Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cinematic Titanic Sinks The Oozing Skull

Well, it finally arrived. And...? And...?

Well, it's been 20 years about since the Satellite of Love launched. Our beloved crew is older, wiser, and technology has moved forward a lot in 20 years.

Can you go home again?

Well, Cinematic Titanic is like going home and finding things better than you remember them.

Don't get me wrong: Episode 1 is not perfect, and we all missed the campy set up and in-between sketches that were standard on MST3K. Also, it feels like a first episode in some ways, like the cast hasn't got their rhythms down perfectly yet.

But in terms of riffs-per-minute? Sheer comic gold. About as good as anything MST3K ever did.

So, how does it work? The five principals (Joel, Trace, Frank, Mary Jo and Josh) sit along the edges of the screen and riff. The resolution is such that you can actually make them out better than Tom and Crow from the original series (but we do miss the puppets). Sometimes Trace will use the Crow voice and it's sort of bittersweet.

With five people there is a different dynamic, and there's a lot to be explored there. This first episode, besides being funny in itself, promises greater things.

To spice things up a bit further, there are guest appearances (Stephen Hawkings in this episode), and they stop the movie from time-to-time. There's a scene in this one where a character has acid poured on his face, and Joel stops it to ask if it's really necessary. The gentleness of Joel's character made a great foil on MST3K and it still works here, as the others scold him for stopping the movie. (You don't really see anything as far as acid being poured on anyone's face, by the way. The whole show is pretty family friendly.)

At another point Trace stops the film on a close-up of Regina Carroll so he can fix her makeup, after which Frank quips something like "If that doesn't get us on Bravo, nothing will."

Oozing Skull itself is a fairly standard "let's transplant someone's brain so they'll live forever" plot. In this case "someone" is the beloved dictator of a middle (far?) eastern country ("Postcardia!" as Trace riffs when a picture of a Taj Mahal type building is shown). But it's a sort of no-holds barred '70s version of the story that includes a mad scientist, an evil dictator, a platinum blonde bimbette (the director's wife, no less), a disfigured giant, a dwarf, a dungeon, a lab, and graphic-ish brain surgery! There's also two romantic sub-plots, betrayals abound, and the mad scientist has a pain-ray-gun.

It's a myth that only the worst movies can be riffed on. (I have a dream of seeing the crew do Citizen Kane.) The movies must attempt a plot, have the right amount of dialog, and if they have no action at all, they can still be hard to watch, riffing or no. Skull is particularly rich in plot and action, just a little confused and more than a little hampered by a low budget.

This makes it a perfect movie for riffing, and riff they do. It's definitely a multiple-watcher.

If I had but one request, one dream come true, it would be this: Stay clear of the political humor guys. There are a couple of instances where Frank riffs on Bush and, really, it's not good. Yeah, I'm sure it gets applause when you do it live. But it's "clap humor", not real humor, and I'd rather have a dozen more references to Ray Stevens and Ginger Baker.

For $16 (including shipping and handling, with luck to be dropped to $13 for download-and-burn once they work out that out), you could do a lot worse for a night's entertainment.


  1. I just got the DVD this week. When I heard about this project, it renewed my interest in all things MST3K and I came across the four “Film Crew” DVDs that Mike, Bill, and Kevin made before going on to RiffTrax. So I got those as well. I’ve only gotten one RiffTrax so far (I got “Fifth Element” when it came out, which was one of their first releases).

    Comparing Cinematic Titanic to Film Crew / RiffTrax… to me the jokes on Film Crew were more natural, and they felt more integrated with the film. With Cinematic Titanic, the jokes are really on top of the film.

    But this is their first release… and if anything, I learned from many episodes of MST3K that the film they choose as source material matters a LOT in the quality of the jokes and end product. Some MST3K episodes I can re-watch over and over, and others I just can’t watch more than 5 minutes of, before I start to feel like shooting myself because the film is just not salvageable with any amount of jokes.

  2. RiffTrax is targeting A-list movies and using guest stars which is interesting.

    I found myself put off by the separateness of the product; I don't want to watch it on my computer and I don't want to have to synch it with a DVD player. Yech.

    Mike sometimes puts me off a bit, too, though I'm not a Mike-hater/Joel-booster.

    I don't mind if the jokes are "on top" at all. There's only so much you can do before it's like, "Yeah, yeah, there's another plot hole."

    It is interesting, though, how they all had different talents and brought those talents to the show. I hope they get Mike and Kevin to guest on CT.

    When I first saw the show I thought the interstitials were dumb, but as time wore on, they grew on me, sometimes being the best part of the show.

    And now that they're not doing them at all, I miss them!


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