Saturday, June 06, 2009

Cinematic Titanic: The Story So Far

It occurs to me that I really haven't talked much about Cinematic Titanic, one of the two heirs to the legacy of the late great "Mystery Science Theater 3000", since I reviewed their debut release. This is somewhat unfair, because a) my initial review focused more on "things they could improve" than talking about the episode, and b) they've had six more DVDs out since then, and they deserve all the publicity they can get for them. (Yes, the eight people following my blog will no doubt be the source of tremendous additional revenue, assuming they don't just skim this and say, "Damn. Not a Storytelling Engines entry. Oh, well, maybe next week...")

So, here are my thoughts, in the form of quick capsule reviews, on how the series is doing with seven releases under its belt.

The Oozing Skull: Again, it's their first release, and you can see where there's room to improve, but this one holds up quite well on re-watching. 70s horror always seems to be a goldmine for movie riffing goodness, and this one is definitely 70s-riffic. ("Feel free to turn on the 8-track. That's 'Frampton Comes Alive'!" "Nehru's right! This stuff is really comfortable!")

Doomsday Machine: I still feel like this is probably their best movie to date, although "Legacy of Blood" comes in a close second. The movie is absolutely insane (I guarantee you, your jaw will drop in confusion when you get to the double-twist ending...the second twist came about because they ran out of money and had to fire all the actors...) the riffing is great ("Want some Ben and Jerry's? It's Nuclear Choco-caust!") and the sketches are terrific. I adore the one where Mary Jo is trying to discuss who should live and who should die in the event of apocalypse. (MJ: "Naturally, as a woman, I would be in the living group--" Frank: "You're going to have kids?" MJ: "Hell, no!" Frank: "Well, then, get back in line, sister!") And best of all, this one is where they start doing the pre-movie sketches. I've looked forward to every single one of these little skits, as the group discusses conditions in the bunker where they toil tirelessly to preserve bad movies for future generations, and I think they're a wonderful and welcome addition to the show.

The Wasp Woman: It's a Corman movie, so it drags a little, but there's one bit where Trace riffs over an extended montage that is worth the price of the DVD all by itself. I also never get tired of Joel's cute animal voice when the mad scientist is injecting the guinea pigs with his youth serum. ("I swear, it's like kissing God!") The line is funny, but it's Joel's delivery that makes it kill. This is, unfortunately, the point where they go down to two sketches an episode instead of three--I'm still hoping they'll get that number back up in future releases. (Plus, the sketches are a little weak, but I admire their self-awareness on that point. "And now, for one of the most beloved features on Cinematic Titanic--" "You don't read the Internet much, do you, Frank?")

Legacy of Blood: This one is also a 70s classic, featuring the late, legendary John Carradine as the patriarch of a dysfunctional family who come together for his funeral. Unsurprisingly, he's got a will conducive to murder ("Dad was watching a lot of Scooby-Doo before he died.") This one is an absolute riffer's paradise; plenty of bizarre dialogue, oddly-staged scenes, and goofy-looking characters ("Body by Charles Atlas. Head by Mel Brooks.") to make it absolutely soar. Even the lowered sketch count doesn't hurt it. Great, great stuff.

(I should also note that this was when I stopped getting the DVDs sent to me and went to their "download to burn" option, which lets you make the DVD yourself. I highly recommend this if you have a DVD burner and a Windows computer; the software is smooth and user-friendly, the whole thing takes just a few hours, and you wind up with a DVD that you can pop right into your DVD player and watch like normal. And you save about five bucks. As much as I like the case art on the first three releases, it's not really worth five dollars to me.)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: This one was a bit controversial, since they already did the movie on MST3K, but they do a good job with it (I showed a friend both versions, and he preferred the newer one.) They show the movie uncut, so you do get jokes on a few sequences that weren't in the MST3K edition ("If you haven't seen Dumbledore's cabaret act, you haven't lived.") And, of course, they use a prop version of the TARDIS in the sketch (cutting down the sketches yet further is unfortunate, though.) Oh, and the pre-movie sequence has a dynamite gag involving Trace's reaction on finding out what movie they're watching.

Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks: This is one of their weaker releases, to be honest; mostly it's because the movie is so badly-dubbed (it's originally Italian) that you can't get past the terrible voice work to the rest of the movie. The crew tries their best, and there are some good lines about the bad dubbing ("Now, let's go get a lozenge together!") but it's not their best.

Blood of the Vampires: But they rally magnificently with this Filipino vampire movie set in Mexico ("It's not a good sign when English is your movie's third language.") This one has more bad dubbing, but not distractingly bad, and it's also got bizarre vampire behavior, kinky relationships ("It's going to be awful hard to spice up the marriage a few years down the line when you start off with a Master/slave blood covenant.") and the eye-poppingly racist spectacle of actual actors in blackface...and this was made in the 70s, just to clarify. ("Back in the old days, everyone had an actual vaudeville actor sleeping at the foot of their bed!") Still low on sketches, but the riffing is great.

So of the seven releases, I'd say there are four excellent films ("Doomsday Machine", "Legacy of Blood", "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians", and "Blood of the Vampires"), two solid hits ("The Oozing Skull", "The Wasp Woman"), and one slight underperformer ("Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks".) All in all, a pretty good track record, even considering that these guys are all polished performers with a lot of work behind them. Oh, and direct download is definitely the way to go, if you have the equipment for it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for spreading the word!

Unknown said...

Damn...not a storytelling engines story. ;-)

But honestly, it was quite helpful - I didn't even know the MST3Kers were doing anything other than Rifftrax.