Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX – DVD Review

F. Scott Fitzgerald was so wrong when he wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.” His theory can be disproved in three words: Timothy Van Patten. This member of the Van Patten clan got his start as the not so bright player on The White Shadow. But his true legacy came when his thespian skills were racked over the coals by Joel and the Bots. Now you’d think this would devastate a man’s showbiz ambitions, but Van Patten realized his true entertainment talent was behind the camera. He did not go into the craft service business. He’s now a major director with credits on Sex and the City, The Sopranos, The Wire and Boardwalk Empire. He’s won an Emmy and DGA Award for staying off the screen. But no hardware can top Van Patten’s honor of being the focus of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX. Joel Robinson, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo celebrate Van Patten’s time cruising around in a van with a hamster and an aging Spaghetti Western superstar.

Master Ninja I and Master Ninja II (Season Three) weren’t Japanese action films. These “movies” made by slapping episodes of The Master. The low-rated series lasted 13 episodes on NBC back in 1984. The producers of the show knew there was little hope of syndicating the series so they did the next best thing and tag team the most star studded of episodes into two movies. This stunt had been done for the Planet of the Apes series. The series is absurd with the elderly Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) being passed off as the only American to ever become a ninja in Japan. He’s returned to America to find the daughter he abandoned before World War II. He teams up with a dopey guy named Max Keller (Timothy Van Patten). Why would an Asian killing machine get into a windowless van with a gerbil cage attached to the dashboard? The weirdness of the show makes it a fertile ground for riffs from Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson), Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) and Crow (Trace Beaulieu). They can’t help but make cracks how when Lee gets in his black ninja suit, he appears to have the body of a 25 year old athlete. There’s plenty of famous faces for them to poke fun at being stuck in the show including Demi Moore, Claude Akins, Soon-Tek Oh, Crystal Bernard, David McCallum and George Lazenby (James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The biggest roasting goes to Van Patten for his barely intelligible goofball accent. He’s like Sly Stallone’s cousin.

Normally the MST3K gang were on the ball when it comes to trivia. But these shows have them completely screwing up by saying that Timothy Van Patten is the son of Dick Van Patten (Eight Is Enough and infomercials). It does seem right since he’s about the age of Vincent Van Patten (The Bionic Boy and Rock ‘N ‘ Roll High School). But it turns out that Timothy is Dick’s half brother. This makes him Vince’s uncle. This means that the Bots’ Van Patten Conspiracy segment could have turned into the song “I’m My Own Grandpa.” Ultimately MST3K save The Master from obscurity.

Project Moonbase (Season One) starts off with two chapters from Commander Cody and the Radar Men from the Moon. They can’t enough of the serial that inspired The Rocketeer. Project Moonbase is classic vision of tomorrow action starring Dr. Bellows from I Dream of Jeannie (Hayden Rorke). The props and special effects from the orbiting satellite gets constant ribbing from Joel and the Bots.

The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (Season Five) isn’t really a Sinbad film. The Soviet film was originally about Sadko. It even won the Silver Lion from the Venice Film Festival. But when Roger Corman imported it, he cashed in on the Sinbad craze. This makes sense when you figure at the height of the Cold War, who would let their kids see a happy Soviet film? There’s plenty of jokes about the fact that this wasn’t really a Sinbad film. The Bird of Happiness jokes take flight.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX is an exhilarating mix of Joel era episodes. For those missing Mike Nelson; you can hear him since he was on staff during this time. Project Moonbase gives us models in outer space. The Magic Voyage of Sinbad goes beyond the usual cheap-o production. This is epic piece of film-making gets mocked for the low budget dub job. The Master is the finest of bad action from the mid-’80s. Still hard to think that the same dopey guy with a gerbil in his van now directs Boardwalk Empire.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The series was shot on video so the transfers reflect that source. Everything looks fine with Joel and the Bots. The audio is 2.0 stereo. There’s a good balance between the actual film and the snappy comments.

New Introduction by Trace Beaulieu (5:10) has Dr. Forrester/Crow talk about the background of The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. He ponders if there was tension since it was shot around the time Joel announced he was leaving the show. He adores the big budget Soviet flick with Roger Corman’s dub.

Mystery Science Theater House Wraps
(5:10) has Mike Nelson’s Jack Perkin’s impression introduce The Magic Voyage of Sinbad.

Exploring the Look of MST3K with Director of Photography Jeff Stone (9:22) has him explain how he changed the look of the series. He wanted to go more handheld.

New Interview with Master Ninja Guest Star Bill McKinney (5:30) lets the man who played Sheriff Kyle remember his time with Timothy Van Patten. He didn’t know the show was on MST3K. He was in Deliverance and Angel Unchained. He can’t remember if he read for it. But he did enjoy it. He describes Lee Van Cleef’s unusual diet.

Original Trailer (1:24) makes Project Moonbase look so amazing.

Tom Servo Vs. Tom Servo Panel at Dragon-Con 2010 (42:35) beings together Josh Weinstein and Kevin Murphy. The duo reflect on their time being puppetmaster to the Bot made from a barrel and a gumball machine. Ken Plume moderates the talk. There’s a bit of the talk about the fans reaction to the year Tom Servo’s voice changed. Hopefully this year’s Dragon-Con will have Magic Voice Vs. Magic Voice.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX revives the lost acting career of Timothy Van Patten. Master Ninja really doesn’t need to be watched without the peanut gallery. Project Moonbase and The Magic Voyage of Sinbad is the perfect amount of screen action for the quips. For fans of the Joel era, Volume XX will keep you on the snide.

Shout! Factory presents Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX. Starring: Joel Hodgson, Kevin Murphy, Josh Weinstein, Trace Beaulieu and Ken Plume. Boxset Contents: 4 episodes on 4 DVDs. Released on DVD: March 8, 2011.

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