It’s been almost two years since a large chunk of the original MST3K cast reunited for a new project called Cinematic Titanic. Over that time the group has put out a number of DVD’s, while performing a number of live shows across the country.
Initially the show was shot on a sound stage, with the cast on a set, and a few mildly entertaining “host segments” thrown in along the way. While it worked fairly well, and had some quality laugh-out-loud moments, it never really seemed to rise to the heights of MST3K, or even Rifftrax.
After a long period of no new content, they have shifted to releasing DVDs of their live performances, with their latest—a late seventies sci-fi reject called The Alien Factor—probably the most disappointing outing yet. If your live audience isn’t laughing along with you, it’s probably worth tuning things up before you put it up for sale.
But it’s often in failure where the problems become clear, and in the end it seems that Cinematic Titanic has simply sunk under the weight of having five clever people on-stage simultaneously. For the most part it seems like everyone is content to simply read their jokes at the right moment, and laugh a little when someone screws up, or manages a good bit of improvisation. Like an eighties super-group, it feels as if there may be too much individual brilliance to allow for real synergy, beyond a few solos that remind everyone just how well they can play their instruments when they put their mind to it.
In the early videos, the cast had supposedly been hired to participate in a top-secret research experiment (another take on the “Monitor their minds” wrapper from MST3K). Stripped of that minimal meta-context, the focus is entirely on making jokes about movies. And while most of the comments are funny (if sometimes a little too focused on obscure references to the seventies) what truly sucks the life out of the whole affair is that there’s never any of the banter and goofy running gags between the characters that I think is integral to the success of a great riff.
It’s the personal barbs, and back and forth that makes it feel like you’re hanging out with friends instead of being trapped in some kind of abstract comedic symposium on the structure of bad film The idea that the cast has desires and a point of view not only invites you in, but keeps you hanging on when the jokes start feeling a bit dry or forced, or the movie itself is dull beyond comprehension. Like all good entertainment media, it’s the narrative that saves the day.
It doesn’t help that the cast (with the notable exception of Trace Beaulieu and J. Elvis Weinstein) seems to be less enthusiastic than they were two years ago, and without their passion, it’s hard for me to have any.
I’ll keep my eye on Cinematic Titanic, if only because I’m such a huge fan of the obvious vision and talent of everyone involved, but I’m not sure how much enthusiasm I have left for the actual product.