Cinematic Titanic is a group of people who hang out and make fun of movies. If the concept sounds familiar, it should be no surprise: The Cinematic Titanic creators and stars include many of the creators and stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the ultimate in “movie riffing” shows.
This article is written for the reader who is familiar with MST3K, as there are many comparisons to be made between MST3K and Cinematic Titanic. This is a review of Cinematic Titanic as well as a review of “The Oozing Skull”, the first episode of Cinematic Titanic. (A note for the curious: though the DVD label is mostly black and white, the movie itself is in color.)
What’s Cinematic Titanic like?
At the time of this review, we’ve only got one episode to go by. But the premise is pretty simple, nothing fancy: The movie starts, the actors walk on to the screen, and we watch their silhouettes as they comment on the movie, sitting or standing on scaffolding on the lower sides of the screen. Periodically, they’ll pause the movie and do a short silhouetted skit about whatever’s on the screen. At the end of the movie, the credits roll.
Whereas Mystery Science Theater 3000 had the out-of-theater sequences, Cinematic Titanic does not. You’re in the movie theater the whole time.
How are the jokes?
Joke quality is very good. Mike Nelson was head writer of MST3K for a long time, and is not part of Cinematic Titanic, but I laughed out loud multiple times during The Oozing Skull. And that’s as it should be, since Cinematic Titanic is written by some very funny people, all of them having been writers and stars on MST3K.
The jokes are more topical than Mystery Science Theater 3000. I recall an interview with one of the MST3K writers – I believe it was Mike Nelson – who said that they intentionally stayed away from topical jokes, since they would date the show. In Cinematic Titanic’s The Oozing Skull, we get jokes about blogs, Second Life, Lindsay Lohan, George W. Bush and other 2008-era goofiness. That’s not a criticism, just an observation: those same jokes may not be as funny ten years from now. I would assume the decision to use topical jokes was intentional by the part of Cinematic Titanic’s writers. It’s again not a bad thing, but a difference in style from MST3K.
There is more “physical commentary”: We can watch MST3K and see the silhouettes of Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, Joel, Mike and others as they sat in chairs and watched the movie with us. Physical gags happened, but not often, and was mostly relegated to Joel or Mike gesturing at something on the screen. There were some funny physical gags in the MST3K movies (like Joel running in place in front of footage of a speeding motorcycle), but it wasn’t often. Cinematic Titanic, on the other hand, shows the bodies of the riffers more clearly: they’re elevated higher up on the screen, and some are standing, not just sitting:
An example of good physical comedy: In the first act of The Oozing Skull, we get a guest appearance: between the set scaffolding, a person in an electric wheelchair drives onto the set, says something in the “voice” of Stephen Hawking, and rolls off. Excellent use of the set design, and the “cameo” was hilarious, and completely appropriate at that point in the movie. There were other physical bits, like when the movie was paused for “Frank’s Conniff’s Holiday Entertainment Cavalcade”: chandelier silhouettes dropped from the top of the screen, and hijinks ensued.
A quick note about the scaffolding that holds all the actors: Awesome. I really like it. While the MST3K movie theater seats were fun, this is more impressive. It’s cool-looking, for one thing. As for the movie itself, the scaffolding is designed to frame the movie nicely: We get to see a lot of the hosts’ bodies and movement while not blocking any important bits of the movie. The creators made a big effort to design a set that would show off the hosts, allow for “activities” when the movie was paused, all while interfering with the movie itself as little as possible. They succeeded.
Constructive criticism for Cinematic Titanic:
Sure, you may be thinking, “Give ‘em a break, it’s just their first episode!” Well, I think that a show that exists solely to make fun of movies can handle some gentle suggestions for improvement. Here are a few things that I think could be improved upon for future episodes:
Polite Suggestion #1: Characterization
Fans of MST3K know the people on Cinematic Titanic. We know a bit about their personalities. To new viewers, however, it’s just a bunch of interchangeable strangers riffing on the movie. Add to the enjoyment and build your audience by giving us character development, or interviews with the cast so we can learn about them. MST3K was fun because we knew how Tom Servo would react in a certain situation, and his jokes also fit his personality. I think that level of audience involvement would really help Cinematic Titanic attract more viewers and increase show quality.
Polite Suggestion #2: Less is more
Having a lot of people on screen tends to increase the number of jokes that need to be said. It’s as if all comments need to be shared equally between the hosts, and in order to make that happen, we get a lot of jokes in a shorter period of time. This was the case for the first half of the movie, with the hosts sounding like they were just reading their unrelated jokes one after the other. It’s my opinion that fewer jokes can be just as good or better than constant riffs. Look at RiffTrax or MST3K, for example: we have fewer people commenting, and less jokes per minute. The result feels less forced, more fluid, and more entertaining. For the record, the second half of The Oozing Brain had the jokes better-paced.
Polite Suggestion #3: DVD Extras
The DVD contained no extras. No behind-the-scenes footage, or “how Cinematic Titanic works”, or interviews with the cast and crew, any of which would be great. I assume they’re waiting to gauge the show’s success before putting time and money into DVD extras. I can be patient on this one.
My polite suggestions are just that, and nothing more. Nitpicking at worst, and none affected my enjoyment of the show. Further, this is the FIRST EPISODE of Cinematic Titanic: they’ll only get better from here!
I like Cinematic Titanic’s “The Oozing Skull”. I like it a lot. It was very similar in feel and joke quality to Mystery Science Theater 3000, which I also like a lot. Introducing Cinematic Titanic to a MST3K fan is like handing Mitchell a beer: You’ve just made a friend for life.
For those who haven’t seen MST3K, but like bad movies and good jokes, they’ll enjoy this. It’s not a show for children (at least not this first episode). Language is at the PG-13 level, but with a movie called “The Oozing Skull”, you can rest assured there’s some pretty gross oozing: lotsa fake blood, brains flopping around, that sort of thing.
When I watched Cinematic Titanic, and saw Frank, Joel, Josh, Mary Jo and Trace, I felt like I was seeing some old friends again. And I didn’t realize until then just how much I’d missed them.
Hi, everyone. It’s great to have you back!