NEW ON DVD
COURTESY SHOUT! FACTORY
What the heck are we looking at now? From the ashes of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" comes "The Film Crew," a DVD series featuring those same smart-mouthed guys fans have come to love. Prepared for their latest mission are, from left, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Michael Nelson.
Still slinging mud at the screen
The "Mystery Science Theater 3000" guys come back with a vengeance on DVD
It seems not that long ago "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was canceled, to our great distraughtedness. What a great concept -- wise guys talking back to the screen while the worst movies of all time unreeled. Terrible in a theater, hilarious in your home.
"The Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark and Killers from Space"
But, after 11 years and just under 200 episodes, the SciFi Channel pulled the plug in 1999. Sc-Fi now shows pro wrestling, and you can't even see reruns of "MST3K," since the original rights to use the old movies weren't renewed.
Revival house Rhino is renegotiating these film rights and re-releasing the show in limited-edition DVDs. And so, while the makers of the bad movies are still earning money off their creations, the very funny writers and performers of the series that revived them aren't making a dime off those DVDs. It's a business thing, and not so funny.
It's not like bad movies aren't still being made. And bad TV shows. The "Misties" targeted obscure, old movies because, frankly, it was all they could afford to air. You think Kevin Costner is going to hand over "Waterworld" to be chewed up by a couple of puppet robots? "Transformers"? "Apocalypto"? "Pirates of the Caribbean"? "Kangaroo Jack"? The fields are ripe with fat targets.
The MST3K concept languished over the last eight years. But in the meantime, technology has gotten more clever and more personal. Two things in particular are going to figure here: the ubiquity of downloadable sound via MP3 and iPod, and the craze for audio commentary on commercial DVDs.
Michael J. Nelson, the fresh-faced Midwest writer who replaced the hilariously über-ennuied Joel Hodgson on the second half of MST3K's run, bounced back a couple of years ago with a concept he calls RiffTrax. Basically, it's an audio commentary done up in snarky humor that goes with the big targets, and they get around the film-use rights by ignoring them. All you're purchasing is the audio.
Download the MP3 file to your iPod or player, sync it to a commercial DVD of the film, and it's an MST3K time loop all over again. You can do both if your computer plays DVDs. And the targets this time are Jabba-sized: "Star Wars Episode One -- The Phantom Menace." The pilot episode of "Lost." "Lord of the Rings." Several episodes of "Gray's Anatomy." "Star Trek: Generations." "Glitter." "300." Dozens more.
Why major, first-run films? So you'll be able to rent the DVD. Try finding a copy of those movies they used to shred on the TV version of MST3K.
RiffTrax works well, particularly if you're a geek used to juggling tech (which describes two-thirds of MST3K's core demo), but frankly, sometimes you just wanna sit back and let the technology do all the work. Which brings us to the long-delayed point of this story -- "The Film Crew," which is sort of "Mystery Science Theater 3000 2007."
THEY'RE BACK pretty much. Mike Nelson, and the voices of Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, respectively. As the Film Crew, the trio are still slinging mud at the screen, except that this time, they're doing it under their own names. The three of them have occasionally hosted segments on Starz and other cable outlets; this is their first direct-to-DVD product.
The set-up is that Hollywood is so desperate to add bonus audio commentary to DVDs of old films that these three guys do it as their workaday jobs. They seem to operate out of a basement shop, wear blue-collar Dickies and air-traffic-control headsets, and take a union-mandated lunch break in the middle of the film. This allows for some non-audio comedy and provides a framing device. All that's missing from the MST3K days is the Satellite of Love segments and the silhouettes down in front.
The "Film Crew" is produced by Shout! Factory -- not Rhino -- and their first four DVDs are a trial run. And a trial to watch, I imagine: "Hollywood After Dark," a bank-robbery/stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold smellodrama starring a somewhat younger Rue "Golden Girls" McClanahan (did she always look middle-aged?); "Killers from Space," an endless cheese spread featuring Peter Graves as a scientist running away from rear-projected lizards and "aliens" with ping-pong balls for eyes; "Wild Women of Wongo" (out Sept. 11), a cave-lady soap opera that inspired the '80s rock band The Tubes, and "The Giant of Marathon" (Oct. 9) a sword-and-sandal epic in which Steve Reeves lubes himself up like a buttered turkey.
We watched the first couple and laughed our butts off. OK, the jokes aren't as thickly clustered as the MST3K glory days, but the Crew has been together a long time and their timing is impeccable and their pop-culture references awesome. Also, because this isn't on broadcast TV, the material is slightly edgier and the source material slightly more adult. That is, if you can call the cringeworthy visual effect of Rue McClanahan shaking her booty more "adult." In that case, leave me in the jokey haze of adolescent humor that was MST3K. Those were the days, and they're back again.
The source films haven't been cleaned up for DVD -- scratches and dirt abound -- but I guess that's part of the charm. The price is a little stiff at the MSRP of $19.95, so wait for the collected edition, if you can.
It's been a long dry spell. Do you think they could riff a presidential news conference?