Posts tagged ‘MST3K’

Riffing in a post-MST3K world

I can’t claim to have been a longtime fan, but after seeing Mystery Science Theater 3000: the Movie I became a dedicated fan. I’ve made the effort to see as many of the shows as possible, and have built my collection of DVDs, getting episodes as soon as they are released. MST3K ended its more than 10 year run several years ago, but the wealth of humor provided from the series remains to keep me laughing.
For the uninitiated: Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a show that, at its core, was about watching a really bad movie and hurling funny comments at it. The premise was of a mild-mannered janitor at Gizmonics Institute (played by series creator Joel Hodgson) blasted into space by a pair of mad scientists as a subject of their experiment to show bad movies and monitor the results. Joel creates his “robot pals” out of spare parts to help him watch the movie, and he and his robots Crow and Servo are seen in silhouette watching and commenting on the movie. There are also breaks in the movie providing some comedy (the host segments). As said, the host segments and the premise are really just a vehicle to show a bad movie and “riff” on it.
Over the life of the series, many of its producers, writers, and performers have come and gone, including the mid-series departure of creator Hodgson (apparently to pursue other interests, but as I learned recently more as a means of saving the show from a dispute with his co-producer and partner Jim Mallon over creative control) and introduction of head writer Mike Nelson as the lead. All of them have had a hand in honing the art of flinging comments at movies, and in the post-MST3K world there are now multiple endeavors to capture that magic. The MST3K group have gravitated into three camps, each producing their own flavor of riffing.
Rifftrax is Mike Nelson’s creation, a brilliant online service that presents a novel way to sidestep the crushing royalties movies can levy for their use: Only offer the comments as an audio track. It just so happens that the audio commentary happens to sync with the DVD copy of the movie! In this way riffs can be added to movies that don’t necessarily make the MST3K “bad” list. Most of the riffs are on big-budget films, good and bad, such as the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, 300, The Matrix, and more. Though Nelson began riffing movies on his own, he is now frequently joined by MST3K colleague Kevin Murphy (“Tom Servo”) and later MST3K addition Bill Corbett (“Crow”, taking over in season 8 for Trace Beaulieu), as well as guests such as Fred Willard and Neil Patrick Harris. He’s also had MST3K alums Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Jones (now Bridget Nelson, as in Mrs. Mike Nelson). Rifftrax has been going great guns, and with a new, specialized Rifftrax player that automatically keeps comments and film in sync, it promises to be lots of fun for the future.
Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett have another riffing venture, a direct to DVD program called The Film Crew. This program is closer in spirit to the MST3K formula; The premise is that our three hosts, Mike, Kevin, and Bill, work for a video production company run by Bob Honcho (who is only heard, Charlie’s Angels-style, from a speakerphone). Mr. Honcho sends the Crew a bad movie that requires a commentary track, and our hosts add their jabs and comments to the feature. Like MST3K, there are short humor segments at the start, halfway through (“Lunch Break”) and at the end. The DVDs also contain additional skits as extras. I have picked up the first four episodes and, while not as rich as an MST3K episode with only these three writing, it feels closest to what the original show brought, and there are some very funny moments. I’m looking forward to more offerings from the Crew.
A newer program has been offered from almost all of the other writer/performers from the MST3K cannon. Creator Joel Hodgson has teamed with Trace Beaulieu (“Crow”), Mary Jo Pehl, Frank Conniff, and Josh Weinstein (the voice of Tom Servo and one of the mad scientists from the first season of MST3K) to present Cinematic Titanic, another riffing show that will be sold direct to DVD. Unlike the Film Crew videos, the cast is in silhouette against the movie, standing or sitting on platforms around the edges. They use the silhouette to create sight gags, much like some sight gags seen in MST3K, but much more versatile. Cinematic Titanic is offering their discs via online store, and will also offer them as downloadable movies. I am planning on getting their first offering to see if it is on par with the other offerings available.
Lastly we come to what has remained of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 franchise. The name and character likenesses (i.e. the Robots) are still the property of Best Brains, the original production company now run by producer Jim Mallon. The site has been relaunched, presenting short host segments from the series, and new animated shorts featuring Tom and Crow. The shorts are written by MST writer Paul Chaplin, and voiced by Chaplin (as Crow) and another voice actor. No movies.
Even though MST3K has ended, leaving a wealth of funny to view, I’m glad that the brains behind the series are still putting it to bad movies everywhere!