Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (1993)
Director: Kevin Murphy
Writers: Joel Hodgson, Michael J. Nelson, etc.
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy

The Plot: Joel Hodgson is an employee at Gizmonic Institute when the evil Dr. Forrester shoots him into outer space on the Satellite of Love. Here he is forced to endure bad movies on a weekly basis. Thankfully Joel was able to build himself a few robotic friends to help him deal with these bad movies. Among these robots are Gypsy who runs the ship, cam-bot who watches their every action and of course the wise-cracking Crow and Tom Servo who help him riff on the movies as they watch them. In this episode, the Russian import The Magic Voyage of Sinbad is screened for Joel and the bots. The movie showcases Sinbad’s return home where he finds the rich have tremendously dominated the poor. After speaking with the gods and then winning a chance to lead a magical voyage (by betting the local bourgeois that he could find a golden fish just off the shore), Sinbad acquires his crew and sets off to find the Blue Bird of Happiness!

The Review
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 volume 20 box set from Shout! Factory carries with it four episodes of everyone’s favorite show about riffing on b-movies. This box set grabs up several never-before-released episodes from the years that Joel managed hosting duties. From the box set I had only seen two of the episodes previously, but today I am going to tackle one that I unfortunately had not seen. The Magic Voyage of Sinbad could only have been slightly more perfect for the MST3K treatment if it were actually slightly more realistically “bad”, instead of being an exploited piece of foreign cinema. A Russian fantasy epic based around a well known medieval legend, the movie was imported into the United States by well known exploitation master Roger Corman under the guise of a Sinbad film. In America, I suppose the original titular character Sadko wouldn’t have seemed as important for modern audiences. So with a retitled lead character those responsible then attempted to try and incorporate various aspects of Roman mythology into the equation as well. The result was a bizarre piece of entertainment that was simply MADE for Joel and the bots to do their thing over.
That isn’t to say that the original Sadko looks like a bad movie. I would say that if you stripped away the awful dub and translation, this looks like a fairly solid adventure yarn with a sizable budget. There are some amazing set pieces throughout the movie, as well as multitudes of extras who run around vast and beautiful looking architecture that has a deep seated historical Russian significance. On top of being a film that looks fairly interesting, when compared to some brief outlines I have read of the original Sadko mythology, this looks to be a direct representation of the post-war Russian government’s party-line and it might have an even deeper cultural significance. All of this is completely lost within The Magic Voyage of Sinbad because Sinbad is supposed to be an Arab figure, so all references to Russia are ultimately lost despite the grand Russian architecture being ever apparent. Within the MST3K version of the story, this becomes one of the recurring jokes throughout the movie and certainly one of the funniest. This ultimately becomes a movie with no singular cultural identification and the audience, for those who have at least the most vague understanding of foreign culture, are left in the dark as what to expect.

Joel and the bots are definitely on-point within this episode as their riffing is witty and the guys really get across how ludicrous this entire production is. Their references are as glib and obscure as they have ever been, with name-drops for John Rhys Davies pre-Lord of the Rings, Michael Nesbith and there’s even a hilarious moment where the guys riff on Dan Haggerty. The scene revolves around one character wrestling with a bear, a bear that Joel and company assure us is trying to have an intervention with the famed Life and Times of Grizzly Adams star. Strange? Absolutely. Obscure? Without a doubt. Funny? You bet your bottom dollar. That’s part of the MST3K joy though. Even when the guys are too obscure to understand, they still find a way to make things somehow tie together and work on a general comedic basis. Normally I tend not to enjoy the episodes where the guys riff on movies that are actually better than average (Hamlet always comes to mind), but with the absolute disrespect shown towards the original Russian film, watching this became a real pleasure. I mean… Vikings in a Sinbad movie?

Host Segments and Special Features
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as well known for its riffing on movies as it is the goofy host segments that come in between the movie breaks. There are a few really good bits from this episode, including an awards show spoof where Crow wins for “Best Performance by a Red Gumball Machine-Looking Robot” despite Tom Servo’s vocalized anger of the situation. At one point Crow also flies on a rocket ship outside the Satellite of Love in an attempt to go on a magical voyage similar to our her Sinbad… turns out, this is a pretty bad idea. The disc for Magic Voyage of Sinbad also packs a couple of special features. Included here is an introduction for the film from Trace Beaulieu (the voice of Crow T. Robot) as well as the Mystery Science Theater Hour wraps for the episode. This is essentially the bumper segments that were hosted by Mike Nelson whenever the show was split into segments for syndication by Comedy Central. Very neat!

The Conclusion
While it doesn’t jump to the top of my list for best Joel episodes, The Magic Voyage of Sinbad turns out to be one of the best features on this box set and was a real surprise to me. If I were to vote on the actual movie itself, I would probably give it a two out of five. There’s no way for me to know whether the original Sadko was a decent enough film or not, but as things are, the picture we have here lacks a lot of the originality that so many fantasy films of the time had but it does make up for that with the quality special effects (for their time) and the tremendous set design and cinematography. As an episode of MST3K however, I have to call this a solid four out of five. I really liked this episode, almost to the point of love, and I think I will return to it several times over the years. Definitely check it out if you’re given the time!