Mystery Science Theater 3000 just sounds like something nerds would like. It elevated low-budget to high-concept: a couple of guys cracking jokes at bad old public domain movies, dressed up in a ridiculous science fiction premise. (The premise was explained in the terrific theme song, which gets stuck in my head every time I hear it:
In the not-too-distant future --
Next Sunday A.D. --
There was a guy named Joel,
Not too different from you or me.
He worked at Gizmonic Institute,
Just another face in a red jumpsuit.
He did a good job cleaning up the place,
But his bosses didn't like him
So they shot him into space.
"We'll send him cheesy movies,
The worst we can find (la-la-la).
He'll have to sit and watch them all,
And we'll monitor his mind (la-la-la)."
Now keep in mind Joel can't control
Where the movies begin or end (la-la-la)
Because he used those special parts
To make his robot friends.)
It was, all things considered, phenomenally successful. It ran for 11 seasons, producing 198 episodes, making it one of the longest-running sitcoms of all time. It won a Peabody award and was nominated for multiple Emmys. And in the middle of its run, like some of other most successful sitcoms (The Simpsons, South Park), its makers decided to make a movie. It was called Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, and it ran with the tagline, "Every year, Hollywood makes hundreds of movies. This is one of them." It was very short -- around 80 minutes long, essentially the length of a standard two-hour episode with no commercials -- and absolutely gut-busting from beginning to end. But the release was badly mucked up by Universal, with virtually no promotion and very little distribution, and it flopped horribly.
Of course, there was an army of late-'90s nerds who were diehard fans of the show, already in force on the still-young World Wide Web, who rescued it from cancellation on Comedy Central and helped it find a new home on the Sci-Fi channel in 1997. With their support, the movie seemed destined for immortal cult status on DVD, when... it was caught up in an inane class action lawsuit in the year 2000, and removed from the shelves. (The distributor of the DVD was accused of underpricing, and a few of its offending titles were simply taken out of circulation.) The fans' frustrations were borne out in the escalating eBay prices of used copies of the DVD, which regularly hit $100 a copy. Since the DVD had only been sold from 1997 to 2000, there was no chance supply could meet demand. This was a true tragedy, as it was a perfect target for dorm room rediscovery, up there with Office Space, The Big Lebowski, and the Shawshank Redemption.
But the lawsuit was finally resolved earlier this year, after eight excruciating years of waiting, and the DVD -- in its low-budget 1998 incarnation, no special features to speak of, but no matter -- has finally been rereleased. And the market's beginning to respond, as eBay prices have finally slid back to around $15, where they belong. If the producers are smart, they'll finally start publicizing the true treasure they have on their hands, release it on Blu-Ray, and finally take advantage of the enormous demographic potential of the college bong crowd. For now, I encourage all of you to rediscover it for yourself. It's worth the wait.