Friday, December 21, 2007

Checking In On the MST3K Renaissance

Our man Fred, who brought us the controversial MST3K Cash-In Race article, gives an update on the plans and projects of the segmented MST3K alumni...

Last time we checked in, the former cast and crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 had split into three distinct camps, each embarking on a new MST3K-related project in a phenomenon we're calling either "The Renaissance of 2007" or "MST3K: The Great Cash-In Race," depending on our mood. For a quick primer on the players, click here. To see what what our friends are up to now (and to see who the current frontrunner is), read on...

Team Joel
On December 6th, Joel and his posse (Coniff, Beaulieu, Pehl, Weinstein) debuted Cinematic Titanic as a live show for a closed audience at Lucasfilm headquarters. There were a few accounts of the night posted throughout the MST3K webworld, and while most of them were big sloppy wet fanboy kisses (OMG, JOEL IN PERSON!!!), it bodes relatively well for Team Joel that their first outing was a success, even a softball success. Even more encouraging are the production stills posted at One shows Trace Beaulieu examining a promisingly good-looking prop (revealed, in the caption, to be a "TimeTube"). Another shows an impressive green-screened soundstage with the new silhouette setup. While it's hard to make solid judgments based on these, they firmly put to rest any notion that Team Joel will be half-assing it.

Still, not all is baked goods in the Titanicville: the initial release date of XMas 07 has been pushed back, with no new date announced. Sez Joel: "...there will be slight delay on the delivery date...once we got this curious new show on its feet, and were finally able to see it manifest in the real world, we realized we wanted to have a bit more fun playing with some of the creative ideas that emerged in the process." Translation: they got trigger happy with the release date. So while things are looking pretty good (this uninspired Frank Coniff strike video nonwithstanding), the delay is going to cost Hodgson and Co. the holiday gift-giving rush, and further delays will mean they'll miss out on the current media interest in all things MST3K.

Team Mike
Midwestern Nice Guy(tm) that he is, Mike Nelson came out of the gate with cries of "the more the merrier," jokingly suggesting in an interview with MSNBC that the various MST3K camps establish professional wrestling-style rivalries to increase the audience. However, a close reading of the transcript reveals some minor discomfort, with Mike offering up the occasional "we got there first" statement ("the more people doing the RiffTrax thing, the better") and calling the new "cute." Note also his telling omission when referring to "the new [site] that Jim and my buddy Paul put up." Mike, is Jim not your buddy?!

But we kid Team Mike, which, despite the aw-shucksing, has been quite busy. A number of new Rifftrax have been posted, including one for the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, which coincidentally (or not?) was rumored to be Cinematic Titanic's first movie (it turned out to be 70's monster flick "Brain of Blood"). Mike and the Bots his RiffTrax friends Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy have also put together a holiday greeting video which is actually pretty funny until Murphy shows up and the whole thing takes a turn for the scatological. All of this is well and good, but the most significant developments have been two serious improvements to Rifftrax's content delivery scheme, which (aside from, let's face it, the occasionally mediocre writing) has always been its Achilles heel. First up is the free Rifftrax player, which will automatically synch up the film you're watching with its accompanying commentary track. Bravo! Now I won't have to sit there desperately fast-forwarding and rewinding to get that annoying toaster to synch up with Princess Amidala. Secondly, Rifftrax is teaming up with DivX to offer downloadable versions of the films that Legends owns, complete with pre-synched riffing (to entice fans to register, they're offering a free driver's ed short, "Signal 30"). In other words, despite all the doves and olive branches, Team Mike is streamlining its approach and battening its hatches. And in the midst of all this, someone has quietly added the tags "cinematic" and "titanic" to Rifftrax's YouTube previews.

Team Jim
Initially promising a new animated webisode posted every week, we're almost two months into the new and Team Jim has only delivered three (four if you count the short snippet of Crow/Servo dialogue posted on Thanksgiving). Hard to say exactly what's causing the delay, but fifty-foot waves of fan outrage can't be helping. While bringing original series writer Paul Chaplin on board to voice Crow was a good (if possibly cynical) decision and it hasn't hurt Mallon any, so far it hasn't shielded him from a healthy dose of messageboard ire (my favorite photoshopped piece of hate mail featured Mallon's face affixed to the Incredible Hulk's body). And while the generally tight-lipped Mallon doesn't seem like the type to bend to fan pressure, it's hard not to imagine that he and his minions are scrambling to come up with something to turn the tide. Perhaps the surest sign that this is the case: about two weeks into the new site, when the messageboard derision was reaching fever pitch, a poster claiming to be on Mallon's production team (his unfortunate psuedonym: "SHAD") took to the web to defend the new cartoons. He acknowledged the clumsiness of the site, avowed the team's Mistie cred, and generally offered promises that "If it doesn't get a heck of a lot funnier...we're out of here." Fair enough. I'll give them points for open communication and an obvious desire to improve the quality of the webisodes (not to mention the Space Mutiny-themed T-Shirt now sold in the store). But, as we all know, the path to Internet Webcomic Hell is paved with good intentions. And just in case you're wondering, the latest video sucks.

The Frontrunner: Team Mike!
Predictably, Team Jim has stumbled right out of the gate. Team Joel is showing good promise, but blowing its Xmas release date has cost it this lap. It's Mike's race to lose.

Special Prize: Satellite News. Revamping it's format and offering more regular updates, the unofficial (in name only) MST3K news clearinghouse has been on top of the '07 renaissance every step of the way. Despite the site's occasionally cloying "Guys! It's not a competition you guys!!!" appeal for peace, love and understanding, it's still the best thing going for Misties the world over. Kudos.

Honorable Mention: YouTube "Shreds" Videos

My vote for the most innovative internet adaptation of the MST3K concept.


Hunter said...

Have you seen the CT trailer? S'gonna win. S'GONNA WIN. Mark my everloving words. They are my horse.

cambridge said...

First of all it's not like its a race, there's plenty of fans to go around, and they could all end up helping each other get more people into the MST3Kverse.

But yeah, the titanic trailer is A+!!!

Sampo said...

Thanks for your positive comments. We live to serve! :-)

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