Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why Rifftrax Will Save Us All

How the MST3K team is bringing comedy back

When it comes to getting to know a new person, an easy way to see what kind of person they are is to see what type of humor that person is adept to. A simple way to see what kind of comedy a person is into can be established on asking a few basic questions.

Something like "Who's your favorite Comedian?" is an easy way to judge someone's standing on offensive material or sensibilities in everyday life and can make chat on other topics easy to work around.

One thing I like to ask people is "Ever heard of Mystery Science Theater 3000?"

If you've never heard of MST3K, then I would be the kind of person to ask you to correct this, as I felt as if it was a landmark success on what could be achieved with a little know how and a very, very small budget.

The shows format was very simple, yet amazingly original. Starting out in a small television station in the middle of Minnesota, all the creators of the show would do is take old movies that the station was licensed to show on the station anyway, but make fun of the movie while it was playing.

The silhouette of the riffers can be seen as they comment on the film in MST3K

Quickly gaining a cult following in 1988, the show was soon picked up by The Comedy Channel, then Comedy Central, and finally the Sci-Fi Channel before it's cancellation in 1999. About half-way through the shows history, the original creator Joel Hodgson left the show, leaving the main character spot open. Mike Nelson, head writer at the time, filled in for Joel and stared in his place through out the remainder of the series.

After the series conclusion Mike, Kevin Murphy (who played Tom Servo on MST3K), and Bill Corbett (who played Crow T. Robot on MST3K) started doing a small series called The Film Crew, which had a similar set-up that MST3K had.

After the short run of Film Crew titles, some of us faithful fans had near given up hope that something bigger and better than both Mystery Science Theater and The Film Crew would come along...

That's when the RiffTrax uprising happened. Started with the same partnering the had from The Film Crew with "Legend Films", Mike Nelson started doing a slew of solo riffs on film's that were not typical of the old fashion. The Fifth Element? xXx? Were they actually riffing... NEW MOVIES?!?

Indeed they were. The way RiffTrax works is a simple yet amazing formula. They don't sell you the full movie, they sell you the riffs for movies you already own! Not only did riffs come in the form of "Planet 9 from Outer Space" or "Reefer Madness", but also came in the form of "The Dark Knight" and "Twilight". It was, and still is, an amazing thing to see, hear, and experience.

Mike Nelson did quite a few of these riffs on his own, but as it became more and more popular, the demand for Kevin and Bill to return grew with it, and with their return came an out pour of MST3K fan's rushing to buy the riffs for their movie collections. Suddenly that old copy of Jaws could be enjoyed with a new outlook. Harry Potter movies could be tolerated by people who hate Harry Potter thanks to RiffTrax!

Where as fan's were giving them support, so were fan's of a higher stage. Guest riffers would join them and aid them in tearing movies to bits. "Weird Al" Yankovic (Jurassic Park), Joel McHale (Red Dawn), Fred Willard (Missile to the Moon), and Neil Patrick Harris (Willy Wonka) just to name a few.

Besides riffing movies you own on DVD, RiffTrax also does Shorts. Small public service videos, educational programs, and other public domain tidbits that have been tucked away by the folds of time, brought back out into the daylight thanks to the RiffTrax team.

With the popular rise of RiffTrax, then came RiffTrax Live!, a series of theater events in which Mike, Kevin and Bill would get together in front of a live audience and beam the resulting show into hundreds of theaters nationwide in a large, live riffing spectacle! I've been lucky enough to attend each of their live shows, and every time I walked away more and more impressed at the effort and talents from the RiffTrax team.

I own a small collection of their live shows, shorts, riffs, as well as many of their downloaded riffs and shorts. You can see what they have to offer, and how the service works by going to the site:

My RiffTrax DVD collection

I never though it could get better than Mystery Science Theater 3000. Now I'm glad I was wrong.

- Darris Pratt

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