Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Released to a very limited theatrical run, MST3K: The Movie takes the premise of the TV series and puts it on the big screen with modestly more expensive sets and props. That's about it really.

No, seriously. As a huge fan of MST3K, The Movie felt like a shorter, less funny version of the TV show I knew and loved. With the running time of the film at 72 minutes (even less than the typical 93 minute episodes) and their own opening/host segments/closing, we're given about half of one episode in the theater. Also, thanks to the typical "Americans are dumb" attitude of so many in the entertainment industry, a lot of the subtle humor had to be reworked so as not to be too obscure.

MST3K producers Best Brains were wanting to make a movie version of MST3K as early as the second season on Comedy Central. They encouraged the fan base to write to Paramount, then Universal (as remembered at the official MST3K convention by the "MST3K has Universal appeal" lapel pins) to show support for a movie. Despite being contracted up to what would be their fifth season, Best Brains were quite eager to turn their cult TV property into a film. Even creator/host Joel Hodgson said, in the press release announcing his departure, that he didn't want to be a "movie star". Joel also said in an interview with The Onion's AV Club that he and fellow Executive Producer/Brain Jim Mallon butted heads on what Mallon thought was Joel's role as the creator/host of the show to follow it through to a successful film series. The disagreement continued to the point that Joel left the series.

Anyway, back on track. The film itself plays like a much more "professional" (for lack of a better term) version of TV series. The sets looks like real sets, the camera *moves*, and it's generally a bit more well-presented than the static one camera views of the small screen. And while the theater sequences are shorter and less frequent than in the TV series, the movie itself (1954's This Island Earth) is a nice departure from the utter crapola that is an MST3K experiment. (Note: For the purposes of continuity of the series as a whole, The Movie takes place in between Seasons 6 and 7, afer TV's Frank left, but before Pearl Forrester arrived.)

Now I would like to list some of the notable changes from the TV series and The Movie. I shall also take this time to note the cuts that Universal (Gramercy et al) requested/demanded.

The most obvious difference between the Show and Movie is the lack of a theme song. While one was recorded for the movie (by David Alvin, formerly of the Blasters, part of which can be heard in an very old screen saver produced for the film), ultimately the "love theme" (as it is credited) was just a low-key instrumental version that played during the opening credits. Enough for hard core fans, but an important missing piece of MST3K charm. Similarly missing were the closing theme of the show (Mighty Science Theater, it's called) and the ever popular "stinger" (a short clip of one of the odder moments in the movie at the very end).

The sets/props/lighting/models/et al have been mentioned above, so I shan't repeat them here. But lemme point out that the Satellite of Love model looks really sharp.

Some of the writing was toned down, but a little more profanity slipped in. Wanting to "shake things up some", Best Brains threw in a few PG-13 lines. While it's not a big deal, MST3K always presented itself as a family-friendly show... so this was slightly risque (if only for them).

Universal at one point demanded that the host segments have a running plot thread. MST3K's never really been plot-centric (and watch Season 8 if you ever wonder why), so the Brains felt slighted at this, but complied.

Then there was the horrid test screening. According to writer Bridget Jones, the test screening audience was made up of a demographic that wasn't at all what MST3K held (which is to say it lacked the 18-35 male demographic). In fact, the audience in question was there for a "chick flick" as described by Ms. Jones. It was there that the film was ripped to shreds (as mercilessly mocked in episode 704 The Incredible Melting Man) by the test screening audience. Some claimed it was too long. Some said the ending was "too scary". Some even went as far as to say it wasn't very funny. Reviewer score cards were returned with i's dotted with little hearts and smiley faces. So Universal made some other demands.

Firstly, the ending had to go. Best Brains had to re-shoot another one. Not only did this cause problems with production of the show, but it also helped to destroy the very story arc they were asked to create.

Next one of the host segments in the middle of the film had to be removed for time considerations. This also affected the plot slightly, but it also removed a solid gold piece of material from the picture. In addition to these changes, they also went back and re-wrote/changed more of the theater riffs for mainstream consumption.

Now... one would expect after all this headache and trouble, that when it came time to release the film it was all smooth sailing right? Incorrect. Universal had another blockbuster idea; rather than a standard wide release to every movie theater in North America, they opted for a "rock and roll" release. Meaning that the film played for a few weeks in those dastardly "select cities" and then rolled to another part of the country. All this along with very little advertising (in the form of trailers and commercials) and you spell disaster for a film. The final box office total for the film was around $1.1 Million bucks, which was right around the cost of production (according to Best Brains).

And thus is the tale of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, but it is not complete. There is its life on video left to go.

In 1997 the movie was going on sale on VHS. Since the TV series had recently underwent a creative makeover, Best Brains broke up and included pieces of the Deep 13 set with every copy of the film sold through Best Brains. As such, many lucky fans got a VHS copy of the film, a foam-rubber piece of the Deep 13 set, a Deep 13 box, and a Certificate of Authenticity from Best Brains. There was also a laserdisc released, but I don't remember any promotions to go along with its release.

The DVD of the movie was released in 1998 to a cheap package, modest print transfer (at least it's wide screen), and that's about it. Not even any interactive menus. Not even a trailer. And it sold for $19.99 and was quietly forgotten... until 2000 and Universal suing the distributors for pricing the film (and others) too low. A lawsuit ensued and the feature-bare DVD was pulled from distribution. The DVD quickly became a collectors item selling (used!) for $80+ dollars.

2003 arrived and another version of The Movie appeared on DVD. Much like The Phantom Edit (some Star Wars fans re-editing of Episode I), some MST3K fans put together a Special Edition of the film. I have this two disc set, and will share its contents here. An amusing sidenote about this Special Edition is the tagline. The tag for the film itself was "Every year Hollywood makes hundreds of movies. This is one of them", and the Special Edition has "Every year Hollywood makes hundreds of Special Editions. This isn't one of them".

The first disc has a wide screen version of The Movie, some advertising spots from Showtime and CNN, the theatrical trailer for the film, and an E! review of The Movie from their reviewers circa 1996. The second disc has is a one hour presentation from the 1996 MST3K convention that has the Best Brains staff discussing the film and its production, a nice slide show of some pictures from production, the "lost" opening theme and the cut host segment & alternate ending.

I've seen this DVD selling online and at some Sci-Fi Conventions, and they all look the same. While it might be going for as much as the out of print version, the extra features more than make up for it, in my opinion.

And that is all I have to say about Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. Oh, and it can be rented at fine video stores throughout the land.

The Satellite News, the old printed issues
Talking to Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and other former Brains at conventions
MST3K: The Movie Special Edition DVD
My own little memory.