Joel and the bots
It is a golden age for fans of the late TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I’m loving every minute of it. For years the only thing available to the fans has been tape trading and the occasional DVD release of an episode by Rhino. But recently things have heated up.

The MST3K crew has split into three seperate camps and all of them are offering new content to us diehard fans.

The camps: Rifftrax, Cinematic Titanic, and MST3K.com.

So far the three groups have for the most part refused to acknowledge eachother. They are in competition, but the fan base is ravenous and I believe that we will be well able to consume whatever the parties turn out. Still, you can’t help but compare the groups and many fans have already taken sides.

MST3K.com:

Recently the producer and owner of the rights to MST3K, Jim Mallon (Also the voice of Gypsy) teamed up with one of the shows old writers, Paul Chaplin to bring the bots back through flash animated cartoons. This seems to have been done mainly as a vehicle to sell merchandise. So far the few cartoons that they have done have been mediocre or borderline lame. They promise that things are going to get better, but so far the response of fans has been tepid at best.

The two heavy hitters are Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic
Cinematic Titanic logo with Iconic sillhouettes

Cinematic Titanic has the advantage of a wealth of talent available. Joel Hodgson (MST’s Creator and the main man for the first 5 years of the shows run.), Trace Beaulieu (the original voice of Crow), Josh Weinstein (The voice of Tom Servo in the first season of MST), Mary Jo Pehl (Longtime writer on the show, she played Ma Forrester in seasons 7-10.), and Frank Conniff (Loveable TV’s Frank).

Like MST3K, Cinematic Titanic is a movie riffing vehicle where a team gathers to watch a bad film. Not a lot is known about the details yet except that The riffers will be sillouhetted against the screen and that they will interact with the film in various ways. They have finished the first film and in a few weeks, fans that have placed their orders, will get the DVD in the mail (Mine is on it’s way.) The website is Cinematictitanic.com. There is a lot of excitement about the possibilities here, but from what we fans have been able to see, the production costs look high and we have to wonder if the profits that come in will be enough to keep the ship afloat. Right now the advantage goes to Rifftrax

Rifftrax:
Rifftrax Rules
Over the the years since the show was cancelled, Mike Nelson (Longtime head writer and lead on the show for seasons 5-10) has been carrying the torch with different projects. He has been writing books and doing commentaries for movies for Legend Films and staying in contact with the fans.  But two years ago he started another company called Rifftrax.  The concept is this, Mike (together with guest stars) riffs popular movies that are readily available on DVD. He sells these riffs as audio files for a very reasonable price on his website, You can then play the rifftrax along with your movie as you watch it. They also have available as a free download a Rifftrax player that will synch up the riff files with the dvd for you on your computer.  The great part is that the studios profit as well. We fans go buy their movie just so that we can watch the guys make fun of it.

He is joined by two of my favorite MST cast members, Kevin Murphy (Longtime writer and the voice of Tom servo for seasons 2-10 of MST3K.) and riffcown extraordinaire, Bill Corbett (writer and the voice of Crow T Robot for seasons 8-10) .

They are also the team behind The Film Crew. A project that put out four DVD’s of bad movies torn to pieces by these masters of mirth. Unfortunately that particular project seems to have found its way into limbo. The films are available here, but the odds aren’t great that they will continue to make more.

Rifftrax’s advantage over the other two groups is their team chemistry and their catalog of over 50 films already riffed. They put out another one every 7-10 days or so, so they can keep fresh content coming. The riffs are cheap (running 2-4 bucks depending on how long the movie is and how many of the guys are riffing on the film.) and they have an established money making system that seems to be doing well. The website is WWW.Rifftrax.com.

I must admit that at first the idea of Rifftrax didn’t appeal to me too much. I love those guys but do I really need to see movies like Spiderman, The Bourne Identity, and the Star Wars Prequels made fun of? Heck, do I even watch movies on my computer at all? Then I purchased the Film Crew Videos and my whistle was whetted. I wanted more, but the whole concept of playing the audio file along with the movie put me off. Then after a quick trip to their forums I found out that there were ways to take my own DVD’s, rip them to my computer, add in the rifftrax and burn new copies to watch on my own entertainment system.

From there on I was hooked. I currently have over 30 of the riffed films burned to DVD and I love them. The guys are just as hilarious as they were during the MST3K days. Sure I miss the sillhouettes. I miss the host segments with Crow and Tom, but the voices are there. The core of the show is still intact and as good as ever. And how is it watching the MST guys take on a film that you actually like? So far, it hasn’t changed my enjoyment of the films at all. In fact it has added to the experience. I watched Mike and guest riffer Neil Patrick Harris (Of CBS’ How I met Your Mother) take on the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. It’s a film I love, but I laughed along with the jokes and enjoyed the film at the same time. I even broke down and watched Mike and Kevin Riff The Fellowship of the Ring, (My favorite movie of all time) I loved every minute.

Now I look forward to Cinematic Titanic’s first release landing on my doorstep. I hope that the MST3k.com guys get their act together. I also wish that there could be a reunion of the old show that all these projects are based on. But until that happens, I am content with my Rifftrax. (I can even get my wife to watch with me.)

Update 1/16/08:
I Have The Oozing Skull. (I know. Sounds bad) My review has been posted here.

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