DVD Review Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXV: Double-0 Fun

Due Tuesday, Dec. 4, Shout! Factory’s Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXV deserves more than a number as a distinction. It’s a special four-disc set, and for many reasons, including its broad overview of MST’s long run, as well as still more superb extra features from  Ballyhoo, which get our focus here.

One such feature puts me in the cross-hairs of many fans with whom I shall agree to disagree.

It’s always confounded me why some fans resisted the changes which came with moving to the Sci-Fi Channel for MST’s last three seasons. For one thing, MST would not have existed without Sci-Fi in those years, so show some gratitude. For another, is MST not a sci-fi concept at heart, with a guy orbiting Earth in a spaceship flanked by ‘bots akin to Silent Running‘s? And as far as breaking loose from the formulaic invention exchange bits and fan mail readings to produce true storylines with new characters and settings, that’s a bad thing?

Without that change in format, we’d never have enjoyed three seasons of Kevin Murphy as Professor Bobo, or of Bill Corbett as anything, from Brain Guy (ahem: Observer) to the voice of Crow. That’s not to mention so many other characters and stories created in the season-long adventures ranging from Earth to bizarre other worlds, many of which poor Mike Nelson inadvertently obliterated in their wake.

Speaking of Mike, he narrates a seven-minute intro to Revenge of the Creature (Season 8’s debut show) by saying that the creative team saw such storylines — demanded by the channel — as “a burden.” Hey, Mike —  creativity is your job, and this approach actually galvanized the show.

But he also makes one devil’s advocate point with which I’ll agree: Giving MST episodes’ “host” or “sketch” segments an ongoing storyline meant some jumbles down the line, since episodes inevitably would be telecast or viewed out of sequence at some point. OK — got me on that one.

But to me that’s a small price to pay for having Bobo, Brain Guy and Pearl traversing the galaxy and often interacting with Mike, Crow and Servo in wonderfully weird new ways. And there you have it: Season 8 was my favorite MST season, hands down. Sue me.

The Revenge of the Creature disc (with more superb menu creations) also offers perhaps the best extra feature of the set: Jack Arnold at Universal: Auteur on the Campus. From Ballyhoo, it’s a thorough and insightful 20-minute look at the director not only of Revenge of the Creature but also It Came From Outer Space and other ’50s sci-fi classics for the guys at the black box (industry insider term for the studio whose logo always showed a cloudless planet Earth).

Aside from the continual maddening overuse of today’s pet hype terms “icon” and “iconic” (can we all stop saying this please?), the interviewees (fanboys and historians) give an excellent account of how a “journeyman” director stood out and earned respect, showing chops not only for sci-fi but also westerns, comedies and straight dramas.

There’s also a strong focus on the creature’s suit, termed “the greatest monster suit ever made.” You may have learned some of these tidbits if you screened Universal’s lavish box set of the Creature flicks a few years back, but this is still a worthy look at a director who deserved respect in an era when so much genre work around him was mere schlock.

Also on the Revenge disc is another chapter in Life After MST3K, this time focusing on Corbett. In 12 minutes, he surveys his post-MST work from the ill-fated though fun Timmy Big Hands website to many other projects he undertook in tandem with Murphy and Nelson, including their Film Crew revisit of MST-style movie-riffing, which didn’t reach full fruition until RiffTrax, which he calls “great — a whole new lease on our riffing life.”

As much of a writer as an actor, Corbett says he’d “love to write and direct a modest movie,” and as far as MST, he calls it a great and pivotal experience in his life that he’s “grateful to have been part of.”

The Robot Holocaust disc — with another clever menu — has a five-minute intro by Joel Hodgson, who recounts it being one of the first shows MST did post-KTMA. As such, it meant working on the fly, and the SOL set wasn’t even quite finished until season two. The invention exchange was lifted from Hodgson’s own comedy act, and the show as a whole was “kind of improvised.”

Also on the disc is a Life After MST3K with original cast member J. Elvis Weinstein — a rather lengthy (at 18 minutes) survey of his life after moving to LA to write for TV. I say lengthy because it was hard for me to maintain interest in all the company-town talk and name-dropping details.

Look: I covered entertainment professionally for major newspapers for over 20 years, and I’m acutely aware of the business aspects of show business. I respect the company town — at least, when it’s professional — and I respect that Weinstein made his mark as he has. I just found the survey of his career rather dry.

Then there’s the long-awaited disc for Kitten With a Whip (Ann Margret in an MST film!), whose extras include a four-minute intro by Nelson, who allows that the bad-girl melodrama was “out of our wheelhouse.” Indeed, there was no kitten and no whipping, right?

Mike especially rips into co-star John Forsythe, saying TV’s Bachelor Father had a “refusal to act” and was “boring.” But in a way, he says, that led to even stronger host segments. Since Forsythe was so bland, “we were tap-dancing a little harder on stage.”

Finally we have what was once called Operation Double 007 but now is called — lamely, but we wouldn’t want our heroes to get sued — Operation Big Brother. The mid-level star-laden Bond knock-off has a three-minute intro by Joel, who says it was “kind of like getting a Bond movie” and had “a lot of great production elements.” Indeed, Joel says “all of our pistons were firing” for what proved to be one of his last episodes.

And there you have it: Four more great entries into MST’s digitally preserved catalog, with another impressive array of extras which might impress even a snobbish Observer. I know they impressed me. I hope you enjoy them too.

— Bruce Westbrook

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9 Responses to “DVD Review Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXV: Double-0 Fun”

  1. drzaat Says:

    Glad to see someone besides me enjoyed the plots in the host segments. I’m tired of reading people’s complaints that SciFi “ruined” the show by demanding these story arcs. Of course, they’re merely parroting cast members who bemoaned this development, and Mike does have a point regarding reruns airing out of order. Nevertheless, I found them amusing and an intriguing change in the show’s format.

    From what I see online, many fans simply dislike the SciFi era host segments in general, something I find incomprehensible. I see numerous comments stating that people fast-forward thru the SciFi era host segments, only watching the movies. In my opinion, many bits–Public Pearl TV, the “Oh, Canada” song, Mike’s trial, The Observer Trio, Bee Communication, etc.–were as hilarious as–if not more so than–anything during the Comedy Central run. The show was great from its start up to its finale.

  2. MikeKz Says:

    Are you implying that “Operation Kid Brother” is the title as shown in the episode, or is it just called that on the box?

  3. Toyland Chairman Says:

    REVENGE OF THE CREATURE is one of my favorite episodes. Love it, even though the original is one of the best of Universal’s classic monster films. Since it is a Universal film, I honestly never would’ve expected the MST3K version to ever be released on DVD. This gives me high hopes that RIDING WITH DEATH and THE MOLE PEOPLE may be on their way.

    OPERATION DOUBLE 007 as it’s supposed to be called is quite fun for a Bond wannabe. In a way it almost feels like a spinoff. It has some good elements, and I love seeing all the familiar faces, including Largo himself Adolfo Celi as the villain. It’s a shame they weren’t able to track down Neil Connery for an interview. That might have been cool. Apparently his agent tried to get him cast as the new Bond after Sean quit.

    Aside from BREEDERS, ROBOT HOLOCAUST is the only other film by Tim Kincaid that I’ve seen. He does gay porn now. He wrote and directed a series of direct to video flicks for Wizard Video run by Charles Band of LASERBLAST fame. They’re not very good films honestly. Ironic the story is about a man named Neo in a future ruled by evil machines.

    I’ve seen KITTEN WITH A WHIP, but it’s probably the one I’m least familiar with.

  4. farsider Says:

    Hey MikeMz:
    I’m not implying but simply stating that yes, the title newly given to this episode, as seen on the box art above, is “Operation Kid Brother.” Not much of a title, but I wouldn’t want anyone to get sued over using the trademarked term “007.”
    Best,
    Bruce

  5. Thad Says:

    @Farsider: Right, but I think his question was, have they altered the title as it appears in the episode, too? As in, on the title card that J&TB see in the theater?

    Re: the host segments: I came to like them, but as a new viewer joining in the middle (Comedy Central was not available on my cable lineup until after MST3K had gone), I could not begin to understand what the hell was going on. The problem is compounded now that we’re viewing them out-of-sequence by necessity in the DVD releases.

    But yeah there sure are some good ones in there, too. (Mayo-NAISE!)

  6. Michael Says:

    OPERATION KID BROTHER is actually the film’s official U.S. theatrical 1967 release title. Other titles, like OPERATION DOUBLE 007 and SECRET AGENT 00 were applied to various video releases.

  7. Servo1 Says:

    A great review as always, Bruce! I’m planning to get this from ShoutFactory, as they are offering an exclusive bonus disk of the complete set of RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON serial episodes, which were the default “shorts” of the First Season.

    Tom
    Houston

  8. Philip R. Frey Says:

    I don’t agree about the storylines for all the reasons given. It might have worked better if there was a “previously…on MST…” bit or something to tie them together better. As it is, since I missed that era on its original pass, it was *years* before I saw them all and I’m still unclear on the order of things.

    But I *will* agree that it gave the show a new lease on life. Mike & the Mads just never really worked for me. Without the invention exchange (both that at the letters were phsed out before the show left Comedy Central), and the clear relationship Joel had to the Mads, the show started to lose its structure. The bones on which each episode had been built since the KTMA days were gone. By season seven, even Frank had left and the new dynamic between Dr. Forrester and his mother was awful.

    But on SciFi, everything changed. Mike was able to build his own, unique relationship with Pearl and the others. It wasn’t just Mike uncomfortably filling Joel’s spot anymore, it was Mike’s show. The chase and later plots gave the show the structure it had been missing and it went out strong.

  9. farsider Says:

    Hey Philip–
    Great points about Season 8 helping Mike to make the show HIS show, via establishing new relationships with new (or previously underused) characters. I agree that it helped MST to go out strongly.
    Thanks for the comments.
    Bruce

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