Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Movies based on TV shows have been around for decades— before 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we had such novelties as Dragnet and Our Miss Brooks in the ‘50’s and Munster Go Home! and A Man Called Flintstone in the ’60’s.  But a movie based on a TV series about mocking movies? It seems somewhat preposterous, but in 1996 came Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, which, as detailed in the excellent documentary on the production included on Shout Factory’s new Blu-Ray release, was an opinion shared by most of the film’s creative team.


There’s no denying the cultural significance of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“MST3K”), the first of many movie parody shows, and by 1995, it was clear that what started out as a cable-access program in Minneapolis had turned, thanks to great exposure on Comedy Central, into a national phenomenon. The premise is simple— a man is shot into space and, along with robot pals he’s created, is forced by evil-doers to watch terrible movies, which they then mock. The show’s creator and star, Joel Hodgson, had left MST3K in 1993, replaced by head writer Michael J. Nelson, and word-of-mouth pushed the program past being just a “cult favorite.” Live shows with Nelson and fellow performers Trace Beaulieu (who did double duty as show villain Dr. Clayton Forrester and “Crow T. Robot”) and Kevin Murphy (robot “Tom Servo”), held mostly at conventions, soon followed— and with that, studio interest in a feature version of the show developed.


Where things go wrong is debatable, but it’s clear from the excellent Ballyhoo Motion Pictures documentary Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey that the gap between what the filmmakers wanted to do and the studio execs at Universal subsidiary Gramercy Pictures expected was wide indeed. One of the biggest criticisms leveled at the filmmakers is how shabbily they treated the riffed movie, the 1955 Universal sci-fi cult classic This Island Earth, which has been cut to ribbons. Kevin Murphy explains that this was Gramercy’s fault— the studio had some sort of arbitrary formula where they thought, by shortening the entire film (including the soon-to-be-chopped-up 87-minute long This Island Earth) to 75 minutes, they’d be able to cram in additional screenings each day — and that they only selected the film because, thanks again to Universal, they were only given limited choices of what to riff. The film was previewed in 1995 in Santa Monica — a test screening which this author, a die-hard MSTie, attended (I stood in the bathroom line next to Kevin Murphy) — to a crowd that didn’t know the TV show and was confused about the “characters,” further emboldening the Gramercy execs to chop away at the film and make arbitrary changes to the riffs to make them more topical.


That being said, there are some very funny bits— despite its reputation among sci-fi aficionados, This Island Earth is draggy (it takes forever to get the leads into outer space) and silly and it’s not hard to mock the too-serious baritone of star Rex Reason. But the movie just doesn’t flow like a regular episode of the show and the interstitials — save for an amusing aside where actor John Brady plays a showering “Metalunan” from This Island Earth —feel forced. It’s clear Gramercy didn’t know what to do with the movie and dumped it into a small regional release with a poster emblazoned with what might be the lamest movie tagline ever: “Every year Hollywood makes hundreds of movies. This is one of them!”

  This Island Earth 01

The new Blu-Ray/DVD combo set from Shout Factory, however, makes the movie look like a million bucks (just under what it made in theaters), with a strong transfer and a sterling set of extras old and new. There’s a ten-minute vintage “Making Of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie” and the aforementioned half-hour The Motion Picture Odyssey, which offers candid opinions from practically everyone involved in the production. Over twenty minutes of deleted scenes — sourced from an old video work-print — consists of deleted and extended scenes from This Island Earth and a few extra interstitial scenes, including a big meteor shower attack hitting the leads’ ship, the “Satellite Of Love.” Another Ballyhoo documentary, This Island Earth: 2 ½ Years In The Making, is a fascinating look back at the production and reception of the sci-fi film, with participants including special effects artist Robert Skotak and filmmaker Joe Dante, who’s furious about how the film was edited for its Mystery Science Theater treatment.

MST 3K 2
Any MSTie worth his or her salt is going to want this new release of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie— by far the best the film has ever looked, with a bevy of special features to sweeten the pot. But, as the informative documentaries here indicate, the film is not what it could have been. 

You can buy Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie from Amazon or directly from Shout Factory.

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