Cinematic Titanic Sinks Again! The Doomsday Machine

Update and bump: See the comments for more information on Rifftrax, which I may have misrepresented in my description. Conor from RT sets me straight.

So, I finally
got the DVD for the latest Cinematic Titanic experiment. I so wanted to go to the live show which was playing at the Ford Theater here, but the tickets sold out lightning fast. With any luck, the fact that they’re recording nearby will mean that they have more live shows in the area.

What’s especially cool about this one, delayed though it be, is the sense I got that the CT crew was actually listening to me. Well, not just me. (Hey, why not just me? I’m the god! I’M THE GOD!!!) But I suspect some others had similar complaints and they responded.

To wit: The show opens with the five cast members (Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu and Mary Jo Pehl) silhouetted, as before, but now with their picture underneath briefly as they speak. It’s a little thing, but it helps.

The sound mixing is awesome. That whole problem with MST3K, where you had to crank up your TV just to hear the movie and the riffing, then got blasted by a commercial–okay, you don’t get blasted on the MST3K DVDs, but there’s still a lot of noise–that’s just plain gone. I don’t know if I mentioned it last time, but this time was even clearer, if that’s possible.

And Mary Jo Pehl just comes alive on this feature. I was somewhat concerned on the first episode. She didn’t seem to have much riffing time. In this one, she scores more than a few good shots.

Finally, there’s a backstory of some sort. There was just a teaser for it this time, but it seems as though our five heroes have been snatched by future people (in the future!) and are watching bad movies to…uh…save the earth or the space-time continuum, or somesuch. This provides a pretty good setup for a “Thunderdome” joke–and, by the way, forced perspective works wonders when you’re dealing with silhouettes–and will, I think provide more opportunities for insanity in the future.

I mean, as fun as the movie riffing is, one of the problems that occurred during the original show is that the movies are so bad, you literally start hoping for some sort of break. And with no commercials, the only breaks here are when they stop the movie to discuss something.

That aspect, by the way, of stopping the movie to discuss things worked way better this time.

This movie was one of those movies. Not all of it. It starts out deliriously goofy. The opening scene is, I’m sure, from a completely different movie (a Japanese spy flick?), and then, about 10-15 minutes before where a good movie would have had its climax, it once again goes to a completely different movie.

What actually happened was that the movie was filmed in the late ‘60s, ran out of money, and then resumed shooting five years later, with none of the original actors. I’m not making this up. The movie just grinds to an absolute, merciless halt. The riffing is inspired, but it’s still hard to watch.

One of the all time greatest MST3K episodes was based on Manos: The Hands of Fate, which was similarly hard to watch. I had to see it several times before the pain stopped and I could learn to laugh–and love–again.

This kind of raises an issue I have maintained for years: That it’s equally easy (if not easier) to riff on good movies. Riffing on Citizen Kane, for example, would be hilarious. I think Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy, and some of the other MST3K guys do that on Rifftrax. (They’ve got Alien, 300 and The Sixth Sense, for example, up there.) I’ve never used Rifftrax because it seems too complicated and it’s got “digitial rights management” (DRM). Yeah, just what I need: A computer to tell me I don’t have the right to watch what I’ve just paid for.

Also, confronted with quality movies being riffed on suddenly doesn’t seem as interesting in practice as it sounded in theory. I don’t know why.

In any event, there’s the sheer joy of the low-budget film watching. The cardboard tombstones, the lizards being shoved into tiny models, or, in the case of this movie, the high-school gymnasium converted to serve as the inside of a very small spaceship. Said spaceship itself taking the form of five different models during the movie.

Rambling aside, this is a strong episode. It opens fast and funny, has some callbacks to familiar friends (“Don’t ever look at me!!”), works well with the new set (like Josh reacting to being “splashed” with water, or walking off the set to be replaced with a completely different actor), and just plain feels right. The real problem they’re going to have is keeping up with my expectations.

And CT assures me it won’t be four months till the next one, so, yeah: Life is sweet.

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