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By Shamus
on Thursday Jul 20, 2006
Filed under:


Via Lileks I learn that Mike Nelson, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame, has a new project out called Rifftrax. It’s a continuation of the MST3k theme, except that you have to provide the movie yourself. You rent whatever movie he’s riffing on, and watch the movie while you listen to his comments on your iPod.

Unlike in MST3k, he doesn’t need permission from the owners of the movie to do it, which means he can take on larger, more mainstream and big-budget films that would never give their consent to a MST3k-style airing.

This is brilliant. I’ve always thought that MST3k would be a good deal funnier if the movies they took on were more widely known. Some were so horrible that enduring them was too awful, even with the heckling to ease the pain. (Mannos, Hands of Fate comes to mind.) A lot of the humor comes from seeing the movie many times. MST3k was one of those shows that would get more funny from repeated viewings, because after a few times though the movie you would begin to see it the way they did and you would be in on the joke. I’d always wanted to see what they could do with a movie that everyone else has already memorized and internalized. The movie doesn’t have to be terrible for it to be fertile ground for derision.

Consider Star Wars:

  1. Is dated in its special effects, hairstyles, and ideas about technology.
  2. Is almost universally known.
  3. Often suffers from wooden dialog.
  4. Is fun and exciting to watch.
  5. Takes itself pretty seriously.

I think giving stuff like Star Wars, Close Encounters, E.T., and The Matrix the MST3k treatment would be more prone to humor than beating up on some horrible plotless b-movie nobody remembers.

Sadly, it looks like the rest of the cast isn’t in on this. This sort of humor works when you have a few people that can talk to each other. It’s a tough act for one guy to carry alone. It’ll be interesting to see if he can pull it off.

Comments (15)

  1. Dan says:

    OOOOO god, do you remember ‘The Day the Earth Froze”. or that terrible really old James Earl Jones flick with all the dirtbikes.

  2. Dan says:

    Actually The Day the Earth Froze was only hard to watch because it was so damn long. As far as the funny goes, that one was pretty on the whole wasy through.

  3. Shamus says:

    The JEJ movie was “City Limits”. Yes I remember. I was just reading the website I linked: It turns out most of the old episodes can never be shown again. The original owners of the movies want too much money, or are not willing to give permission, so the movies can’t be shown. I suppose this is another reason RiffTrax is a good idea. I can be produced for nearly nothing, and no rights are needed.

    I hope it pans out.

  4. Evil Otto says:

    Nelson has done a good solo job on a few DVD comment tracks. I just picked up the “Plan 9” DVD, and his commentary is pretty funny; it does make me miss MST3K all the more, though.

  5. Acksiom says:

    But seriously, folks — could they possibly strip the old MST3K audio tracks and just publish those, similarly? Sell them as just downloadable audio files of the crew *without* the films attached, and let people acquire the old films on their own?

    I could see myself dropping quite a lot of money on that proposition.

  6. Evil Otto says:

    For that matter, could the Best Brains do a direct-to-DVD MST3K? The show was never expensive to produce… get rights to old bad movie, create new MST version of it, release on DVD. They’d definitely make money on it.

  7. i remember that one part where he said "i like pants". says:

    omg! i cant remember how to spell does, and also its sir nelson now hes a knight now!

  8. Mark says:

    Interesting. I never heard of this download a commentary and then watch the movie with the commentary thing until this entry, but now I see that Kevin Smith is releasing a commentary for Clerks II… at the same time as the movie. I guess the hope is that people will watch the movie once, then download the commentary and watch the movie again while listening to the commentary on your iPod. Normally I’d think this was stupid, but Kevin Smith’s DVD commentaries are far and above, the best I’ve ever heard… still, I don’t think I’ll be seeing the movie a second time in the theater…

  9. i remember that one part where he said "i like pants". says:

    than your a commie. how is hollywood going to survive, and podcasts in theaters, i smell passion of the christ:directors cut. what mel gibson forgot to say before tom arnold was cast as jesus.

  10. Acksiom says:

    Well, you know, not to toot my own horn, but, I had that idea about individualist ‘podcast commentary tracks’ about, oh, I don’t know, three months ago?, after watching Roger Ebert’s DVD commentary track on Dark City, and thinking, Yeah, great stuff about Visual German Film History, Robert, but, y’know, whatabout those of us who are more aligned towards imagery in service to PLOT STRUCTURE instead, like, you know, Joseph Campbell, to use a Name that most will recognize but with whom I don’t actually AGREE all that much, like, for example, the *parenting* metaphors of ‘Frankenstein’ as distinct from the usual lit-crit categorization as “Things Man Was Not Meant To Know”. . .um. . .

    . . .rum & coke! Yeah!

  11. Commentaries…

    Via Twenty Sided (by way of Lileks): Mike Nelson, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame, has a new project out……

  12. Wonderduck says:

    “The original owners of the movies want too much money…”

    And why is that? Because MST3K made them FAMOUS! Who had ever heard of ‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’, or ‘Werewolf’ or ‘The Sidehackers’ or…

    If it hadn’t’ve been for The Guys, these piles of celluloid crud would have been completely and totally forgotten (and rightfully so, in most cases).

    For an idea of what MST3K would be like with new films, check out the “1998 Academy of Robots Choice Awards Special” or the “1998 Summer Blockbuster Review.” They used the promo tapes, so each movie gets something like 3 minutes of riffs. Well worth the hunt.

  13. Buck_Flicks says:

    Mike has recruited Kevin and Bill to join him. Also, Chad Vader joins them for at least two of the Star Wars movies, which gives us interesting insight by the lesser Vader brother.

One Trackback

  1. By Kaedrin Weblog on Sunday Jul 23, 2006 at 9:31 pm


    Via Twenty Sided (by way of Lileks): Mike Nelson, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame, has a new project out……

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