RiffTrax Live: Plan 9 from Outer Space

Three MST3K veterans add comic commentary to Plan Nine from Outer Space, allegedly the worst film of all time. I laughed so hard I was gasping for breath.

When I started reviewing Blu-ray discs on this blog, my policy would be to stick with classics. I’m not sure if this review is a derivation from that policy.

More than 30 years have passed since the Medved brothers named Ed Wood’s Plan Nine the Worst Film of All Time in their book The Golden Turkey Awards. The description has stuck, even if it’s highly questionable. I’m not the first to point out that if a movie finds an audience that loves and enjoys watching it, it’s at least on some level a good movie–even if its charms are not the ones that the filmmakers intended.

Let me put it another way: In just about every way except technical competence, Plan 9 from Outer Space is far superior to I Melt With You.

But Plan 9 just may be the most entertainingly bad movie ever made. The clumsy dialog and wooden acting are a wonder to behold. Who could plan9aforget the wife, assuring her husband that she’ll be alright despite the odd goings-on, by pronouncing “The saucers are up there. The graveyard is out there. But I’ll be locked up safely in there.” Or the brilliant police deduction: “But one thing’s sure. Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.” Yet my favorite is the obviously gay alien (who isn’t the most obviously gay alien) admonishing the human race with a cry of ” You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”

But the acting and dialog are brilliant drama compared to the sets and the continuity. An airplane cockpit has nothing on the back wall except a circular slide rule, a clipboard, and a doorway closed only with a shower curtain. Exterior location scenes shot in daylight intercut with a soundstage graveyard set lit for night. One character is played by Bela Lugosi in some shots, and by a local chiropractor in others.

But I’m not reviewing a conventional Blu-ray of the movie. I’m reviewing a RiffTrax concert video.

Three Mystery Science Theater 3000 veterans– Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett–make up the RiffTrax comedy team. Following that long-running TV series’ shtick, they provide assorted comic commentary to bad movies (and good ones). This particular concert was performed in Nashville, and was broadcast live to movie theaters across the country.

The program gets off to a slow start. We get RiffTrax joking through an allegedly educational short about stewardesses. That’s moderately funny–praise that I can’t give to the two commercial parodies also presented. Nelson comes on stage to give away free stuff–not all that interesting after the fact. Musical guest Jonathan Coulton is mildly amusing with a song about a space invasion and a sing-along about zombies. There are clearly some fans of his in the live audience.

Finally, 36 minutes after the show begins, we get to the main event. You might just want to skip to the movie–it’s chapter 9 on the disc.

That’s when this show comes alive. Plan 9 is funny enough on its own. With Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett riffing on it, it’s about ten times funnier.

Their jokes are virtually all throwaways, so completely dependent on context that it’s pointless to repeat them. A bit player’s haircut will inspire the comment “the reverend Lyle Lovett,” and–silly as it sounds–you can’t help laughing. Before you’ve recovered your breath, another comment gets you laughing again.

They riff on most of the movie’s weaknesses, but they did miss a few. The shower curtain separating the plane’s cockpit from the main cabin goes by without mention. And why didn’t anyone notice that neither the earthlings nor the aliens understand the difference between the Universe and the Solar System?

How It Looks

There’s nothing really exceptional here. In fact, I can’t think of a reason not to save a few dollars and buy the DVD.

The non-movie sequences–introductions, songs, and audience reactions–were shot in HD and look very good. But there’s nothing here that requires high definition.

The movies, both the short and Plan 9, are pillarboxed to 4×3, with black bars on the side of the screen. That’s as it should be, but the movies appear to be transferred from standard definition sources; I suspect they look identical on the DVD. Every so often the presentation goes split screen, so you can see the movie as well as close-ups of the three commentators. This didn’t add anything to the experience.

The disc uses the colorized plan9bversion of Plan 9. It seems ridiculous to object to colorization in this context, but I’m going to, anyway. If a movie’s main claim to fame is cheesiness, additions can’t possibly help. I found myself occasionally wondering if it looked cheesy because Ed Wood was incompetent, or because the colorizers intentionally made it that way. The later, to me, feels like cheating. The colorizers added one intentional joke, which isn’t funny. RiffTrax added a comment to it, which didn’t improve it.

How It Sounds

RiffTrax Live: Plan 9 From Outer Space comes with only a single Dolby Digital soundtrack. It really doesn’t need anything better.

And the Extras

The extras are thin, with a total running time of about seven minutes.plan9_box

The best extra is a three-minute slide show on the event’s production. Each photo is captioned, and they give you some idea of what’s involved with putting on a live show in one movie theater that will be beamed to many others.

The other extras are slightly longer versions of the two fake commercials. They’re not worth watching.

RiffTrax didn’t include the most important and obvious extra: A straight, non-commentary version of Plan 9 from Outer Space. I’m not sure why. Perhaps there were licensing issues.

This is not a great Blu-ray release in the conventional sense. But then, Plan 9 isn’t a conventionally great motion picture. But in this case, bad really does mean good.