along with MST’s crew and often Ballyhoo Productions — the Satellite of Love is now lavished with extras on disc — extras which are even more welcome given that they’re new material for a show which ended over a decade ago. Thanks to them, at the least, MST3K lives.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIII is no exception. And since you Misties doubtless have seen the four shows making their DVD debuts March 27, here’s a rundown of their special features:

King Dinosaur: On this disc with the 1955 sci-fi monster-mash cheapie from Season Two, we get a fascinating 36-minute featurette from Ballyhoo dubbed The Incredible Mr. Lippert (playing off the old Don Knotts film title with Mr. Limpet).  It surveys the work of producer Robert L. Lippert, who was no artiste but rather a heckuva shrewd businessman.

Featuring interviews with Frank Conniff, Bob Burns and others, this recounts how a theater owner of the late ’40s began making his own low-budget pictures to fill his screens, then gave the likes of Sam Fuller their starts, then beat George Pal’s ambitious Destination Moon to theaters with his Rocketship X-M knockoff.

Lippert also employed stop-motion animation for 1951’s Lost Continent, went European to work with early Hammer and finally hit big-time Hollywood status — of sorts — by making economical exploitation flicks (most notably The Fly) when the studio-proper stuck with imposing widescreen fare.

Here called “an important footnote in movie history,” Lippert produced over 250 films yet is little known outside of B-movie buffs.

King Dinosaur is one such B, as are several of his others seen on MST, including Rocketship X-M, which Conniff recalls was the first film for his first episode on the series (the start of Season Two). Incredible, indeed.

Last of the Wild Horses: This disc with the 1948 oater from Season Six has an unexpected and welcome treat for longtime fans: Vintage MST3K Promos. We’re talking 14 minutes of original material presented as half-minute promos on Comedy Central for the early seasons.

SEE! MST stars performing merry madness! HEAR! Joel and the ‘bots hype their own show! TOLERATE! The low quality of clips’ original sources! But who cares? At least, and at last, we’ve got ’em nicely bundled for a quick trip down memory lane.

Code Name: Diamond Head: This disc for a Season Six foray into TV movies (a bent I rarely liked — keep ’em theatrical) has my favorite extra of the set: a nine-minute onscreen interview with none other than Tom Servo himself, or Professor Bobo himself — heck, make that Kevin Murphy himself.

First, Kevin is a great interview. He and I have chatted several times, and I’ve always appreciated his openness and self-effacing irony. Besides, this is a guy who spent much of three seasons wearing a hot ape costume — just the kind of show-biz trouper I so admire.

With no offscreen coaching or prodding that I can tell, Kevin deftly whips through his life and times, notably post-MST3K.

He relates how he hates So Cal and chose to stay in icy Minnesota (been there, and hey, the summers are great), touches on his book A Year At the Movies and lingers on his continuing adventures with colleagues Mike Nelson and Bill Corbett, from the  fun but quickly fizzled website Timmy Big Hands right after MST to their brief DVD fling as The Film Crew (a nice try to keep up MST-style movie mocking) to their current huge success with Riff Trax, an ingenious synching of MST merriment to the kind of new or big movies they could never afford.

There’s lots more, but I’ll save it for you. I hope you enjoy Kevin’s soliloquy (or is it a fillibuster?) as much as I did.

This disc also comes with a six-minute featurette, Code Name: Quinn Martin, about the TV producer who had a rare gift for quality control, from The Untouchables and The Fugitive to The Invaders and The Streets of San Francisco, as well as such TV flicks as the disc’s failed 1977 Hawaiian action pilot starring The Invaders’ Roy Thinnes.

Castle of Fu Manchu: Rarely is an MST movie offered with such reluctance. In a three-minute onscreen intro, Frank Conniff calls this Chris Lee starrer “incomprehensible” and his least favorite MST film ever. For all of its forays into the movie muck, MST “has standards,” he reminds us, including “at least a story that you can follow.”

The disc also has an 18-minute infomercial called Darkstar: Robots Don’t Need SAG Cards. Love that title (remember John Carpenter’s early sci-fi comedy Dark Star?) but I’m no gamer, which is what this is about, and even with several MST alums involved, I tuned out.

Besides, this “making of” hypefest has lousy production quality (the sound is so bad it needs subtitles). And can people stop saying “very unique”? That’s like saying “very dead.” “Unique” is an absolute. One of a kind is one of a kind — there are no degrees of uniqueness.

Oops — sorry. That’s the writer in me. But the fan in me savors so much about this set — even without rewatching the episodes yet.

Oh, and congrats to Satellite News keeper of the flame Chris Cornell for getting his name on the box (for King Dinosaur’s plot summary). Now that’s immortalization.

And now, if you’d like to see clips from the discs, here’s a riff and a sketch from King Dinosaur.

— Bruce Westbrook



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