The Original Cut Of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Movie Was Longer With A Different Ending

When Jim Mallon's "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie" was released in theaters back in 1996, many noted that it had a shorter running time than a single episode of the show on which it was based. "MST3K" ran for two hours, or 92 minutes with the commercials removed. The movie, in contrast, was an incredibly brief 77 minutes. This was in spite of an arch premise that needed to be explained to the audience, and multiple "host" sequences. 

As it so happens, the original cut was much longer.

For the uninitiated: "MST3K" was a two-hour program that debuted on public access TV in Minnesota in 1988, and aired on Comedy Central and then the Sci-Fi Channel from 1989 to 1999. It has since been revived a few times and runs to this day on its own streaming service, the Gizmoplex. "MST3K" was typically scheduled late at night, recreating the experience of watching randomly programmed B-movies on after-hours network TV, back when that was a thing. The show's hosts — a hapless human and a pair of wisecracking robots — made fun of the B-movies in real-time, offering bitter, humorous criticism as well as a litany of pop culture references that approached the encyclopedic. The idea was that a mad scientist was forcing them, as an experiment, to watch bad movies until they went insane.

In 1996, when the show was at the height of its popularity, the producers elected — perhaps unwisely — to expand "MST3K" into theaters. The movie-within-a-movie premise was unusual for cinemas, and the film required an opening explanation from the evil Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) who detailed his mad experiment. His test subject was to watch the 1955 Universal sci-fi film "This Island Earth." 

There used to be more.

End Reel 1

This author was lucky enough to see an early cut of "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie," and I can relate by first-hand account that there used to be a lot more to enjoy. 

Notably, the original cut included more of "This Island Earth." It wasn't a considerable amount more — "Earth" runs only 86 minutes on its own as is — but there were additional "Earth" scenes to flesh out a more holistic film experience. In the final cut of "MST3K: The Movie," audiences saw only about 55 minutes of it. Not that we necessarily needed to see much more. 

Additionally, the original "MST3K" cut had a more organic explanation for its periodic inter-film breaks. In the original show, the human host was trapped on board a satellite, while his mad scientist captors lived in an underground bunker back on Earth. The scientists would push a button and send a movie by remote. The satellite would explode if their victim didn't enter the satellite's theater. Occasionally, however, the host would be permitted to leave the theater and converse about what they just saw with their robot buddies. The breaks were organic ways to incorporate commercials.

In theaters, of course, there are no station breaks, so the host segments needed an explanation. In the original cut, the host segments would come at the end of each reel. Dr. Forrester was, in this version of things, projecting the movie from 35mm film directly into space, and he needed to swap out reels every 20 minutes. Mike Nelson, Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy), and Crow T. Robot (also Beaulieu) would comment on the reel ending and note the relief of the break. 

Host segments

In the theatrical cut of "MST3K: The Movie," Mike and the 'bots merely left the theater whenever they felt like it, only being forced to re-enter when found out by a spying Dr. Forrester. In one moment, the film appeared to burn and Dr. Forrester had to repair it, instigating another break. It seems it would be difficult to drive someone mad if they're allowed to pause the flick every few minutes. 

The host segments were different as well. In one additional sequence, none of which made it into the theatrical cut, Mike found himself trapped in a locked chamber — the satellite's "storm cellar" — while a meteor shower passed by outside. The shower, however, damages the ship and air begins to drain from the chamber. Crow, trapped with him, feels this isn't much of a big deal as robots don't need air. He is useless to rescue his human friend. Tom Servo, however, saw Mike pass out from lack of oxygen and became inspired and activated an as-yet-undiscovered rocket under his hovercraft-like bottom half. He flies through the air, ramming into a re-pressurization button with his head. The air returned and Mike was saved. 

The original cut also had a different ending. In the theatrical version, "This Island Earth" proved to be breezy and fun — not the madness-inducing horror Dr. Forrester intended — and Mike and the 'bots threw an "Earth"-themed party. When Dr. Forrester tries to stop their shenanigans, he accidentally transports himself into the shower of a nearby alien visitor. He screams in embarrassment. Roll credits. 

In the original ending, Dr. Forrester dies. 

The death of Dr. Forrester

Both Tom Servo and Dr. Forrester own "interocitors," you see, massive screen-like machines featured in "This Island Earth." In the original cut, Tom Servo used his interocitor to manifest a large-brained bug-like monster — a Mutant — out of "Earth," and pump it into Dr. Forrester's lair. The Mutant strangles Dr. Forrester, happy to have done Mike and the 'bots a favor. The movie ends with Crow chainsawing through the satellite wall, thinking he can tunnel through space back to Earth. This caused trouble for him earlier in the film when he tried something similar with a pickaxe. 

Overall, the original cut had a little more elbow room. In seeing more of "This Island Earth," and breaking at more organic points, audiences would have had a chance to accept the odd premise more easily. What's more, merely staying on board the satellite for lengthier periods would have allowed many to accept the premise as properly sci-fi.

The lengthier cut has never been reassembled, although some of the excised footage can be found on the "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie" Blu-ray, available from the Shout! Factory.

A bonus from the theatrical cut that wasn't in the original, however, was the riffing that took place over the film's credits. Mike and the 'bots returned to the theater to make fun of their own cast and crew, mocking oblique professions in the cinema world; they call a "projectionist" someone who merely attributes all their own faults onto others. They have a great deal of fun with the name of the film's actual production designer, Rando Schmook.