For those unfamiliar, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was a cult series that ran from 1988-1999 and revolved around a mild-mannered worker (Mike Nelson in the second half of the series, Joel Hodgson in the first half) who is shot into space by his crazed boss, Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu, although when Beaulieu left the series, the character was replaced by Pearl Forrester, played superbly by Mary Jo Pehl) and forced to live on the Satellite of Love watching the worst movies that can be dug up while the Dr. monitors his mind. Mike/Joel can't control when the movies begin or end, because those parts were to make robot pals Crow T. Robot (voiced by Trace Beaulieu and Bill Corbett), Tom Servo (voiced by Kevin Murphy or J. Elvis Weinstein) and Gypsy (voiced by Patrick Brantseg or J. Elvis Weinstein).
The series saw Mike or Joel accompanied by Tom Servo and Crow into the viewing room, where they were subjected to Z-grade movies so horrendously awful that they often come out onto that other side where they're not only amusing, but oddly fascinating in their sheer badness. The simple premise of the series has the group commenting on the movie at hand - continuing the thoughts of the characters, making random pop culture references that manage to make sense in the scene or making wisecracks about what's on-screen. Serving as breaks are "host" segments, where Mike or Joel and friends chat about the movie at hand and/or do a bit that often revolves around the movie they're watching.
It's amazing that it's been more than twenty years since the series first started airing (those who want to learn more about the history behind the series - as well as get four entertaining episodes - can get the show's 20th Anniversary Collection, which has a terrific documentary about the show, as well as other bonus features.)
This set, which is the 14th collection of episodes from the series, provides four more hilarious episodes of the classic TV show: "Mad Monster" (a doctor turns his gardner into a wolf-man), "Manhunt in Space" (space ranger Rocky Jones faces off against a series of space pirates), "Soultaker" (when a bunch of teens are in a car accident, they find themselves between life and death, trying to get back to their bodies before a soultaker gets to them) and "Final Justice" (a Texas deputy catches a member of the Italian mob, only to have the Mafia declare war on him.) There are a pair of Joel episodes and a pair of Mike episodes included.
All four of the episodes are hilarious, but none are quite as funny as "Manhunt in Space", which is a disaster of a sci-fi flick of pieced-together episodes of a failed '50's sci-fi series called "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger". The plot is cheeseball fun, and the "MST3K" group has a great deal of fun ("How are the fig cookies coming along?", cracks Mike in a scene where Rocky talks to Professor Newton. After the villain tells heroine Vena that her ship's power has been cut and her equipment neutralized, Servo cracks: "And we passed the savings on to you!"
"Final Justice", which stars "MST3K" favorite Joe Don Baker as a Texas deputy whose case turns into an international chase. The film results in a series of terrific one-liners from the "MST3K crew, such as a taxi ride shortly after Baker's character arrives in Malta: "There's our new convention center, it was built in 1411." While the "MST3K" cracks are very funny, it helps that the movie is junky, goofy entertainment, awful in a way that thankfully doesn't take itself too seriously.
As for the segements where the group is talking outside the theater in the satellite, the image quality is probably the best the episode has ever looked - crisp, clear and with strong colors. As for the films themselves, they look perfectly awful. The movies on MST3K aren't supposed to look great, and these certainly do not. They look soft, worn and often grainy.
As for the sound, the same formula applies - the dialogue between the group in the outside segements is crisp and clear, and the sound from the movie is pretty terrible.
EXTRAS: The original trailer for "Mad Monster", a new interview with "Soultaker" star Joe Estevez, a new interview with "Final Justice" writer/director/producer Greydon Clark and Mike, Crow and Tom Servo on "Cheap Seats Without Ron Parker".
Final Thoughts: Hysterically funny, these four episodes of the series are certainly entertaining, although "Final Justice" and "Manhunt in Space" are highlights. The DVD set also offers a couple minor extras. Highly recommended.