Has it been 20 years already? It seems like only yesterday that Joel and the ‘bots first appeared on Minneapolis’ KTMA, where the opening theme song was a little different, Joel’s hair was longer, and Tom Servo was first known as Beeper. Okay, I admit I never saw any of those early episodes, but thanks to the documentary on this excellent set, you too can pretend you watched them when they first aired.
“The History of ‘MST3K'” runs about 85 minutes and is spread across the first three discs. I’ve long waited for someone to create a documentary like this, and it delivers. We get to hear all about the early days, the move to Comedy Central and the transfer to The Sci-Fi Channel, the switch from Joel to Mike, and much more. Fans will love getting the chance to see footage from the KTMA days in all its raw, unpolished glory. Hopefully Shout Factory will include one or two of those episodes as bonus features in future “MST3K” sets.
Disc four of this collection features a 10-minute run-through of all the openings the show used over the years, including the KTMA version. While watching those sequences one after the other, I realized why I didn’t enjoy the Mike Nelson years as much as the Joel Hodgson ones: The Joel episodes had an elegant simplicity to the premise, while the Mike episodes went in all kinds of directions, to the point that you had to faithfully watch the show to figure out, for example, why Pearl Forrester was chasing him or why she had an ape guy with her. It wasn’t as accessible anymore, although the movie riffing was just as good.
Personally, I also enjoy Joel’s droll style over Mike’s aw-shucks approach. However, I think it’s really, really silly to get into a holy war over the issue, since both hosts did their jobs well; if the Best Brains crew had royally screwed up in choosing Joel’s successor, then I could understand some people’s attitudes.
All of the show’s principal creative folks appeared at an “MST3K” panel during the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, and 40 minutes of footage from it is the highlight of disc four. Hosted by Patton Oswalt, the panel covers some of the same territory as the documentary (it looks like the documentary interviews were also filmed during Comic-Con), but there are more nuggets to uncover here. Unsurprisingly, there’s also plenty of riff-heavy banter between the participants.
Oh, yes, the four discs also contain four episodes from the show, along with the movies’ original trailers: “First Spaceship on Venus” (season two, with Joel), “Laserblast” (season seven, Mike), “Werewolf” (season nine, Mike), and “Future War” (season 10, Mike). When Rhino had the home video rights (I reviewed volume 10 and volume 12 from that series), they typically split their collections evenly between Mike and Joel episodes; I’m not sure why this initial Shout Factory set deviates from that pattern.
I realize the bonus stuff on future “MST3K” releases from Shout Factory won’t be as comprehensive as this one, but I hope they continue to throw more than just the episodes on the discs. This set is available in a limited edition version that includes a Crow figure and other stuff, but I only received the standard version. DVD reviewers get no love sometimes.