Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Not Too Distant Future is Now

One of my earlier nerdy obsessions was Mystery Science Theater 3000 where they took some pretty awful old movies and added their own joking commentary over it. The series ran for ten seasons and covered the worst of the worst but due to movie rights and length of episodes it wasn't easy to maintain reruns or fit it into a schedule. Even a reprieve by switching networks couldn't overcome the difficulty of the format so despite its popularity you won't find it in reruns and even the DVD releases are sporatic and based mainly on which movies they can get the rights to distribute.

A year ago Mike Nelson, the head writer and star of half of the episodes, revived the format through Rifftrax. He produced commentary tracks for movies which the viewer could run concurrently with their own movie. Without the restrictions of movie rights he was free to use any movie he wanted: Battlefield Earth, Daredevil, and the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy have been subjects. He's even wrangled much of the cast of the show to join him at various points. Rifftrax lacks the characters that Mystery Science Theater had but it does have the humor and the guys are just as sharp as ever.

You do have to get the movie DVD and purchase the Rifftrax separately and it does require that you have some method for playing MP3's in the same room as your television. The first time you do it getting it right can be tricky though as you view more it does get easier. I think the effort is worth it and they have done many popular films that are likely to be in the average person's collection to get people interested (The Fellowship of the Ring, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and this week's release of Spider-Man).

So what have they done? Let me hit the high points:

Roadhouse - The start for Rifftrax was a movie that Nelson had waited a long, long time to do and the quality shines through. He must have had years of jokes stored up for this. My personal favorite is his hilariously recap over the end credits of what each cast member's life was like after the movie.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - William Shatner's directing debut was infamous for being the worst Star Trek could get. These days the last few movies give it a good fight for that title, but a chain of Star Trek venting started with it and Mike Nelson welcomed Kevin Murphy (the voice of Tom Servo) and Murphy goes on to be the most common riffing partner.

Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace - If you, like all right thinking people, hated Star Wars prequels then your ship has come in. All three of the prequels have been done and at this moment you can even get all three at the same time for a slight discount.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - This was my first and I love it to death but I can't recommend it as the first Rifftrax to listen to. Because of the movie length the recording is split in half and it is difficult to synchronize. Also you must have the theatrical release of the movie, not the extended edition and that confusion has led to a bad experience for many first timers. Try something else first.

Troll 2 - If you're an old Mystery Science Theater fan looking for much of the same experience then this is the Rifftrax for you. Troll 2 is put forward by many people as the worst movie ever made; I've seen many worse but it is a stinker of epic proportions. This is the kind of movie that could have easily been on the old show and it's treated just as well with Rifftrax.

The Wicker Man - I'm only bringing up this Rifftrax of the Nicholas Cage remake of one of the greatest horror films of all time to both recommend it since it is particularly awful and beg you to watch the original before you see this. You owe it to yourself to see the original one with no knowledge going in and your rage about the Cage version will help you enjoy the Rifftrax even more.

Lost: Pilot Episode - The format has even been expanded to include the first few episodes of television series. So far only Lost, Grey's Anatomy, and Heroes have been done. Personally I don't like these as much since I like to own the DVD's for the source material for the Rifftrax and television shows makes that a bit expensive.

Glitter - It's not all rubber monster and laser battles. This movie is 22 on the IMDB's bottom 100 list and earned its spot (it has been lower... higher... well let's just say closer to the bottom in the past). Stretching the format a bit really worked and you can't go wrong making fun of people with dead singing careers.

300 - This Rifftrax was available on the same day as the DVD release so now movies can be riffed of day and date with their release rather than thirty years on like on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Isn't progress grand?