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