Cinematic Titanic // 2008 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // August 20th, 2008
"Is there a AAA for movies that break down?"
Fresh off a strong showing at Comic-Con 2008, Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein (a.k.a. Cinematic Titanic) are riding high on a wave of geek love. I might be late to the party, but count me among the screaming fans throwing metaphorical panties onstage. Though their first DVD -- Cinematic Titanic: The Oozing Skull -- didn't quite live up to expectations, their second release, 1972's Doomsday Machine, not only proves these ex-MST3K-ers haven't lost their touch, it rivals some of their best work.
Building on the spartan presentation of Oozing Skull, Doomsday Machine adds a beginning sequence to introduce the cast, movie, and a vague-ish back story -- in lieu of mad scientists and robot pals, there's talk of fixing a rip in the electron scaffolding, and something about them inserting a "nanotated" disc into a "time tube" when they're done. It probably won't inspire any fan fic, but it eases the audience into what's really important: the movie.
As sci-fi dreck goes, Doomsday Machine is firmly middle-of-the-pack. It starts with a Chinese-American spy throwing a kitten over a wall to distract a German Shepherd so she can sneak into an apparently deserted compound to take photos of Mao's titular nuclear device, but ends up as an outer space soap opera about coed astronauts on a mission to explore Venus and, if necessary, repopulate the world. Oh, and there's a cameo appearance by Casey Kasem.
Standing (and sitting) around the retooled silhouette set, our riffers hit the ground running, significantly upping their quip quotient from the last movie. Even the opening credits merit some A-list material, as Frank encourages people to visit James Craig's web site: "James's list," and Mary Jo asks God to "'Grant Williams' the serenity to accept the things he cannot change" -- and the pace never lets up. "I can't get over the size of this [spaceship]. It's like they launched a high school gym." "That NASA footage has been in more movies than Gene Hackman." "I've seen less padding on a Tyler Perry character." "It's like watching someone else watch Manos: The Hands of Fate." Classic stuff.
It certainly helps that Doomsday Machine is better fodder for the Cinematic Titanic treatment than The Oozing Skull. The story (with its unrealistic, though oddly compelling, sci-fi premise) is almost interesting -- and that's a compliment. It's got action, adventure, suspense, and enough sex appeal to suggest the directors might have gone the soft core route if they'd had the budget.
As they did during The Oozing Skull, the performers pause the movie at certain points so they can do scripted comedy bits, not unlike the "commercial sign" segments from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Like those segments, the paused movie skits are the weakest parts of the program, but I'm glad they're there. This series wouldn't exist without the willingness to try potentially unsuccessful material. Not everything sticks, but if you don't like a joke, wait a few seconds. There's another one right behind it.
As of now, the Cinematic Titanic DVDs are extras-free. I guess that's okay. I can't think of any specific bonus materials I'd want to see -- a commentary track would be redundant, and I'm not itching for a blooper reel. Likewise, the full screen presentation seems a little out of place in a world filled with shiny high-def TVs, but there's no real reason for them to push a widescreen format. The 4:3 aspect ratio was good enough in the old days, dagnabbit, and it still works.
If you can't quite justify the $15 cost of a DVD (available for purchase from cinematictitanic.com) without extras, shame on you, but I'll pretend to understand. Through partner site EZTakes, downloadable versions of the movies are available for only $10. The site also provides free software to burn your movie to DVD -- a welcome bonus in this DRM-crazed age. Having tried both DVD and digital download methods, I can vouch for the EZTakes option. The burned disc only worked on one of two DVD players I tried, but I'm sure the problem was my choice of recordable media, not the service.
I believe fans owe it to artist-owned companies, like this one, to buy and support the products they love. It's the only way to make sure we get more in the future. Even though The Oozing Skull had its flaws, I recommended people buy it to help keep Cinematic Titanic afloat. There are no "buts" in my Doomsday Machine recommendation. This outstanding effort should kill any lingering doubts that Joel, Trace, Mary Jo, Frank, and Josh still have what it takes to cut it in the barely competitive "humorous movie commentary" sub-genre. Riff on, you magnificent bastards. Riff on.
"Doomsday"? Hardly. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinematic Titanic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site