DVD Review ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXXII’: Baltimore?

mst 32I should have known our ol’ pals at Satellite News would finally get their due on an MST3K box set. Now it’s happened with Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXXII, whose four discs’ extra features include “Sampo Speaks! A Brief History of Satellite News.”

How brief? Well, 7 1/2 minutes isn’t bad for “Sampo,” who’s actually journalist Chris Cornell, to guide us down memory lane to the days when MST’s production company, Best Brains, issued its own newsletter named Satellite News.

Yep, I used to get these in the mail. But the cost for 80,000 copies became prohibitive. So Best Brains, knowing Cornell was a sympathetic journalist (a status I also enjoyed with BB over the years while covering them for the Houston Chronicle), asked him to take over under the same name — which he and Brian Henry did, as a website.

The rest, as they say, is history, as Satellite News blossomed with the rise of the Internet in the 1990s, back when MST was an ongoing cable TV staple. And SN is still going strong today, 16 years after the show left the air, by serving staunch fans and promoting the careers of those in the show.

I appreciated Chris seeing the relationship between Satellite News and MST as akin to that between the Wall Street Journal and the stock market. It’s tough as a journalist to cover something you esteem without sounding sycophantic, but neither do you want to sound harsh to avoid being branded a “homer.” Satellite News strikes the right balance, mixing reportorial thoroughness with a respect and fondness for that little old cowtown puppet show.

Oh yes — that feature is on the disc for San Francisco International, one of my least favorite MST episodes, since it’s drawn from ’70s TV material and not a movie There, see? I’m not being a homer, even though I once lived in San Francisco and love the city.

As for the disc with 1950’s Radar Secret Service (which plays like a radar infomercial), its extras include a fun 20-minute “MST-UK With Trace and Frank.” In it we see how London fans coughed up cash to fly Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff across the pond for last year’s Sci-Fi London con. It’s mostly travelogue, with some footage from the con.

Frank is quite funny, knocking Buckingham Palace as “too much space for one family” and calling Big Ben a “big-ass clock.” Cheerio!

Another impressive extra is “Barnum of Baltimore: The Early Films of Joseph E. Levine,” added to the Hercules disc.

Well, impressive except for the title. As the 7-minute featurette itself says, Levine was from Boston. Wouldn’t “Barnum of Boston” have sounded better — both alliterative AND accurate?

But I loved this reliably good company-town mini-docu from Ballyhoo, which describes how showman Levine made a mint importing and dubbing foreign films boosted by heavy ads and promotional blitzes, then came into his own as producer on major films including the war epic A Bridge Too Far.

What I’ll always owe Levine is 1967’s The Graduate, which happens to be my all-time favorite film. It’s remarkable that this landmark Oscar-winning hit came from Levine’s Avco Embassy, an indie studio which also delivered Carnal Knowledge and The Lion in Winter but also is associated with exploitation fare such as Escape From New York and Swamp Thing.

As Frank says, God bless Joseph E. Levine.

Finally, the Space Travelers (retitled from Marooned) disc has a 7-minute “Marooned: A Forgotten Odyssey.” It assesses the big-name stature of the 1969 space rescue flick (to which the recent Gravity owes much — and perhaps even MST3K), while acknowledging that it had a slow pace and a tepid box office. (Narrating is film historian Jeff Burr.)

Here, I’m unabashedly a homer, since I live in Space City and have the highest regard not only for astronauts but also the rocket scientists at JSC and in Mission Control.

In his 4-minute intro, Conniff admits it was “challenging” to make fun of “people who were great,” like actors Gregory Peck and Gene Hackman and director John Sturges. It’s also explained that when major studio Columbia sold the Oscar winner for visual effects to a small distributor, its renaming as Space Travelers (as on MST’s copy) made it another animal and opened it up to movie mocking.

Other discs have more Conniff intros  along with theatrical trailers, and the animated menus, as usual, are a hoot.

Thanks not only to Joseph E. Levine. Thanks to MST3K. If I’ve gotta be marooned in space, I know how I want it to go down — or stay up.

— Bruce Westbrook



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