Why, if we are granted four "experiments" in the brand-new Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition DVD set recently released by Shout Factory, do three of them feature host Mike Nelson? I like Mike fine, but Joel Hodgson, the original host, was the soul of the show, and a package meant to celebrate the 20th anniversary should be more representative of the full range of the series. The collectible tin encasing the DVDs and the accompanying Crow figurine are nice, but that isn't what an anniversary set should be about.
Still, more MST3K is always a good thing, and here we have four experiments enjoying their arrival on DVD. I happened to watch them in reverse production order, just accidentally, starting with Future War, the newest movie the gang took down, a 1997 Z-grade flick in which trained dinosaurs hunt down humans after the robot holocaust, or something. This disc also includes video of the MST3K reunion panel at San Diego Comic-Con this past summer, and it's great to hear Hodgson talk about how he created the robots: "I pulled an all-nighter before we did the pilot ..." is how it starts.
I then came to Werewolf, another '90s nightmare of bad acting and worse FX; this disc also features part three of the three-part "History of MST3K" (I was going backward, remember), which is devoted to reminiscences of when Mike took over hosting duties, and some of the not-very-nice reactions from fans at the time.
The unnumbered disc two, as you might imagine, includes part two of the history-of featurette, as well as one of the best experiments of the whole series from either the Mike or Joel eras: Laserblast, a sort-of cheapie Star Wars knockoff dating from 1978; this is the last episode that aired on Comedy Central, and could possibly have been the last episode of the series as far as anyone involved knew at the time. But the gang never flagged in their devotion to snark, not even here, at what might have been the final hour.
Ah, but by the time I got to the first disc, at last, I was so ready to be reminded of why I fell in love with MST3K in the first place: because of sweet-faced Joel Robinson (Hodgson) and his affably paternal relationship with Tom and Crow, and the prop-comedy invention exchange that opened every episode, and the absolutely pitch-perfect writing. "I've asked Joel if he'd raise the level on my sarcasm sequencer," Tom says at the beginning of one brilliant bit.
Nobody was doing stuff like this on TV then, and really, nobody is doing anything quite like it now. And now that we appear to be moving into an era that is all about hope and change and optimism and yes-we-can -- and perhaps one no longer about bitter sarcasm and tart irony and scorn and derision as a sport -- it's likely that no one will ever do this again, at least not soon. That makes me sad. No, really.
Oh, the movie on disc one -- which also includes, of course, the first part of the history-of -- is First Spaceship on Venus, and it's quite bad. Well, the snarking is funny. The movie is bad. Which is just as it should be.
MaryAnn Johanson (email me)
film reviews and TV blogging at FlickFilosopher.com