Report from Cinematic Titanic

There may not be robots, but there were silhouettes riffing in front of a big screen — the main difference, though, is that the silhouettes were cast by people sitting in front of us and not chroma-keyed onto some old movie.

I’m talking about Cinematic Titanic, a reunion of the original castmembers from Mystery Science Theater 3000. This new endeavor will be available for all to enjoy soon at cinematictitanic.com, but the world premiere was a live treat to employees of Lucasfilm (and select guests), held at the Lucasfilm campus (Letterman Digital Arts Center) in the Presidio, San Francisco. The stars of Cinematic Titanic: Joel Hodgson (Joel Robinson), J. Elvis Weinstein (the original Tom Servo), Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Forrester, Crow T. Robot), Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester) and Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank). The movie, a misguided endeavor called Brain of Blood.

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The gah-roovy poster, sporting some autographs.

What really made this true to form is that Cinematic Titanic celebrates the kind of schlocky cast-aways from years past — things like Manos: The Hands of Fate or Red Zone Cuba — and not easy targets from the current pop culture landscape. This preserved the late night TV vibe that made MST3K such a watchable guilty pleasure. The writing chops of the Titanic crew have not dulled, with fantastic riffs spread across five people rather than three; it made for a lot of laughs. In the old MST3K, often my favorite jokes would be when Joel and the bots would suddenly burst into song. Cinematic Titanic has a few of these musical gems as well. Brain of Blood is rich subject matter, offering a misshapen ogre, a mad scientist and his dwarf assistant, babes chained in dungeons, brain transference, and the most overwraught car death scene you’re gonna find.

The biggest challenge during the show was keeping my fool mouth shut. Let me explain — this show was made possible by Flecks, a group of riff-loving bad-moviephiles that started at ILM about eight years ago. Every month, we get together to collectively joke about a bad movie. It’s such that, whenever I’m in a theater with a fellow Fleckser, we have to say to each other, “remember, this isn’t Flecks.” And it occurred to me is the reason we feel compelled to add our own audio commentary is because we’re aspiring to be as funny as the people who were entertaining us tonight. Joel and team basically created a generation of wiseacres who seek out bad movies as entertainment, and for that, they have my thanks.

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The man responsible, Joel Hodgson

Exactly how the experience will be as a product to buy or download, I can’t say — but if the live show is any indication, then fans of MST3K are really in for a genuine treat that brings back the classic laughs and energy from the height of the show. I hadn’t realized how much I missed these riffs — particularly Joel and Trace — since the former’s sleepy delivery and the latter’s nasally-voiced barbs really complement each other well; it’s like music. Afterwards, I was part of a lucky bunch that got to rub elbows, or shoulders, or other socially acceptable rubbables over wine, beer, cheese and goodies.

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Me and Mary Jo. That would make me Bobo to her Pearl, I guess.

To read more about Cinematic Titanic, click here for an interview I did with Joel last month. And make sure to visit the Cinematic Titanic website here.

Special thanks to Bonnie Burton for the photos, and especially to Tom Martinek, Alex Suter and Jennifer Suter of ILM for making this hilarious evening possible.

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24 Responses to Report from Cinematic Titanic

  1. Corey says:

    Sounds…alright…But I am guessing the RiffTrax of the Star Wars Holiday Special will blow it out of the water.

    And Mary Jo riffing on Glitter…YES!!!!!!!!

  2. bonniegrrl says:

    If y’all want to see the rest of the photos I took of the small gathering afterwards that Pablo speaks fondly of, you can see them here:
    http://flickr.com/photos/bonniegrrl/sets/72157603405589507/

  3. Sharpy says:

    Most confusing article ever! I guess you had to be there…

  4. ern2150 says:

    Yeah, I always knew from Mary Jo’s writing and occasional interviews that she was hilarious, but Pearl had always dampened that.
    Hearing her riff on Glitter was confirmation of something I’d always suspected — her natural voice and timing is as brilliant as her writing.
    Can’t wait for Monday!

  5. [...] Report from Cinematic Titanic There may not be robots, but there were silhouettes riffing in front of a big screen — the main difference, […] [...]

  6. Richard Aches says:

    Myself inquires the bard be hatin. How many “subtle” shots can one hack drop in a single article. First, explain what exacly is “easy” about the current generation of movies compared to movies of “years past”? Second, as a reminder, during the “height of the show” Mike Nelson was the head writer. Third, the creator of the majority of the music heard on MST was also created by Mike Nelson. Finally, no one gives a crap about your most certainly hideous “Flecksers”.

    Thank you, won’t you.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Ha ha… Joel couldn’t hack it elsewhere. He’s come back to his “roots” to pay off the rent. I guess he’ll be signing autographs at RV conventions after all.

    All the MST3K crew should just admit what I’ve known since it went off the air – They can’t do anything else (read: Can’t get famous doing anything else, I’m sure they can work the deep-fryer at a fast food restaurant perfectly fine) so they might as well get back together for more MST3K. Don’t be ashamed; William Shatner & Adam West have made whole 2nd careers out of spoofing their 15 minutes of fame.

    So, why not just merge RiffTrax, Cinematic Whatever & just head on back to MST3K for more riffing.

  8. Alex Suter says:

    I gotta agree with Richard. Flecksers are pretty hideous. Have you ever smelled Tom after
    two hours of Mansquito? Bleck!

  9. Mxyzptlk says:

    Wow, some catty people responding to this. Personally I’ve enjoyed both Rifftrax & Film Crew, and can’t wait for the first Cinematic Titanic release. Still not the quite same as it was with Joel/Mike & the bots stranded in space of course. Good to hear CT is still in great riffing shape!

  10. Pabawan says:

    Some scientists believe it is possible to prefer one flavor of ice cream, and yet not hate the others. Not on the internet, of course. No. Just in a theoretical model they’ve described as “offline.”

  11. Philip Frey says:

    Fascinating to see that the negative people have to hide behind pseudonyms and “anonymous” posts. Hard to believe their nonsense has much conviction behind it if they don’t have the guts to put their name on it.

    I, for one, am looking forward to CT. I am not terribly interested in Rifftrax for the same reason I don’t buy .mp3s: I like a product I can get my hands on. (And I, for one, agree that the preponderance of actual hit movies dilutes it as well.) On the other hand, I have enjoyed the one “Film Crew” DVD that I have bought (“Giant of Marathon”) and look forward to more. They come close to re-creating the MST3K vibe.

    CT, on the other hand, I expect will be a different take on riffing, since I can’t see Joel doing it just the same way again. (Could be wrong, of course. And as long as it’s funny, I won’t care if it’s not as innovatinve as I expect.)

    Oh, and cool poster!

  12. C. Roelfsema-Hummel says:

    It occurs to me as someone who knows nothing about it (at least I admit it) that trying to quantify or assign credit for MST 3K is kind of like trying to dissect the Beatles as a group. (Well, not nothing. I watched the show from the beginning on the Comedy Channel and have seen almost all the episodes in various formats since then, but I’m not privy to the dicey internal politics alluded to in this blog). OK, back to the Beatles parallel–there wouldn’t have been a band without all of them (OK, maybe not Ringo) and together they did some brilliant work. There would have been no MST 3K without Joel Hodgson and it may not have been as funny without Mike Nelson–it couldn’t have been as brilliant as it was over the course of 10 seasons without MANY talented people. I don’t see it as a weakness to go back to what you are best at or a defeat to do something you love. It would be great to see EVERYBODY back together, but like the Beatles, a final reunion seems unlikely. Members can go on to have great careers working together or apart and still do good work. As to who is Yoko Ono in this or who is doing John Lennon vs. Paul McCartney and Wings level work, I leave up to you (now I supposed I’ve ticked off the Beatles and MST 3K fan).

  13. C. Roelfsema-Hummel says:

    (P.S.–Yes I know two of the Beatles are dead, I just meant the calls for a reunion between the group’s breakup in 1970 and Lennon’s death in 1980).

  14. Christopher says:

    I love MST. Mike is funny. Joel is funny. But I have missed the skits/characters and even the sillhouettes when I’ve tried Mike’s Rifftrax so I am thrilled Joel and company are coming up with a new concept that involves actually writing a complete “show” rather than making an mp3 file. As to all this hating going on here, it seems sad. I wish some people would remember it’s just a show, etc., etc. and RELAX! PS–Mike AND Joel are both funnier than the Beatles. :-P

  15. Philip Frey says:

    “PS-Mike AND Joel are both funnier than the Beatles.”

    Have you *seen* “Magical Mystery Tour”? Unintentional hilarity abounds!

  16. Christopher says:

    Not yet. I have seen Hard Day’s Night, though…

  17. Yep says:

    Just repeat to yourself, “It’s just a show, I should really just relax”

  18. GoFigure says:

    As an original viewer of the show (from the Comedy Central days) and an avid collector of the episodes (a complete collection minus the missing first three) I have watched all my episodes many times, and every time I view one of them, I am impressed over again with the comic genius of everyone involved in the show. Welcome back guys. You know we’re the ones who really love you. The rest of the world couldn’t care less, which is actually an advantage.

  19. Drew says:

    since I was 12 (28 now) I have been an MST fan-atic, I along with real MST fans have been craving for more riffing MST type since the shows end. RIfftrax is cool enough, but
    I am glad to see a more traditional approach. Lets face it Joel, trace, Josh etc made the show, and Mike added to it. I say HI-Keeba!! and welcome back to Joel and the rest of the group. I for one will be one of the first people to support, pay for, and watch Cinema Titanic

    !!!!!
    BITE ME ITS FUN!

  20. Drew says:

    also, a hint for rifftrax listeners, Print out (and cut out ) a black foreground with Joel and the bots. Works better for me.

  21. Great article, Pablo. Makes me really wish I could catch them live. Bonnie’s candid pics are very cool, as always. MST has been very missed and it’s great to see (most) of the crew having fun again.

  22. BathTub says:

    The ‘cattiness’ is presumably simply from the dig at rifftrax, mind you since they’ve done 4 star wars related trax now I guess is to be expected. CT probably wouldn’t be able to afford to license Star Wars with their method.

  23. [...] but I don’t know if that’s how it’s always going to go. They’ve done a live launch show at Lucasfilm, and are promising that show and others will soon be available for [...]

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