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Matt Rowe's MusicTAP

-Established 1997-

page added: 5/31/11

The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Lindsay Planer of The Digital Bits

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents: Hamlet (DVD)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents: Hamlet
1999 (2011) - Shout! Factory
Released on DVD June 21st, 2011

Dolby Digital

Film Rating: B- (The MST3K treatment, that is)
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/C-/F

This is the third installment in Shout! Factory's Shout! Select series of formerly out of print Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) titles. Taken from the show's tenth (and final) season, The DVD features is a 1961 production of Shakespeare's epic tragedy Hamlet, initially intended for broadcast on German TV. The episode was first issued on DVD as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 4 (2003) box set - which is out of print and commands a tidy sum, if you can find one at all.

Never watched MST3K? Here is what you need to know: Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) was shot into the isolation of deep space to take part in experiments conducted by evil scientists Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and Dr. Laurence Erhardt (Josh "J. Elvis" Weinstein). Erhardt only lasted one season and was replaced by TV's Frank (Frank Conniff). The Joel character also created Crow T. Robot (Trace Beaulieu), Brigadier Sir Thomas "Bullhead" Servo aka Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) and Gyspy (played here by Patrick Brantseg) as companions to watch the worst possible movies as dispensed by his Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank. By season ten, other characters and subplots developed. Most notably after Hodgson's departure - halfway through season five - Mike (Mike Nelson) was sent up as a Hodgson's successor. Additionally, at the end of the seventh season. Trace Beaulieu retired from the show and the Forrester character evolved to include "Mother" Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl) and a new voice for Crow (Bill Corbett). Plus, there were a few new characters introduced including half-human/half-ape Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy) and Brain Guy (Bill Corbett) who are in essence, Pearl Forrester's henchmen.

OK, now that all the exposition is out of the way, the episode itself has a reputation amongst fans (known as MSTies) for being one of the least entertaining of the entire series. Perhaps part of this lies in trying to create comedy out of the familiar tragedy of Hamlet. In a nutshell, Hamlet The Dane goes about avenging the death of his father and eventually causing his own tragic demise during an unwinnable duel. Maximilian Schell - who may be best known for his Academy Award winning performance in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) - plays the lead. Keen eared television addicts might recognize the distinctive pipes of Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island) as the overdubbed English voice Claudius and John Banner (Hogan's Heroes) as Polonius. In fact, part of the MST3K treatment and riffing pokes fun at the incongruous voiceover work and pompousness that the actors infuse into their respective roles. Another target of Mike and The 'Bots sardonic satire is the noticeable contrast between the overacting and the sparse, dour staging - which, as one of the 'Bots points out, has all the charm of the inside of a prison. Not only is there a constant stream of legitimate literary references, but there is also the customary heaping helping of pop culture references and gags. Enthusiasts of The Bard are arguably the best served audience here as Shakespeare's dialogue is thoroughly dismantled. Even the classics aren't sacred on MST3K! While on the subject of dialogue, it should be noted that due to the age and quality of the film, at times the audio is difficult to discern.

What the film itself might lack insofar as offering the typical MST3K fare is more than made up for during the host segments featuring Mike, The 'Bots, Pearl and the gang. The opening finds Mike taking advantage of Pearl's gullible nature in a few hands of three-card monte. She loses the bet and Mike gets to choose the film. Although he selects the "greatest tragedy of all time," Pearl one-ups him by sending him what may well be the worst interpretation ever committed to celluloid. Other classic moments have the 'Bots changing their names to the decidedly more German Cre (for Crow) and Htom Sirveaux (for Tom Servo). There is also an attempt by The 'Bots to convince Mike they are the ghosts of one of Mike's relatives, but it is thwarted when it is revealed all of them are still alive and well.

From a technical perspective, Shout! Factory's upgrade seems to be incorporating new video transfers from the previously available Rhino Home Video edition. It presents its' original 4:3 full-frame aspect ratio and as mentioned before the actual film of Hamlet suffers at times from poor fidelity. The remainder of the show sounds and looks crisp. As is the case with all MST3K Shout! Select releases, there are no extras and Shout! Factory makes that point very clear in their online advertising. Don't look for these no frills discs on stores shelves either as Shout! Factory is marketing them exclusively online. For more info check 'em out here.

Lindsay Planer

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents: Gunslinger (DVD)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents: Gunslinger
1993 (2011) - Shout! Factory
Released on DVD June 21st, 2011

Dolby Digital

Film Rating: A- (The MST3K treatment, that is)
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/F

This is the fourth installment in Shout! Factory's Shout! Select series of out of print Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) titles. This episode - number 511 for you true MSTie-philes - finds Joel and the 'Bots irreverently and sardonically riffing and otherwise visual vivisecting the 1956 Roger Corman directed turkey Gunslinger. It is worth noting that the film was formerly part of Rhino Home Video's The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 6 (2004), which has since been deleted from Rhino's catalogue.

For those unfamiliar with the show, a bit of backstory might be appropriate. The premise concerns Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) - who was part of an ongoing experiment overseen by his malevolent overlords Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and Dr. Laurence Erhardt (Josh "J. Elvis" Weinstein). The Erhardt character was replaced after Season One with the equally as evil TV's Frank (Frank Conniff). The purpose of Joel being shot into space was to monitor his mind when subjected to the worst possible cinematic offerings available. The robots: Crow T. Robot (Trace Beaulieu) and Brigadier Sir Thomas "Bullhead" Servo aka Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) were manufactured by the resourceful Robinson to alleviate the solitude and isolation of deep space.

This particular 'experiment' features Gunslinger, the fictitious story of wild west Marshall Rose Hood (Beverly Garland). She takes over the duties in the town of Oracle, Texas when her husband Marshall Scott Hood (William Schallert) is murdered. Rose accepts the position with the intention of not only prosecuting her husband's killers, but also cleaning up Oracle from the shady dealings of Erica Page (Allison Hayes). Page runs a local 24 hour watering hole and house of G-rated burlesque. When confronted by Ms. Hood to clean up her act and respect the town's curfew, Page hires a killer name Cane Miro (John Ireland) - a fugitive in his own right - to assassinate Marshall Hood. The twist comes in the form of a twisted love triangle as Miro - who has an on-going romantic relationship with Page - ends up falling for Hood. Director Corman's trademark ragtag, low budget 'just-get-it-on-film' cinematic approach is practically custom made for the always amusing MST3K treatment. However, there is much more to the program than just watching and goofing on the movie. Host segments show Joel and the 'Bots outside the actual Mystery Science Theater and in the main cabin of their spaceship - the Satellite Of Love. Incidentally, the name of the vessel is a cheeky homage to the Lou Reed song of the same name. The opening shows the boys pumping up a balloon placed on the top of Servo's head in an attempt to blow his mind. They make a game out of it and in a similar fashion, Dr. Forrester attempts to explode TV's Frank's brain by using their newest evil invention, the 'Scanner Planner' - inspired by the plot of David Cronenberg's film Scanners (1981). Other host segments show the guys - responding to a funeral scene in the movie - shrouded by cheaply assembled (hey, they are in space after all) coffins. As Joel tries to explain to Tom and Crow what happens to humans after they die, the 'Bots quickly remind Joel that they are robots and he is actually the one who needs to think about the afterlife. At the tail end of the scene, listen for Servo humming the theme from the '60s TV show Family Affair. It is these small, yet significant pop culture references that make MST3K a pleasure to watch over and over again

Technically, Shout! Factory seems to be incorporating new video transfers from the previously available Rhino Home Video editions. In fact, in a nod to the somewhat OCD nature of some MSTies (including yours truly), these upgrades boast the opening show slate - containing information such as the show number, audio noise reduction used on the video master, original air date and other science facts. While this may be considered an insignificant addition overall, it mirrors the way the show initially aired on Comedy Central in October of 1993 - similarly presented in the standard 4:3 full-frame aspect ratio. The audio track is as clean as an 18 year-old monaural television show can be. Through no fault of the manufactures or original MST3K producers, the dialogue from Gunslinger can be muddled sounding. That being said, it is very listenable and isn't a distraction overall.

The sole disappointment is the lack of any extras whatsoever. To their credit, Shout! Factory is very clear on their website and in other adverts for these single DVD releases, that they are bare bones by design. In essence, they are a means to satiate the voracious visual appetites of MSTies, while offering otherwise out of print titles that have commanded upwards of three bills on eBay and the like. Oh, and don't bother looking for these no-frills discs on stores shelves either as Shout! Factory is marketing them exclusively on-line.

Lindsay Planer

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