MST3K lives on as Cinematic Titanic, RiffTrax

For the many fans of the late <em>Mystery Science Theater 3000</em>, we have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that no, they aren't going to revive <em>MST3K</em>. The good news is that the show has bequeathed equally hilarious offspring.

For we many benighted Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans who have long cursed the day our beloved movie-mockery show was canceled, we have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that no, they aren't going to revive MST3K. The good news is that almost everyone who ever worked on the show is still doing the same thing, just under different names and distribution channels.

Cinematic Titanic is MST3K-creator Joel Hodgson's new effort, and it pretty much uses the same format as MST3K, only without the robots-and-space-janitor frame story, but way, way more shadow puppets obscuring the ignominious celluloid hate crimes which the show righteously mocks. You can see the trailer above. Much of the original MST3K voice cast returns, and the series will not be held hostage by some brainless, soulless, humorless suits at some third-rate cable network. Instead, episodes of Cinematic Titanic will distributed on DRM-free DVDs and (soon) downloads, so you can enjoy them at your leisure. (Found via BoingBoing.)

RiffTrax, meanwhile, is what the man who replaced Joel on MST3K, Mike Nelson, is up to these days. It's like a downscaled version of his old gig, only for mainstream movies as well as craptastic classics. RiffTrax are MP3 commentaries (as in, MST3K-style heckling) designed to sync up to the audio of your existing library of flicks, sort of like "Dark Side of the Moon" syncs up with The Wizard of Oz. Only, you know, intentional and funny. For $3.99 a track you can shred such Hollywood sacred cows as Spider-Man, Star Trek V, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the complete first season of Heroes. Finally, a reason to buy an iPod.


Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...


CINEMATIC TITANIC 01 THE OOZING SKULL First, I'm glad to see this and I want to see more. The warm sense of reunion is a fairly good substitute for genuine entertainment. But, it was something of a let-down. Maybe my expectations were too high. MST3K is one of my favorite things. This production feels as if it was done either as a bored lark or in desperation. It is not inspired. It has the feel of a relic... a leftover... serving a niche market-within-a-niche market. The jokes refer to such a wide span of pop-culture eras, it's practically a sure thing much of the audience will be baffled at any given time during the show. MST3K referenced a more narrow window of familiarity. The absence of Mike Nelson as head writer is keenly felt. Mike, Joel, and the rest made up a wonderful team. That team is now fragmented. RIFFTRAX, uneven as they are, are on average much funnier than the CT-riffed OOZING SKULL. The FILM CREW's version of HOLLYWOOD AFTER DARK is much funnier than OOZING SKULL's riffing. The ideal riffing entertainment experience was provide by Joel as front man with Mike as the best brain. We may never get that combination again, which is too bad. In CINEMATIC TITANIC, There are too many on-screen riffers. Each riffer has relatively few jokes. The riffers are shown from such a long shot it's difficult to get any sense of their presence and gestures. The whole thing looks like a post-production "cheat", not that there's anything wrong with that. The riffs could very easily have been recorded comfortably in advance, and various takes of the silhouette guys just standing around could be combined in editing and compositing. The simple immediacy of three clearly-seen guys in seats offered by MST3K has been replaced in CT with a less visually-involving presentation. There are long sequences in CT 01 in which individual silhouette characters appear to be held frames. Mary Jo is hardly used. She has few lines. And while it sounds sexist, it is not easy to understand the typical female voice compared to that of a typical male voice. Mary Jo's voice is perfectly lovely, gorgeous even, but it doesn't have the edge that makes it easy to understand in a riffing situation. Her lack of lines and the difficulty in making out what she's saying suggest that she should be the first casualty among CT's onscreen characters. The assaulted movie, retitled here as OOZING BRAIN, was an excellent choice. It is prototypical MST3K material and presents more than enough opportunities for witty derision. Unfortunately, many of those opportunities were missed by the CT gang. While I understand the need to let a riff session "breathe", there are many dead spots in this first episode - incidents which cry out for obvious jokes and receive none, and long stretches of silence from the riffers while hilarious incompetence unfolds on the big CT screen. Five riffers should make for more riffing than three riffers, and there was certainly room for more riffing. Instead of a high-speed barrage of appropriately deadly jokes offered in the best episodes of MST3K, CT 01 gives the viewer a painfully relaxed, almost disinterested stream of moderately funny observations. There are very funny moments, and I'm sure you know what they are, but there aren't many of them. It appears the group wasn't really giving its fully-focused effort. Both the FILM CREW and MST3K have a structure that provides a pleasant rhythm: the silhouette/voice over sequences are peppered with host segments that serve as a resting place, some eye relief, a useful summation, increased familiarity with the riffing characters in sketch material that amplifies the riffing humor in a setting that offers more freedom than the commentary offers alone. CT (and RIFFTRAX) does not offer this pleasing, desirable, interlude. The complete lack of any explanation of why the little silhouette guys are stuck in an auditorium riffing on movies is disorienting. MST3K wrapped up the entire reason for its existence nicely in a short theme song. CT offers nothing. Beyond the instrumental theme, there is no wrapper material. No extras. No explanation. What the dang heck anyway. I hope CINEMATIC TITANIC is successful and there are many more CT shows. It has to get better, and it's great to hear these people work together again. This first show, however, is way off. In terms of value-for-money, CT 01 is a bust. I don't need to rehash the oft-repeated complaints about CT's despicably shoddy packaging and extremely high price. DVD replication and packaging is surprisingly inexpensive these days, so the corners cut here are baffling. ----------------------------------------- Addressing one of the more foul-smelling elephants in the room: piracy may slightly affect the bottom line of CT. It's impossible to believe in a 100% lost-sale correlation, as put forth by MPAA/RIAA. Each copy downloaded via P2P does not result in a lost sale. Most downloaders wouldn't have bought what they download at any price, even if piracy was completely eliminated. It is possible, however, that a small segment of the potential market, one that might have purchased CT 01, downloaded it for free instead in a moment of ethical weakness. The exact impact of illicit digital acquisition will never be known, but this may prove interesting to the idly curious: I will ignore, for the moment, binary newsgroups, IRC, FTP sites, and emule, and stick to discussing the popular bit torrent protocol. I have over 200 bit torrent sites bookmarked. Just for kicks, I searched every one for CINEMATIC TITANIC. I found several torrents, and removing all redundant hits from aggregating sites, I found that torrents for the show have been grabbed over six hundred times. Assuming each torrent resulted in a download, that's six hundred pirate copies of CT 01. Many P2P users dupe downloaded video for friends. Let's wildly claim that 20% of CT downloaders did that. That would make 720 illegal copies generating no revenue for Joel and The Gang. How much does the CT crew get for each copy? That's private info and we can only guess. Let's guess that EZTRAX keeps more-or-less 33%, and that CT receives about $10 per disc. IF we accept the plainly fallacious assertion that each downloaded copy is a lost sale, from bit torrent alone, that would mean $7200 lost. That's not so bad, really. If an entertainment company can be damaged by a $7200 loss, it's not doing well.


Don't forget that Mike Nelson, Bill Corbet and Kevin Murphy of RiffTraks have also been releasing a series of DVDs under the branding of "The Film Crew". Current releasing include such gems as: -Hollywood After Dark (starring Rue McClanahan) -The Giant of Marathon -Killers from Space -The Wild Women of Wongo RiffTraks has a wider catalog as they don't have to secure rights to the films to riff on it and it takes less time to produce.

Editor's Picks