To put things in perspective, perhaps some history is in order. I discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in 1993. It was the beginning of my senior year of high school and my family got cable for the first time in my life. It was actually my mother that pointed it out to me. She called me into the room and told me that I would find the show hilarious. I was immediately hooked. Comedy Central was showing MST3K every night at midnight and I recorded every episode I could on our VCR to watch the next day.
Sillhouettes are back

I watched every episode I could. I have many fond memories of that time. My brothers and I would stay up on weekends watching several episodes in a row. Their inside jokes became our inside jokes. I was sad when Joel left the show, but I liked Mike and stayed with the show through it’s eventual end.

In the years since, I have bought the DVD’s when they came out (Which was sparsely). I have kept track of the show’s alumni through the web, taking various degrees of interest in their projects. But in the fall of last year, I was hit with some great news. You can read about it in my previous article. Rifftrax was here, but I had not yet gotten into it. What excited me was the announcement of Cinematic Titanic.

Joel Hodgson

Joel was coming back to movie riffing! He was bringing along with him Trace Beulieu, (Crow and Dr Forrester), Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank), and two other alumni from the show, Mary Jo Pehl and Josh Weinstein. I hadn’t been that excited about an entertainment event in years.

Trace Beulieu

So remember that feeling years ago when Star Wars Episode One was coming out? Geeks were lined up at the theater for weeks waiting to get in to that midnight showing. (I only waited outside for about 3 hours myself, thank goodness. So my shame is minor.) Well that is how I felt awaiting the arrival of my Cinematic Titanic DVD. Thank goodness this film did not produce that same level of dissapointment.

I ordered the DVD the moment it was available. But the service that Cinematic Titanic used to deliver the film was unprepared for the number of orders they received. I didn’t get mine until just over three weeks later.

Here is the trailer for the uninitiated:

My copy of The Oozing Skull arrived yesterday. Now other people have had theirs for a few days so the fans have been talking, and the film has received mixed, though generally positive reviews.

Ohhh caffeine withdrawals

Spoiler warning!

Things that didn’t work:

So first of all, the DVD comes in a simple paper sleeve, which was a bit underwhelming, but no biggie. I didn’t buy the movie to stare at the cover. The first bit of dissapointment came when I popped in the movie and the menu came up. It was very bare bones. Just a picture with no sound and two options, Play Movie or Scene Selection. Still, no big deal, it was the movie itself I wanted to see.

Then the movie started. There was no introduction, no explanation of why the people were watching the movie, just a brief burst of theme music while the five sillhouettes came in and sat down. Why were they there? What was the premise? Joel and the gang have kept the premise of Cinematic Titanic pretty much under wraps. All we knew going into it was that the five of them were watching bad movies and that there was something called a Time Tube that is supposed to be filled with DVD’s. But none of these things are explained. It just . . . starts.

Frank Conniff

At first it was jarring. Partially because of how abruptly it begins, but the guys were hamming it up big time. You can see some of it in the trailer, the exaggerated geturing, the overreacting to the film. In MST, the characters were pretty laid back with their jokes. The premise was that they were being forced to watch the films against their will, and so they were making jokes to get through it. In CT it seems like they are almost too excited about the jokes. It was also kind of hard to tell who was who.

In my opinion, what I witnessed were the equivalent of opening day jitters. They were trying too hard. On Mary Jo Pehl’s blog, she says that she saw the movie 12 times. On MST they watched a film 3-6 times before getting it like they wanted. This was their first big show and they want it so badly that they overdid it a bit.

Mary Jo Pehl

The film that they chose for this first outing was a particularly bad one. The acting was horrible, the gore effects were downright silly, and the script a complete mess. Perfect fodder for riffing you might say. Well yes and no. Sometimes *cough-Manos* a film is so mind numbingly boring that even MST can’t make it funny. This film has a few moments like that, but for the most part it is watchable.

Things that worked:

Now from reading the first section, you might think that I disliked the film. That’s not true. Overall I really enjoyed it.

It was nostalgic hearing those familliar voices again. Joel and Trace were great, but Mary Jo Pehl was a standout for the funniest of the bunch this time around. Josh was good, but Frank tended to focus on the obscure joke that most people would not get.

I'm sure he has grown into his looks. Oh, Josh Weinstein.

They play a lot with the sillhouettes, which was fun. They have guest appearances by Stephen Hawking and Al Hirt. There were also a couple of fun sketch sequences where they stop the film to make a joke or interact with the screen in ways they never did with MST3K. At one point they stop the movie while Frank brings in a variety act that goes awry. They also pause the film just before something particularly nasty is about to happen so make sure that Mary Jo is okay with watching it, and Tracy comes out in a crane to try to fix a character’s makeup, good stuff.

All in all, I would have to say it’s a mixed bag. There is tons of potential there. Once they have everything figured out and settled down, it could be fantastic. I enjoyed it and would recomment it to MST fans. Still, I wouldn’t suggest showing this to people not familiar with MST3K. It’s not a good film for introducing movie riffing. It’s too unpolished. Think first couple episodes of MST3K season one.

Here’s hoping that this first release makes enough money for this group to polish their act. I want to see more. I also want to know more about why the five people are there watching the film.

In comparison:

My wife and I watched The Rifftrax of Independance Day a couple days ago and it was hilarious the whole way through. The difference is that Mike, Kevin, and Bill have their act polished through doing 50 of these. Their joke machine is well honed. Sure the sillhouettes are missing, but I think what makes up for that fact is that they are riffing movies of superior quality.

It's worth it

There is something fun about watching the guys riff on a film that you know already or even enjoy. If the idea of Rifftrax throws you off, here are two things that might help. They have a free Rifftrax player on the site that will synch the movies for you. Or you can rip your own DVD to your computer and add the Rifftrax to it. (It’s not that hard, and kind of fun.) Then you can watch it already synched on your DVD player in all its glory.

I think that there is plenty of demand for this type of humor and that both Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax can flourish without taking each others business. It’s a fun time for riffing, folks.

Update 1/24/08

On the Cinematic Titanic website, Trace Beulieu explains just what the time tube is. Evidently Cinematic Titanic is a project where they are attempting to riff 500 movies and put them into this time tube and save it for future generations.

Now if they could just find a way to incorporate the premise into the show itself. Hmmm . . . .