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Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XX DVD Review

“Master Ninja I” and “The Magic Voyage Of Sinbad” provide plenty of laughs while “Project Moonbase” and “Master Ninja II” are uneven.

When it comes to DVD releases, there are few things I look forward to more than MST3K boxed sets. Every set feels like a Christmas present because so much love and care goes into these releases from the good folks at Shout Factory. The latest release, Volume XX, is another must buy for MST3K fans, but I have to admit to having a few minor complaints about this set. But first, let me start off with what’s good about this set. 

If you are curious to know which of the 4 episodes is the absolute best on this set, I’d have to go with “Master Ninja I”. To me, this episode encapsulates everything that is great about MST3K. You’ve got a cheesy television series turned disjointed movie about a ninja (Lee Van Cleef) teaming up with the goofy Max Keller (played by Timothy Van Patten) and his hamster that is ripe for riffing. You’ve got some great segments including the classic “Master Ninja Theme Song” bit at the end of the episode. You’ve got hilarious riffs about everything from Demi Moore and random voice overs to a Dairy Queen joke and running gags like “Haikiba” and “Huzzah”. What more can you ask for?

Equally funny is the bizarre Russian production “The Magic Voyage Of Sinbad”. In this flick, Sinbad goes on a quest to find the “Bird Of Happiness”. Mostly, the plot is just an excuse to include weird sequences involving a jester dance fest, catfish, a magic lake lady, a man carrying a horse, gold fish, a man fighting a bear, a bluebird with a woman’s head, vikings, and yes, a seahorse chase sequence. Naturally, the MST3K gang has no problem riffing this one as the material makes it almost too easy to mock.

Now, for the downside of this set. While “Project Moonbase” (along with the snooze worthy shorts “Commando Cody- Radar Men From The Moon” chapters 7 and 8) and “Master Ninja II” are not bad episodes by any means, they aren’t top tier episodes. I have said before in the past that I feel season 1 episodes bring down the sets and that remains true for “Project Moonbase” as well. I understand the need to release season 1 episodes, but to me, they are just so awkward to watch. For instance, Joel stumbles frequently when he speaks, Trace has yet to find his Crow voice, and there are many spots without any riffs at all. Obviously, at the time of season one’s airing, these episodes was fresh and exciting, but looking back on these season 1 episodes now, the flaws are so apparently clear.

As for the ‘Moonbase’ film itself, it’s a slow paced sci-fi affair about a saboteur on board a rocketship. The film has relatively little plot and the conflict is resolved fairly quickly. The riffs themselves are very hit-and-miss. Highlights include a few amusing bits such as the cue card gag and the “Or…” joke sequence. The two ‘Cody’ shorts are also pretty hit-and-miss. The only real gems from the shorts involve Joel pulling out exclamation cards and the funny sight gag of Tom Servo dressed as Commando Cody during a short segment.

Last, but not least, there’s “Master Ninja II”. Sadly, this sequel is inferior to the first in every way. Not only is the film even more incomprehensible, it’s also a lot less entertaining story wise. Heck, there’s even lengthy stretches without the two lead characters! With that said, hearing Trace’s Max Keller and Cryptkeeper impressions partially makes up for the episode’s shortcomings.

On a side note, I had to wonder why Shout Factory decided to put out 4 Joel era episodes on this set. This may be a minor quibble, but I personally liked seeing 2 Joel and 2 Mike episodes on each set.

Summary: MST3K XX is worth buying, but I do hope that Shout Factory not only holds off on season 1 episodes for awhile, but goes back to putting 2 Joel and 2 Mike episodes on each set (“Gamera” boxed set aside).


The fullscreen picture quality is so-so. “Project Moonbase” looks the weakest here as the print is the oldest. “The Magic Voyage Of Sinbad” is grainy and filled with scratches, but it looks decent overall. Both “Master Ninja” films look like VHS tape transfers, but they’re generally pretty solid looking for an “MST3K” episode.

The audio quality is also so-so. ‘Moonbase’ sounds better than I thought it would while the ‘Cody’ shorts are iffy at best. ‘Sinbad’ contains a poorly done dub, but the audio is ok. The dialogue on “Master Ninja I” sounds distant in certain scenes which will require viewers to crank up the sound. The sequel sounds a little better, but again, you may have to put up the volume in parts.

* “Project Moonbase” trailer.
* 4 mini-posters.
* 5 minutes of “MST Hour Wraps” with Mike Nelson as Jack Perkins.
* A 5 minute Trace Beaulieu introduction to “The Magic Voyage Of Sinbad”. Trace chats about the movie, Fisty the hand puppet, as well as some info. about making the episode.
* “Exploring The Look Of MST3K With DP Jeff Stonehouse”- In this 9 minute interview, Jeff Stonehouse chats about the f/x, the visual style, and his on set experiences of making MST3K. Clips of the show are shown throughout the interview as well.
* A brief 6 minute interview with actor Bill McKinney who portrayed Sheriff Kyle in “Master Ninja I”. I felt this was a rather pointless extra as McKinney doesn’t have much to say nor does he recall all that much about making “The Master”.

* The Tom Servo Vs. Tom Servo panel from 2010’s Dragon Con. This 43 minute panel is hands down the best extra on this set. J. Elvis Weinstein and Kevin Murphy are delightful as they chat about everything from writer’s room stories and the evolution of the character to episode memories and Servo’s personality. Well worth watching.

March 7, 2011 - Posted by | DVD review | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. The Rhino Video releases had several “Mike Only” releases around volume 4 and 5, and since there were roughly an equal number of releases from both, there would eventually be a balancing out. And yeah, while the Season 1 episodes are the worst of the main series (read: the quality continued to increase from a show’s excellent beginning), I’d rather have every single episode legally available to me than leave out any. And besides, we need something to hold us until they get the rest of the rights for the other releases.

    Also, don’t let the Joel-Only release bug you that much. Next volume will not only be Joel-Only, it’ll be all the Gamera episodes (yes, FIVE episodes released for this volume).

    Comment by MattK | March 9, 2011 | Reply

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