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Written by Rob Schultz (human).

#1,280: The Doomsday Machine

Lately, I thought I was going to Tennessee to edit a feature film, but I now know I'm not.  I thought a project involving video and internet-related gaming was done and gone, and it seems to have now resurfaced.  I thought digitizing tapes of guys welding wasn't any fun...and I was pretty much dead on with that one.  (I probably didn't write well in that 3-post barrage the other day, but birds getting clobbered out of nowhere still makes me chuckle.  Comes from the same place that finds people getting hit by a bus in a movie funny, no matter how scary or sad it's supposed to be.) -

There was a TV program, Mystery Science Theater 3000 - people making fun of old movies.  It inspired a community that I joined about seven years ago and have been grateful for almost continually ever since.  It also inspired its various creators and producers (lower case c and p) to keep on 'riffing' on movies long after the show was cancelled.  Rifftrax mainly involves the latter-day MST cast of Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, as well as a variety of other guests producing audio-only tracks that sync with modern movies.  Cinematic Titanic is a shadowramaful quinttet of Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, and TVs Frank Conniff, taking on more MST-traditional older films (which the rifftrax guys also tried, under the label The Film Crew.)

I remember the summer I wanted few things as much as I wanted to work at MST3K, or a show with a similar spirit - it did feel somewhat handmade, but also, filled with a creativity and resourcefulness...it was written to the height of the writer's intelligence, and almost any given episode I might watch today contains a reference that I might not have gotten a week or a month earlier.

When Rifftrax came on the scene, it was exciting stuff.  Finally, a full dose of what we'd only had a taste of in the little gold statue / summer blockbuster preview, washing over us like a horrific flood of Kaluhah, ravaging the streets of our Mexican border town. I enjoy most of 'em, but they're not quite the same.  Sometimes they take what seems to be the easy way out, with a barrage of gay jokes or obvious targets (Jar-Jar bad?   Okay.  Got it.)  At other times, the riffs seem a little bit meaner than they used to, picking on the people involved for reasons not related to the film at hand, maybe.  

Cinematic Titanic arrived apparently after RT proved there was more money to be made from the MST concept.  As Joel said to Wired, "...every (MST3K) DVD set we release sells better than the previous one. Since the supply of those original episodes is finite, we wanted to give our fans something new..."  A cynical mind might see this project as a knock off money grab by the guy who invented the original.  The distribution woes that have accompanied the initial two releases of the past six months have not helped.  Twice the company that they've turned to for distribution aid seems to have failed them, which should be unacceptable for a product produced by and sold on the name of professionals, given that most webcomics and your brother's friend who has that one band with the okay song on the third EP can operate an online store with Amazonian efficiency (such is the necessity to compete in our Modern World).

But, for all the speculating, I hadn't watched it myself.  Tonight, the CT crew did a live riffing of The Wasp Woman The Doomsday Machine, a barely comprehensible morality tale that shows the gruesome consequence of space rape.  And it was fun to see and hear the MST crew (Trace in particular) on stage after the opening act read us some haiku and wacky observational humor.  The show itself was about as good as an okay / fair episode of MST3K.  Like RT, some riffs seemed harsh - maybe this is because they're coming from actual people instead of characters and puppets?  It did seem like a lot of the lines that made the audience say "Ooooooo!" were put in the Mary Jo's mouth to take the edge off by having a girl say it.  Many of the biggest laughs came from the use of classical, well-worn, time-tested jokes.  Two or three Yakov Smirnoff references ("Space! What a country!"), two or three more MST-based lines ("This is like watching somebody watch 'Manos: The Hands of Fate!'"), the 'send in a replacement to watch the movie that makes a bunch of generic observations' bit ("What a jerk!  This movie's old!  Look at that guy!"), and so on.

In the end, even though I generally enjoyed the show, I was underwhelmed, but I don't know what I'd want different, exactly.  Some folks sitting around me absolutely loved it.   I'm sure I miss the host segments, and the riffs filtered through characters' personalities.  Maybe it's just the effect of trying to put the lightning back in the bottle that's left fans disappointed just about every other time a classic franchise is revived in some way.   I might need to spend some time with some classic MST to figure it out.

(Minor Edit - it turns out the bit about 1 reference that only now makes sense to me holds true - I would not have gotten the 'Blue Velvet' joke a week earlier.)