It's been nearly two years since the launch of RiffTrax, the licensing-free way to turn any Hollywood blockbuster, good or bad, into a comedy. RiffTrax is the brainchild of Mike Nelson, former host and head writer of the cult TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which aired for ten seasons. After that run, his idea was to use the Internet as his vehicle to continue selling his unique brand of mockery. How did that work out for him?
Very well, apparently, as RiffTrax has since expanded into a veritable empire of satire. There are now so many people and products under the RiffTrax umbrella, it's hard to keep up with them all. So, for those who are new to the scene or perhaps haven't been paying close attention, I offer this rundown of all RiffTrax has to offer:
RiffTrax: The mainstay of the service — audio commentary MP3s that you play along with your DVD, producing a MST3K-like experience — continues to relentlessly assault the best and worst of Hollywood. I have 30 of their 70+ recordings, and oddly, I've found that the better the film, the better the RiffTrax. For example, Transformers was such a miserable standalone experience that even RiffTrax's satire couldn't save it. But favorites have included The Sixth Sense — laughing at such a serious and macabre film was a truly odd experience — Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and Spider-Man 3. That third film I watched with someone who had never seen the film before. I asked him if RiffTrax distracted him from the core plot; he offered, "I highly recommend watching a movie you've never seen with the RiffTrax commentary. It's surprisingly easy to tune the voices out when you want to hear the movie. And the riffers do a fairly good job of not speaking over the more important dialogue."
RiffTrax Presents: As mentioned, RiffTrax was founded by former MST3K host Michael J. Nelson, who eventually added his former co-hosts Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett to the RiffTrax cast. For some reason, they've found the need to use this separate brand name, "RiffTrax Presents", for commentary provided without Mike. Usually these riffs are served by Kevin and Bill, but the occasional guest riffer, such as Mary Jo Pehl (Mrs. Forrester) or Matthew J. Elliott show up — though reception to that latter riffer has been less than stellar. By contrast, Kevin and Bill's take on Star Trek New Voyages: World Enough and Time was one of the best riffs I've enjoyed so far.
iRiffs: Continuing the trend of offering riffs by lesser-known personalities, iRiffs feature none of the MST3K talent but are instead provided by third parties through RiffTrax in a joint financial venture. I've not tried these riffs yet, though I'm curious to experience Speed, as it's written and performed by the same team that I previously heard do a live riffing of TRON.
RiffTrax On Demand: Throwbacks to MST3K, these public service announcements, usually B&W and about ten minutes long, sell for only $1 each. Best of all, the public-domain video is included, with no need to sync a separate MP3. The crew worked overtime to pump out a record-breaking ten shorts in the month of July, dubbed "Eat Our Shorts".
RiffTrax DIY: This free service (which I first blogged about a year ago yesterday) offered audio clips from Mike, Kevin, and Bill for users to mix into their favorite YouTube videos, thus producing custom homebrew riffs that nonetheless featured recognizable and talented voice acting. The site, which never left beta, is currently down, putting all its user-generated riffs behind closed doors — though at least one enterprising fan salvaged such work and imported it to YouTube. (Be sure to check out the Batman fan film Dead End) I hope to see RiffTrax DIY return soon with an improved interface and more functionality, including inbuilt import and export functions.
RiffTrax Live: This summer's ComicCon played host to a screening of Plan 9 From Outer Space for which Mike, Kevin, and Bill provided live commentary. The group is willing to reenact this showing, but there must be demand. I requested a Boston screening and was immediately placed on a mailing list for the coordinating group, Eventful.com. I removed myself from the list but checked on the results today: only nine other people have petitioned for a Boston screening. Maybe if there was an easier process for the fans to cast their votes?
RiffTrax Ringtones: The voices of Mike, Kevin, and Bill are now ringtones for your cellular phone or other mobile device. Since I own neither, and any sampling of the ringtones requires a purchase, I don't know just how darn cool these must be.
RiffTones: Now we know why this moniker wasn't used for the RiffTrax Ringtones. The RiffTones are what you get when Mike, Kevin, and Bill set their witty repartee to music. As part of a competition called "Masters of Song-Fu", they competed directly against Jonathan Coulton of "Still Alive" fame. Charged with producing "a song about the moon", both camps recorded tunes that are excellent in their own special ways. Encore, encore!
RiffTrax Blog: Once an outlet for only official announcements, the RiffTrax Blog is now a daily source of madness and mayhem for all things Swayze and bacony. Complete chaos and random mayhem, it is the best opportunity you have to engage this terrible trio directly, as they regularly respond to commenters and each other.
Riffstaurant: Just as Scott Adams manages Stacey's Café, so too is Mike Nelson branching into the food service industry. Instead of suggesting "Very good, sir," waiters (who are all named Mitchell) mock your ridiculous menu selections. Meals begin as the finest sirloin and is then butchered until it's little more than a Quarter Pounder. And you can expect nothing, from the kitchen to your seats to the revolving door, to actually work — no springs! … Okay, so there is no Riffstaurant. So sue me.
That's all from RiffTrax. But speaking of MST3K, that property is alive and well in home video format. MST3K: The Movie was re-released to DVD this past May, and a special collector's tin of assorted episodes releases this October, commemorating the show's 20th anniversary.
Finally, for all your ongoing RiffTrax and MST3K-related needs, check out Satellite News. Their daily blog follows the continuing careers of any and all MST3K alumni and also features regular trivia and discussions about favorite episodes. deep ape is a similar site and offers mostly the same news but with a smarmy spin; unfortunately, it is less consistent than Satellite News and lately not been updated in nearly a month.
Now, where's Torgo with my pizza…