For a movie that's taken this long to make its bow on DVD way back onto DVD after being out of print for years, 1996's Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie is a disappointingly barebones disk without so much as a trailer for an extra. MST3K without extras, however, is still MST3K, and for this B-movie junkie that's something pretty special. The film was, of course, based on the then current TV show running on Comedy Central which eventually jumped over to the Sci Fi Channel where it ended its 10 season run (11 if you count "Season 0" which ran in Minneapolis only) in 1999. Basically, you take a guy, strand him in space and stick him in a movie theater with two robots to make fun of cheezy old movies. More often than not, hilarity would ensue.

The film opens with Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) explaining his plan for world domination by driving Mike Nelson and his robot pals Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) and Crow T. Robot (also Beaulieu) mad by showing them crappy films. He's sure this latest experiment -- the presentation of the 1955 science fiction epic This Island Earth -- will be his crowning achievement, reducing Mike and friends to drooling lunatics.

Dr. Forrester refers to This Island Earth as a "stinky cinematic suppository," but by MST3K standards this was one of slickest films they ever riffed on. The film's only crime is being dated, often hilariously so, but it had strong production values to begin with, and the big scale effects scenes made it a good choice for a theatrical MST3K. As with most fifties science fiction flicks, this one has a square-jawed hero and he goes by the name Cal Meacham (Rex Reason). He's a hotshot scientist in the field of atomic energy, but as a square-jawed hero he also has a winning smile and can fly jets. One day while Cal is showing off his flying skills he's saved from crashing by a mysterious green light. Shortly thereafter Cal and his assistant Joe (often referred to as "that wormy guy" by Mike and the 'bots) are sent equipment and instructions for building an interossiter, which appears to be a 50s sci-fi version of a web-cam. A white haired alien named Exeter (Jeff Morrow), sporting a forehead big enough to shame any Klingon, appears on the interossiter and expresses an interest in Cal working with him on some mysterious project.

The next day a remote control plane transports our hero to a secluded mansion in Georgia where some of the top minds in the world have been gathered to unearth the secrets of atomic energy for the greater good. Cal doesn't believe Exeter is on the up and up and neither do Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) and Steve Carlson (Russell Johnson) whose status as a future resident of Gilligan's Island earns him a merciless pummeling from Mike and company. The three attempt to escape, but Steve is killed and Cal and Ruth are taken aboard a flying saucer piloted by Exeter and his people who are from the planet Metaluna. A war is raging on their home planet and they need Cal and Ruth's expertise to save them from extinction. The jokes fly fast and furious, touching on subjects as far ranging as the bankruptcy of Orion Pictures, William Shatner and cannibalistic soccer teams.

This foray into big-screen territory allowed Best Brains, producers of the TV show, to pour a bit more money into the production. I'm a little ambivalent about this since one of the show's biggest charms was its ultra cheap local TV feel, but I suppose if you're going to turn a current TV show into a feature you have to increase the stakes. We get more extravagant sets, with Dr. Forrester's lab and the main stage of the Satellite of Love shown in greater detail than ever before. We also get to see below decks as well as Tom Servo's room (where Mike discovers Tom's underpants collection). As with the TV show, the film will occasionally stop for some quick sketch comedy. Here we see Mike putting his Microsoft Flight Simulator skills to work piloting the satellite which causes the ship to collide with the Hubble Telescope.

I remember waiting in vain for this to play near me back in '96, but it never showed. The film pulled in just over a million dollars during its theatrical run, which saw it released to a whopping 26 theaters. Much as I love this movie and the show, I can see where Gramercy might have had trouble marketing it. Fans of the show will love it, but getting a mainstream audience to figure out exactly what MST3K is must have been a tricky proposition. I've read how studio interference made for an unpleasant shoot. Given the fact that the show had been in production for several years, I can see how suddenly having to answer to a higher power could be a pain, but MST3K: The Movie still ranks with the best the series had to offer.