Remember it's just a TV show and really you should just relax. Mystery Science Theater 3000 returns to television screens courtesy of series creator and original star Joel Hodgson, Shout! Factory, a record-breaking Kickstarter crowdfunding effort, and Netflix. After its unceremonious cancelation in 1999, MSTies everywhere were finally given an eleventh season featuring their favorite wise-cracking robots and hapless human. New stars Jonah Ray, Baron Vaughn, Hampton Yount, Felicia Day, and Patton Oswalt deliver a MST3k that is a pleasing mix of old-school kitsch with a bit of a modern refresh to bring the show into the age of High-Definition. While there are some bumpy patches throughout this fourteen-episode run, the return of MST3k is a success. Laughs come hard and fast and there are several classic new episodes in the bunch. Shout! Factory brings all fourteen episodes to Blu-ray in fine order with strong A/V presentations for each episode. While new DVD box sets of the classic episodes may have stalled out due to rights issues, fans can breathe easy knowing that more Mystery Science Theater 3000 is on the way. Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season Eleven is an easy one to call Recommended.
I wish I could say that I was an original card-carrying MSTie, but like so many others I was introduced to it by someone else. As my family didn't have cable until I was in my teens, I only infrequently got to enjoy Mystery Science Theater 3000 courtesy of my best friend. I was playing at his house one fateful weekend when all of a sudden the entire house dropped dead. From downstairs I heard my friend's father holler out "It's on!" Following the sound of thundering footsteps on the stairs, my friend and I shut off the video game we were playing and I was ushered into their T.V. room where on their mid-sized screen I saw the entire family huddled around the glowing box like they were watching the moon launch. I had no idea what was going on or why we were watching this strange show with a sleepy-eyed guy in a red jumpsuit and two "robots" being berated by two mad scientists. Then Hercules Unchained starring Steve Reeves started and the jokes began to fly. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen and for the next two hours, the only reprieve from constant painful fits of laughter were the commercial breaks.
Unfortunately, I couldn't be at my friend's house every weekend, but whenever I was - Mystery Science Theater 3000 was always in the prescribed plan for fun and games. We could be in the middle of a great game of Sonic and it wouldn't matter, once that clock hit its mark it was time to shut down and watch Joel - and then later Mike - along with the crimson Tom Servo and the golden Crow T. Robot give some hapless B-movie the runaround that actually made the flick watchable. When Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie made its way to theaters deservedly skewering This Island Earth, my friend and I were in the theater front and center laughing our heads off. We were the only ones in the theater but that didn't matter, it was one of the best theater-going experiences of my life.
All these years later, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back following a wave of cultural nostalgia - but it's not exactly like it ever went away. Joel Hodgson and pals kicked off a touring riff show with Cinematic Titanic while Mike Nelson geared things up online alongside Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett with Rifftrax to skewer big blockbusters with their downloadable MP3 commentaries. Even with all this hilarious content available. MST3k fans longed for a return. After a massive record-breaking Kickstarter effort, Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 11 landed on Netflix giving fans fourteen brand spanking new episodes to pick through. Was it a massive success or was it simply an easy cash-in on a cult property?
For all of the cash I tossed into the Kickstarter, and then later to see the first episode premiere with the cast in Chicago, I would have to say that it was a success. With its heart in the right place, the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 aims to bring the old into a new world. Shepherded by Joel Hodgson, we're given a new hapless human Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) as he's kidnapped and stranded on the Satellite of Love with Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn) and Crow T. Robot (Hampton Yount) by the diabolical Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day) and her cohort "TV's Son of TV's Frank" Max (Patton Oswalt) as they aim to revitalize the Mystery Science Theater 3000 brand in an evil effort to sell the rights off to Disney for a billion dollars! If there's ever been a right time to skewer the homogenization of intellectual properties into a corporate conglomerate, now is the time and MST3k is the show to do it.
The flicks skewered in Season 11 are as follows:
Reptilicus - 3.5/5
Cry Wilderness - 4/5
The Time Travelers - 3/5
Avalanche - 5/5 - A new classic episode in my book!
The Beast of Hollow Mountain - 3.5/5
Star Crash - 2.5/5
The Loves of Hercules - 3.5/5
Yongary - 3.5/5
Wizards of the Lost Kingdom - 4/5
Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II - 3/5
Carnival Magic - 4/5
The Christmas That Almost Wasn't - 4/5
At The Earth's Core - 3.5/5
If you've been a long time fan of the original run of the show, you know there were more than a few periods of bumps along the way. It was most of two full seasons before the show really found its footing. Then with cast changes and network shifts, there would follow a period of adjustment. As fierce as the battle gets between Joel and Mike fans, there are going to be some wildly divided fans on this new iteration. As there have been nearly twenty years of technological advancements in the time the show went off the air in 1999 to its return, a lot about the show has changed, but its heart and charm remain the same. While the jokes fly fast and furious, the show still manages to celebrate these cheesy and often times terrible movies. It's still about sitting in front of a movie screen with a trio of good friends and laughing at the barrage of jokes you would otherwise naturally make yourself. I also appreciate that they made the best effort they could to not truncate the films while also maintaining the film's original aspect ratio. TV sets have come along way since the original run, there's a lot more space to fill and this new MST3k makes every effort to fill the screen.
While I am over the moon for the return of MST3k and am overall very happy with the results, I do have a couple of qualms about this run. The primary issue and it's one that I've heard from many other fans is that there are simply too many jokes and they come entirely too fast. While I appreciate the effort that went into not riffing over the actual movie dialogue so folks could understand what was going on, that need to fill dead air leads to a lot of dropped punchlines. Some great stuff sticks the landing, but the furious pace that the jokes fly makes it difficult to appreciate the humor. With a twelfth season confirmed, my hope is that the great cast and team of writers slow things down, edit the jokes and take a "less is more" approach. Don't get me wrong, they're damn funny - but when you're already laughing it's hard to appreciate the next joke. My only other quibble was the number of celebrity cameos, everyone from Jerry Seinfeld to Mark Hamill make an appearance and it can get a bit distracting. I'll forgive it simply because they didn't know if there would even be a twelfth season and they wanted to make the fourteen episodes they got as special as they could.
Like the classic theme song says, remember it's just a show and really should relax. As this is the first undertaking to bring Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in nearly 20 years, it's excusable that there would be growing pains. I didn't expect everything to be perfect - this new crew of the Satellite of Love has a lot of learning and growing to do. Jonah Ray is a great new host and I really dig his interplay with Hampton Yount's Crow and Baron Vaughn's Servo. Felicia Day's Kinga Forrester is delightfully evil while Patton Oswalt's TV's Son of TV's Frank Max makes the perfect lovelorn minion. For all of the Kickstarter bucks I tossed in, it was money well spent in my book. I'm glad the show is back and will continue on Netflix allowing this new crew to get their footing and take on some more classically terrible flicks. Lord knows there's plenty of them out there and Hollywood makes more of them every year. Maybe Geostorm will find new life via Mystery Science Theater 3000?
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 11 arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory in an 8-disc set. Spread out over seven BD-50 discs (which are apparently region free but untested for regions outside North America), each disc contains two episodes from the show with the eighth disc reserved for the bonus feature documentary. Each disc loads directly to an animated main menu allowing you to choose which episode you want to view. All discs are housed in a hard 8-disc case with each disc getting their own tray to occupy and are not stacked on top of each other. The case is housed in a book slipcover with identical artwork.
When examining the 1080p 1.85:1 transfer for Mystery Science Theater 3000, you've got to keep expectations in check. The overall image quality of the film is subject to the quality of the movies they're skewering. As such, one episode may look better than the next and vice versa. They're merely using the masters they were given and each film can display its own respective amount of wear and tear in contrast to the newly digitally shot host segments which look pristine with clean lines, sharp details, and bright bold primary colors. If you want to get a sense of what the individual movies look like, we've actually done reviews for the Blu-ray releases on a couple of these. Reptilicus, Avalanche, The Beast of Hollow Mountain, Star Crash, The Land That Time Forgot, Yongary, Carnival Magic, and At The Earth's Core were all reviewed by HDD and it looks like the same masters for those releases were used for these episodes.
Now, compared to the Netflix streams, I would say that I favor their appearance on these discs - even if two or three episodes are pressed onto the same disc. The details in the host segments, as well as some of the episodes, appear more refined, sharper without looking compressed or any signs of ringing or banding. There also feels like there is a better sense of depth to the image - namely in the host segments around King's Moon 13 laboratory. The classic corridor looks awesome as a miniature was used to shoot the transition to the theater offering up lots of little details to see and appreciate in quick succession. All around, this is a great looking set of episodes - especially compared to the original tape masters sourced from the previous DVD volumes that Rino and Shout! released over the years.
Each episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 arrives with a decent and workable DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. Like the video transfers, the audio is a bit of a jumble depending on the masters provided for each movie. Sometimes dialogue of the film is intelligible and clear, other times it can be a bit soft. In contrast to the silhouetted riffers, their dialogue is crystal clear throughout every episode. Host segments are on point and make the most use of the 5.1 surround spacing. Channels aren't always active, but there's a nice sense of space to the sets. While these episodes are in 5.1, most of the movies themselves are 2.0 stereo mixes and sound much more front/center focused. So in terms of a traditional "surround" experience, there's not a lot going on. It's still a great audio mix given the style of the show and the films being skewered and serves the nature of the comedic onslaught.
Bonus features for this release of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 11 is a little on the slimmer side of things. If you posted up enough during the Kickstarter, the Bonus Features disc had a lot more content exclusive to that release. For this general release, the only bonus feature to carry over from the Kickstart Edition is the documentary. So if you're looking for the complete package and want all of the bonus feature goodies, start saving those pennies for the gray market value of those very rare sets. For what's here, this isn't bad. You get a lot of behind the scenes stuff and it's a great look at what it took to bring MST3k back.
We Brought Back MST3K (HD 1:13:39) This is a very nice part retrospective of the show, part coverage of the re-launch. It's filled with a bunch of cast and crew interviews, as well as a bunch of backer fan interviews with people who helped bring the show back and had contributed enough to be able to visit the set. It's especially nice to see that this isn't a simple puff piece. They go into a lot of detail about the Kickstarter, how it was nearly bungled at launch because of some internal communication snafus. I was one of the early backers who feverishly kept reposting the Backer link on my Facebook and Twitter and increasing my contribution as the stretch goals came through and this doc nicely captures that feeling and excitement.
Nearly 20 years and a Kickstarter campaign later, we finally have new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to enjoy. It was a long road, but one well worth traveling to get to where we are with even more laughter-filled episodes on the near horizon. Season 11 may have a few bumps and kinks to iron out, but overall I'm very happy with the final product. Since its release a year ago, my wife and I have gone through each episode a couple of times. There are a couple of tough ones, but there are also a couple of genuine classics in this fourteen-episode run that stands up well alongside the classics of the original series run. Shout! Factory has done a terrific job bringing Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 11 to Blu-ray. The image transfers are on point considering the source elements for the films and the audio is spot on for this type of show. Bonus features are plentiful and provide a great amount of information about the making of the series and what it took to relaunch the Satellite of Love back into orbit. Here's hoping the wait for Season 12 isn't too long! Fans of the show will absolutely want to pick this one up - if for no other reason than to complete their home video collections. Recommended.