I would be lying if I said that "Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX" was my favorite MST3K box set, but it's a solid collection, with the dynamic duo of "Master Ninja" movies being series highlights. Some fans may be disappointed as there are no Mike episodes this time around, as these are all fairly early episodes (although "The Magic Voyage of Sinbad" is from the fifth season) from the Comedy Central era. I really like the Shout Factory releases and always look forward to the extras, and my only slight disappointment is the inclusion of "Project Moonbase" in the set when there are worthier films still to be released.
"Project Moonbase" is a ponderous 1950s science fiction epic set in the future of 1970 and is a space odyssey with extremely dated views of women. By far the highlight of the film for me was seeing Hayden Rorke cast as General Greene. The film itself is quite boring, and has a "surprise" ending that's the least well-kept secret in the set. I found "Project Moonbase" modestly amusing, although it was my least favorite of the four in the set. For me the thing that makes this episode nearly unwatchable is not one but two (Two!) episodes of the always painful "Commando Cody" shorts. The only thing MST3K has ever done to top the misery and boredom of "Commando Cody" are the "General Hospital" shorts in some early episodes. On the positive side, I do like watching the season one efforts and seeing the show develop with time, and I am in no way discouraging people from watching "Project Moonbase;" just expect to muddle through a less polished show with a fairly dull movie and two excruciating shorts.
I am also not a huge fan of the swords and sandals epics, and as such "The Magic Voyage of Sinbad" isn't one of my favorites either. Having said that, it is my favorite of the sword and sandals genre, and is pointedly surreal at times. Being a Russo-Finnish co-production, it's got brilliant color, weird characters, peculiar subplots, and hilarious overacting. I am a particular fan of the wacky foam fish, and actually like this film quite a bit, as it features Joel and the bots at their creative peak.
By far the best things in the set are "Master Ninja I and II," each of which are composed of two episodes of the television series "The Master" starring the improbable buddy team of ninja and apprentice Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten. The theme stitching the four episodes...I mean two movies...together is a quest to find Van Cleef's missing daughter. Conveniently each episode also features bad guys harassing a beautiful girl which compels the characters to act. Well not "act" as in "perform in a professional manner," but in the sense of "do something." Terrorists, union thugs, and the Asian mafia are no match for Van Cleef and Van Patten. The first episode features a young Demi Moore in an embarrassing role and has a brief cameo by Claude Akins; beyond that the guest stars are people you've largely never heard of. My single favorite element of these bizarre movies is the presence of a hamster in Van Patten's van (watching Van Cleef hold the rodent is especially hilarious.) The MST3K writers did an outstanding job on both of these films, and they are two of the best from the Comedy Central era. My favorite edit in the films is in "Master Ninja II" when switching between the two television episodes: the filmmakers didn't even try, as in the mother of all non sequiturs, Van Patten suddenly roars into a car chase scene in an ultralight aircraft. Watch these two several times; I have!
The extras include interviews with Bill McKinney who recalled working on "Master Ninja," a panel discussion about Tom Servo's evolution and character, an interview with MST3K Director of Photography Jeff Stonehouse, and an interview with Trace Beaulieu discussing the wonders of "The Magic Voyage of Sinbad."
Despite two of the movies being episodes that aren't among my favorites (especially "Project Moonbase,") the "Master Ninja" movies more than right any wrongs here, ensuring a five star appraisal. I recommend Volume XX highly to MST3K fans everywhere.