When I first heard about RiffTrax, I was skeptical. I loved Mystery Science Theater 3000, and of course always wished they could tackle well-known, contemporary movies. But could it really be that easy to recapture the magic? The MST3K Summer Blockbuster Reviews and Oscar special were fun as novelties, but never as funny as actual episodes. The appeal of MST3K was not only in the commentary, but in the discovery of movies so appallingly, bafflingly bad that they were lost to the sands of time. Movies like Manos or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians have an extra layer of strangeness to appreciate. Where did these come from? Did anyone ever watch them? There's an extra layer of bizarre appreciation that you don't get when tackling a deserving yet over-familiar target like Top Gun.
My other concern was that Mike Nelson was tackling the RiffTrax singlehandedly, and I felt that the dynamic of buddies riffing on a movie together was essential to the MST3K tone. As funny as Mike is, I worried that one guy cracking jokes on a movie would feel lonely and effortful instead of casual and loose.
Finally, synching a DVD with an mp3 seemed like it might detract from the enjoyment simply by being too much trouble.
But since then, Mike has brought on fellow MST3K alums Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett as guest riffers. I've heard a lot of good things, so last night we had Mike and Crystal over and put on the RiffTrax for the tired Harrison Ford vehicle/cry-for-help Firewall. It was awesome.
Kevin "Tom Servo" Murphy joins Mike Nelson on this one, so there's a true MST3K feel, and the movie was amazingly boring and perfect for the RiffTrax treatment. They're hilariously merciless with Harrison Ford. No matter how many times they pile on about how old and tired and miscast he is, it never wears out, because he just deserves it so much.
Afterwards we checked out the special features, in which the first-time produced screenwriter pretentiously explains that this generic, unthrilling story of home invasion, kidnapping, and computerized bank robbery was inspired by--what else?--September 11. In another featurette, the insufferable Harrison Ford and an obviously annoyed director laugh about how "the script had problems" before going on to glare at each other with thinly veiled hate. Harrison Ford talks about how he does his own stunts as much as possible, because it allows the audience to be more emotionally engaged in the boring fight at the climax of this uninspired movie. He insists that it's not stunt work but "physical acting." He also discusses how important it was to reshoot scenes in which Mary Lynn Rajskub drove a car instead of him. The director reveals there is still one shot in the movie where Mary Lynn Rajskub was driving, and Harrison Ford tries in vain to disguise how much this enrages him.
Except for one DVD chapter that was scratched, the synching was pretty painless too. Now, finally, I'm psyched about RiffTrax and eager to check out some others. Maybe even the ones where Mike flies solo.