Thursday, September 15, 2011

Manos: The Special Edition of Fate!

The best kind of DVD delivery is the one you completely forgot you ordered (and paid for). It's a scientific law- Uma Thurman’s dynamics of consumerism. So when I came home two nights past to find the Mystery Science Theater 3000: Manos the Hands of Fate two disc special edition in my mailbox, well I thought little Samhain (of Trick 'r' Treat fame) was dropping off my Halloween gift, early.

If you're unfamiliar with MST3K or it's treatment of the cheapie film Manos: The Hands of Fate shame on you let me illuminate you. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the award winning TV show concerning the adventures of Joel, a man trapped in space by the (marginally) evil Dr. Forrester, and forced to watch the worst films imaginable, all in an effort to see what it will take to drive a man mad. Joel constructs two robot companions(Tom Servo and Crow) and, to keep himself sane, the trio mercilessly riff their way through the dregs of celluloid. Manos is considered by many fans to be one of, if not the very best episode of the entire ten season series.

Is it any wonder then that this popular episode has gotten the home video release treatment three times before (twice on DVD and once on VHS from Rhino)? What would motivate MSTies (MST3K fans) to purchase it yet again? For starters this two disk set is loaded with enough extras to bust Big McLargeHuge's pants at the seams. Most of them are excellent.

There’s a lot to love here, as far as features that would mutate this into a full fledged “special edition”. Most enamoring for me is the Group Therapy featurette, giving us more of the people we adore discussing the love and tender kindness they hold for Manos. Mary Jo, Trace, Frank and Joel spend about twenty minutes discussing all of the elements which came together forming the MSTie perfect storm. There’s certainly some retreaded information here for longtime fans but it’s mixed well with new insights while still being highly entertaining. The Mystery Science Theater Hour wraps, giving the stage to Mike Nelson in his Jack Perkins persona, are also included to sate the lust of the fans who so desire them. They’re charming and I always love the absurdly gleeful way Mike as Perkins delights on the oddest parts of the film being riffed.

There are two, count them (I know you won’t), two segments on Henry Jamison “Jam” Handy to behold. Jam Handy was, among other things, a prolific producer of educational film reels, mostly for the U.S. armed services and Chevrolet Motor Company. Many or all of these shorts are in the public domain and that’s how they ended up on MST3K. The shorts “Hired!” parts 1&2 feature famously on the episodes Bride of the Monster and Manos: The Hands of Fate. (Coincidentally, both are collected and shown together in this special edition release. “Just because we can” is the note from Shout! Factory. Marvellous)

The first segment, titled Jam handy to the Rescue! is a documentary that combines footage from an actual interview with Jam from 1966 with newly produced footage that serves as the framing story; it’s the “why” we would be watching this footage. This is fairly funny, though it misses on a few notes where the modern day interviewer (dressed, and with footage distressed ,to appear vintage) hams it up and plays on the cultural difference of 50 years ago.

The second segment on the subject of short educational films (and Jam Handy), titled My (Educational) Short Life, is an excellent interview with Joel Hodgson, creator of MST3K. The content of the interview is excellent, with some even more cool insights to genesisal evolutionary points of my favorite cow town puppet show. However, at least with my disc, the audio for this part was horribly distorted, as though Joel was speaking through a phone when it was clear this wasn’t the case.

There’s also another feature, this one on the film being riffed itself. Hotel Torgo is probably the weakest feature in this special edition, a fragility I’m willing to accept, given the meaty bulk already packed into this set. With walk-throughs of original filming locations it’s a retrospective worth watching, at least once.

If all of this isn't enough to whet your whistle (and you are an enormous glutton for punishment) the second disc also contains the entire original, unriffed version of Manos. Honestly? I'm betting you don't have the stones to watch this beast unriffed*.

*The Midnight Cheese takes no responsibility for your fragile, broken mind; the likeliest result if you attempt to watch Manos: The Hands of Fate, without the sanity preserving armor of MST3K.

Shout! Factory really knows what the MSTie crowd wants and is doing everything they can to placate us. The large release box sets continue to come fast and furious, including episodes never thought to be possible due to rights issues, and they're supplemented with barebones rerelease of popular out of print Rhino releases, of which there are certainly many. I can comfortably say that there hasn't been a better time to be a MSTie in the home video release market. I can only hope some other out of print, well beloved episodes get this level of treatment. cough Mitchell cough

If you’re in the Philadelphia area and can’t get enough of MST3K’s treatment of Manos: The Hands of Fate, you’re in luck! The Colonial Theatre, world famous for its role in 1958’s The Blob, is hosting a showing of it on November 11th. Until then, the Master is waiting for you. *haunting Torgo theme*

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