Joel Hodgson, Mystery Science Theater, and Cinematic Titanic

Next Tuesday, Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, along with other MST3K veterans, will invade the Castro to riff on a 1968 Japanese science fiction called War of the Insects. “It’s a great looking print, widescreen, really well made,” Hodgson told me earlier this month in a phone interview. “It’s kind of the story of a heroin addict bomber pilot and a beautiful mad scientist who’s trying to take over the world with insects.”

Sounds like typical MST3K fodder.

MST3K has been off the air for almost a decade, and it’s been nearly two decades since Hodgson severed his ties with the show he created, but he’s back to his old tricks with his old friends, adding comic commentary to bad movies (he prefers the adjective cheesy), with his current venture, Cinematic Titanic.

Although CT sells DVDs, its primary focus is live performance. “With a TV show, you’re really kind of talking to one person. When we do it now…we think in terms of what will work in a live environment. Some of the obscure references don’t make it in because you need an immediate reaction when performing live.”

That was a bit of a disappointment to me. One of my favorite aspects of MST3K were the obscure jokes that most people didn’t get. When you got one, whether it was about nitrate film, Schonberg, or Ann Rand vs. Lillian Hellman, you laughed even harder.

They no longer edit the movies for length, but they occasionally do for content. Although their audience is primarily adult, Hodgson prefers to keep it clean. “Everyone who’s coming are MST3K fans. Our tone was family oriented, and [audience members] bring that sensitivity with them. I’m proud we did that without being dirty. We kind of look at it as if its PG-13…People aren’t hungry for a dirty movie riffing experience.”

Cinematic Titanic isn’t the only MST3K spin-off on the web. Other show veterans, including Mike Nelson (who took over hosting when Hodgson left) have another one, RiffTrax. But while CT sticks to public domain movies or ones they can license, RiffTrax sells MP3 commentaries to popular pictures like Die Hard, Star Trek, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, that customers are likely to already own on DVD. I reported on a live RiffTrax event a few years ago.

I intend to report on the upcoming Cinematic Titanic one, as well.

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