Blu-ray Review: Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Season 11)

Crowd funded projects are a great idea. Nowadays people who produce music, movies or TV shows live with the constant anxiety of “do people really want this” followed by the fear that your project is going to get stuck up on Youtube so even if people watch, you’ll never see a dime you spent to make it. But if you crowd fund your project, the people who want to see it, pay for it up front. And if not enough people want it to happen, you’re left with shattered dreams without a credit card company taking away your home and car. It’s a good artistic compromise. Ever since Mystery Science Theater 3000 went off the Sci-Fi Channel in the summer of 1999, fans have craved its return. Former cast and crew have done their best to keep the quips alive with The Film Crew, RiffTrax and Cinema Titanic. But all the people wanted to know when the original would return to TV. And in the fall of 2015 fans were told, if you want MST3K to return, you can fund it with a kickstarter. And very quickly nearly 50,000 fans kicked in to receive cool rewards. The ultimate reward was 14 new episodes that found a home on Netflix. Now all 14 episodes are out on Blu-ray as part of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Season 11.

The revival wasn’t just putting the old crew and mad scientists back together again in Deep 13 and on the Satellite of Love. Even though Joel Hodgson was masterminding, he wanted a whole new cast and crew doing the riffs. The original show had changed over the seasons so that the cast from the first season on Comedy Central wasn’t there a decade later. This is a show that wouldn’t shock fans if the band didn’t get back together. And thus instead of Joel or Mike, we get a new face on the SoL. Jonah Ray (from The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail is Jonah Heston, a space trucker hauling garbage across the universe. He gets a what appear to be an S.O.S. from a base the dark side of the moon. When Jonah shows up to rescue people, he finds himself being taken hostage by Kinga Forrester (The Guild‘s Felicia Day) and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (Ratatouille. They shoot him up to the Satellite of Love in order to continue the diabolical experiment of Dr. Clayton Forrester and his mother Pearl of subjecting a unwitting victim to the worst films ever. At least Jonah has a few robot friends with Crow T Robot (Hampton Yount), Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn) and Gypsy (Rebecca Hanson). They once more assist the humans although you have to forget the ending to the last Mike episodes keep from pondering how they left the Earth. While you won’t really notice Joel is back as Ardy, the henchman who sends liquefied version of the bad movies up to Jonah.

The writers of the quips include quite a few all star names who were influenced as kids by the original series including Dan Harmon (Community), Joel McHale (The Joel McHale Show, Justin Roiland (Rick and Morty) and Dana Gould (The Simpsons). The show truly was being given to a new generation under the watchful eye of Joel.

The bigger question many had was what sort of films did Jonah have to survive? Well the 14 titles chosen run the gamut of scifi, big monsters, fantasy, mythical and Christmas. What did they have in common? They were improved with riff, jokes and quips. The season kicked off with Reptilicus, the greatest giant monster movie made in Denmark. The start of the show contains the complete tale of how Jonah gets captured. Luckily things are easy for him this first story since it’s just so easy to poke fun at the Danish fleeing a really goofy monster. Cry Wilderness is a completely messed up film made during the time of Big Foot mania. The Time Travelers is a classic science fiction head scratcher from American International Pictures. The show is good in these early episodes, but completely hits the groove when the star studded disaster film Avalanche comes tumbling down. The snowy tale of how Rock Hudson (Giant), Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby) and Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) stuck in a Roger Corman production was ripe for riffs and Jonah and the Bots deliver. This is when they were doing more than reviving a beloved series and making themselves at home. And it’s a good thing because after The Beast of Hollow Mountain, they get to sink their jabs into Starcrash. This Italian production that tried to cash in on Star Wars action featured Marjoe Gortner (Food of the Gods), Caroline Munro (Golden Voyage of Sinbad), Christopher Plummer (Sound of Music), David Hasselhoff (Baywatch) and Joe Spinell (Taxi Driver). The lethal combination of cheap special effects and stars inspires so much laughter. The Land That Time Forgot gives us the joy called Doug McClure (The Virginian) and dinosaurs. It wouldn’t be a MST3K revival without a Hercules flick. Luckily this time they get Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay as the stars. The couple would go on to produce Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU).

Yongary was South Korea’s answer to Godzilla. Men in monster suits make things get wild in the viewing room. Wizards of the Lost Kingdom is a two-parter that keeps questioning what did the filmmakers have against people who like fantasy films? At least there’s Bo Svenson (Walking Tall, Part Two) David Carradine (Kung Fu), Lana Clarkson (Murdered by Phil Spector) and Sid Haig (Devil’s Rejects). Carnival Magic is a formerly lost film about a smart and talking chimp hiding out at a traveling show. It’s from Al Adamson, the director of Frankenstein vs. Dracula. Talking chimps always make it easy to talk to the screen. The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t makes this new season perfect for the holidays. At Earth’s Core brings make Doug McClure and Caroline Munro with Peter Cushing (Star Wars). The big news around this episode is that Kinga Forrester needs to trick Jonah into marrying her for a sinister purpose. But there’s a problem since TV’s Son of TV’s Frank has feelings for his evil boss. Can he let her go through with it?

There’s quite a few cool cameos during the season including Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Erin Gray (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Neil Patrick Harris (Starship Troopers), Jerry Seinfeld, and Mark Hamill (Star Wars). A few of the people who donated to bring the show back ended up making cameos in the big wedding scene.

Bring back Mystery Science Theater was a great experience. It was a little odd in that we didn’t have to gather around the TV on Saturday nights to catch a new episode since Netflix put all 14 episodes up at once. But after nearly 20 years, who wanted to wait nearly four months to see them all? There is a sense of release that Mystery Science Theater 3000: Season 11 contains all the episode instead of being split up into three boxsets like the classic show releases. MST3K did well enough on Netflix that there will be a season 12 without a fundraiser. You can buy this boxset without it being a reward.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The 1080p resolution is something the old series never got to enjoy outside of the movie. It’s nice to see the new models in action. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0. The levels make it so you can hear the movie and the quips properly. The episodes are subtitled.

We Brought Back MST3K (73:16) covers everything from the crowd funded comeback to it’s arrival on Netflix. We get to see how after talking about bringing back the show, Joel put together the new crew to make 14 episodes. There was a bit more technology involved than all those decades ago in a Minnesota television station. Beez gets interviewed since she worked behind the scene on the costumes.

Shout! Factory presents Mystery Science Theater 3000: Season 11. Starring: Jonah Ray, Felicia Day, Patton Oswalt, Baron Vaughn, Hampton Yount and Har Mar Superstar. Boxset Contents: 14 episodes on 8 Blu-ray discs. Released: April 17, 2018.

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