In the end credits of Mystery Science Theater 3000, there used to be a little message that said “Keep Circulating The Tapes.” This was an acknowledgement/tacit approval of the fact that the show’s fans would often trade their own videotape recordings of the show to build a library of episodes. These recordings were often the only way to see the show for folks without cable or a V.C.R. They were also often of poor quality, with things getting duped multiple generations away from their source as they were passed around.
Thankfully, Rhino led the charge in putting this show on VHS and later DVD in individual episode form. They eventually moved their way up to box sets of the show and, when the original founders of Rhino split from the company, they took Mystery Science Theater 3000 with them to Shout! Factory so they could continue the series. MST3K Vol. 20 is the latest release in this long-running series and it’s a quality, fan-friendly edition of four episodes.
The episodes all look as good as a shot-on-video series from the late 1980’s/early 1990’s can. Detail can be soft and fuzzy but that’s the nature of the way it was shot. That said, it’s nice to see these shows in first-generation quality and free of commercials and intrusive banners/bumpers for other shows. Sound quality is solid on all episodes, offering a basic but clear stereo mix.
There are also a handful of extras sprinkled across the four discs. The Project Moonbase disc features a trailer for the original film, which is amusing in how it attempts to refashion this painfully dull film as a thrilling, action-driven movie. It also features an interview with Jeff Stonehouse, who worked as a director of photography on later seasons of the show. Though he didn’t have anything to do with the episodes covered in this set, he offers some interesting commentary about how the shooting and lighting of the show worked.
On The Magic Voyage Of Sinbad, there is a brief introduction by Trace Beaulieu that is really a brief interview about that particular episode. Though the piece is short, he has some funny things to say and offers some insight into what it was like to tackle such an odd film for the show. Also included on this disc are Mike Nelson’s host segments for the Mystery Science Theater Hour version of this episode. For those not familiar with this offshoot, Nelson plays a host character in old-age makeup who comes as off a cross between James Lipton and the pre-movie hosts from the AMC channel. The humor goes into the realm of total absurdity in these bits and they’re a lot of fun for people who like that angle of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Master Ninja I features a short interview with actor Bill McKinney, who starred as a corrupt sheriff on one of the episodes used in this show. This piece should have been allowed to run a little longer, as it is too short for him to discuss his career or this episode in a meaningful way. That said, he does seem to be a better sport about his work being used on Mystery Science Theater 3000 than some other actors have been.
The best of the extras arrives on the Master Ninja II disc in the form of “Tom Servo Vs. Tom Servo” Panel from Dragon-Con 2010. As the title suggests, it features both voices of the Tom Servo character – Josh Weinstein and Kevin Murphy – discussing the time each spent on the show. Both offer different insights into the show’s development (Weinstein was only there for the KTLA shows and the first season) and what it is like to deal with fans who prefer the other actor’s take on Tom Servo. Murphy also shares some fun memorabilia from the show. The segment runs 40 minutes and is easily the most satisfying of the extras on this set.
To sum up, this is a solid set that delivers the episodes with respectable a/v quality and adds in a few fun extras on the side. Your mileage will vary depending on your interest in the episodes but any hardcore MST3K fans will want to pick it up.