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Former Host and Writer of MST3K Launches RiffTrax 185

dougman writes "Today James Lileks mentioned his 'friend and all-around comic genius/good egg Michael J. Nelson' called, to tell him about his brilliant new project, RiffTrax. Here's the pitch: ' commentary tracks. Bottom line: Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary for big famous beloved movies like Titanic or The Matrix. The hitch: you have to provide the movie. It's genius: no worries about copyright. You buy the commentary tracks for $1.99, rent the movie or get it out of your collection, load the commentary on your iPod or burn it to a disk, then watch them together in true you-got-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate bliss. ... The first movie is Roadhouse." Cool! I voted for The Matrix as the next one to be riffed." While I (and many others I know) preferred Joel, Mike was not without his share of funny moments too. Without Crow and Servo it just might not be the same, though.
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Former Host and Writer of MST3K Launches RiffTrax

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  • by illuminatedwax ( 537131 ) <stdrange@alumni.uchic a g o . edu> on Thursday July 20, 2006 @08:18PM (#15753773) Journal
    Stay frosty, boys, we've got a flame war coming! Joel vs. Mike seen on radar, heading straight for us! Batten down the hatches, prepare all escape pods, brace for impact!
  • by EvanED ( 569694 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [denave]> on Thursday July 20, 2006 @08:22PM (#15753791)
    Might be better than your typical fan-made one of these, but there are other examples. One of which, I think the one I went looking for, was called DVD Tracks, but it seems to have went away... Here's a /. article about this though. []
  • by Flounder ( 42112 ) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @08:27PM (#15753814)
    The site mentions the possibility of having other people join Mike on the commentaries. As far as we know, Mike has kept in touch with Trace Beaulieu (Crow S1-7), Bill Corbett (Crow S8-10) and Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo S2-10) and is still on good terms with them, so it's not impossible.
    • A reunion is not out of the question, but it would take a lot to bring it together. Many of the old props were sold off when Best Brains closed down its production facility and went to a licensing/merchandise business model.

      I'd really like to see more of the side projects, namely another book from Kevin Murphy. A Year at the Movies [] blew me away.
      • A reunion is not out of the question, but it would take a lot to bring it together. Many of the old props were sold off when Best Brains closed down its production facility and went to a licensing/merchandise business model.

        Since this is audio only, wouldn't having the props be kind of pointless?
        But Mike and the bots have made appearances since the auctions (namely ESPN's Cheap Seats), so I'm assuming they put Crow and Tom Servo in cryogenic storage for such a day.
  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @08:33PM (#15753839) Homepage Journal
    I think this is really great, but sometimes my favorite parts of MST3K were jokes they played with the silhouettes on the screen. In one of the Godzilla movies, there was a bird's-eye-view scene of some Japanese soldiers with round, white bubble-helmets on. Joel stood up, knocked on one of the helmets, and the soldier looked straight up into the camera! :D Classic.
  • This reminds me... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ephraimX ( 556000 ) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @08:41PM (#15753864)
    ...of Wizard People, Dear Reader [], a similar one-off project by Brad Neely; it's an audiobook-style replacement narrative for the first Harry Potter movie that, when synched up with the DVD (or DivX or whatever) makes for a freaking awesome movie.
    • Ok, I downloaded this and tried it. It's not freaking awesome. You don't have to take my word for it -- just listen to the beginning. Since it's not awesome, you don't have to worry about spoilers. It's just a guy with an annoying voice describing the action with unfunny ad-libs.
  • Well, damn it. Buy them. Fast and all!

    Maybe some money will drag Joel in from whatever strange mountain cabin he's retreated to....
  • by Anonymous Coward
    it could get a trifle complicated if they put out a commentary to go with "The Wizard of Oz" know, playing the movie, the commentary AND "Dark Side of the Moon".
  • This should make all those movies on Oxygen channel easier to watch...
  • We had something like that here in the Denver area in the Seventies, in the form of a program called High Street that ran weekly on a small FM rock station. The performers were four students at the U of Denver (located on High Street, and yes, the double entendre was apt). It ran in the same time slot as the late-evening movie on a non-network TV station, and the idea was to turn the TV sound down and let the High Street guys provide the audio.

    They typically floundered for a few minutes until they'd settl

  • by Robotech_Master ( 14247 ) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @08:56PM (#15753922) Homepage Journal
    Don't forget you can use ShareCrow [] to sync these commentaries easily if you have a Windows machine that uses compatible DVD player software.

    (And check Commentary Central [] for a bunch of freebie alternate commentary tracks, including my own for Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro []...)
    • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:27PM (#15754028) Homepage Journal
      This raises a good question: what if the MST3K folk were to release their commentary as a file that, when combined with the correct DVD player, would place their overlayed silhouettes over the movie. BAM! All the advantages of MST3K, no copyright worries over the movie.

      Imagine the fun the bots could have with some of the real stinkers that have been released too recently to be available to them: MST3K of Waterworld, or of, well, any Adam Sandler movie.
      • [This raises a good question: what if the MST3K folk were to release their commentary as a file that, when combined with the correct DVD player, would place their overlayed silhouettes over the movie. BAM! All the advantages of MST3K, no copyright worries over the movie.]

        If only, but from comments and discussions re the "cleaned up movie" ruling the other day, this still may be a copyright violation. Go figure.

        all the best,

        (da idea man)
        • Nope, there is currently two models for the "cleaned" up movie going on. The first model is a special DVD player where you play the regular DVD along with software that you purchase for each DVD that does the editing on the fly. These have gone to court and were found to be legal. The other was a system where they were editing and selling an actual DVD with the edits predone that would work on any DVD player. This is obviously a nogo, editing someones work and reselling it is a nono.
          • You know, I was just listening to the Major Nelson show about HDDVD (#183). Among other things they talk about how HD-DVD has

            1) Mandatory 2nd video decoder. So the commentaries can be a separate video stream displayed as "picture in picture" or overlaid (if filmed on green screen).
            2) Mandatory storage capacity. So you can actually store information about the disc settings and more and it will be tied to that disc.
            3) Mandatory network capacity. So you can download content over the net.

            Seems like all of these
          • [Nope, there is currently two models for the "cleaned" up movie going on.]

            Nope. I got that part. Someone claims the big guns also have suits against the model that uses the special player.

            (I am a bit fuzzy, basically the claim is that even an EDL is a derivative and an infringement. I think someone may have mentioned that there is a special exemption for video like this but someone definately pointed out that there was a suit going on against the special dvd people.)

            (Not that I think this should not be lega
      • Even 50 First Dates? That was a pretty good movie.

        Yeah I'm a book snob, not a movie snob.
      • It could be done. The way that normal subtitles work is just as a image of the subtitle text that's overlaid on the video. There's no reason that you couldn't include silhouettes or other graphics on the subtitle overlays, although I think they may be limited to monochrome or (at best) only a few colors.
  • I love MST3K, see my screen name, but MST3K is dead. They should stop trying to re-package it into something less than the original. I'd be ecstatic if the full cast and crew got back together for more MST3K, but this feels desperate.
    • I sort of agree with what you're saying, but I feel I have a slightly different angle on it.

      MST3K was done. It came, it had its time, and it left. We even got a movie version out of it. I don't think it needs to be done again. Part of the fun of the show was its novelty, and that's basically spent.

      These efforts to come back and do more MST3K-ish stuff sort of send the message "this is all we're capable of". (Well, really this "message" is just the impression I get, my own interpretation...) That's a l
  • MST3K was great, but the hillariously bad movies were half the fun.

  • by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <> on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:08PM (#15753954) Homepage Journal
    He should do "Beter Off Dead" next, since he wants his two dollars.


    PS: Remeber kids, there is no "-1: I don't get it." moderation option.
  • It appears that Mike Nelson must be a fan of Slashdot too.... 8 [].

    There are fans who do MST3K-style riffing, something like "commentaries". It would be cool to download some formatted overlays.

  • I'm very very interested in this..

    I think they should do the harry potter series..

    I don't consider my improv particularly good, but I kept my friends in stitches riffing on that schlocky piece of crap.

    Anyway.. .. the best way to get the commentary in would be something like imovie and its linux equivalents... for that you can't have DRM.

    so plz.. NO DRM okaaay?
    • No DRM (Score:5, Informative)

      by springbox ( 853816 ) on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:15AM (#15754867)
      Anyway.. .. the best way to get the commentary in would be something like imovie and its linux equivalents... for that you can't have DRM.

      I just downloaded Road House from the site and it's in MP3 format. I doubt you have to worry about any DRM getting in the way.

  • No worries about copyright? In today's environment?

    If a "cut-list" for a DVD is considered possible copyright infringement as a "derivative work", you can sure as hell bet that a voice-over commentary intended for a DVD can be considered possible copyright infringement by today's overzealous copyright holders.

    • by plasmacutter ( 901737 ) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:37PM (#15754065)
      Without actually embedding them in video feed youre not reproducing the work

      There are also numerous examples and case courses resolved against copyright holders in cases of parody and criticism.

      Nelson has a mountain of case law on his side, but youre right, i wouldnt put it past these people.
    • EDLs are still A-OK. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot.kadin@x[ ].net ['oxy' in gap]> on Friday July 21, 2006 @01:46AM (#15754809) Homepage Journal
      In your comment about the "cut list" I think you must be referring to the 'cleaned DVDs' topic of a few days ago, and I think you're misunderstanding that ruling.

      What was prohibited in that case was the reproduction that Clean Flicks was doing in order to produce the edited versions. They were taking a movie, editing it, and then selling the edited version -- yes, they were selling each edited version packaged along with an unedited version, but they were reproducing the film just the same. That's where they ran into copyright problems.

      Other companies who took a different tactic towards the problem, and avoided the reproduction step (by delivering to the customer an EDL that would cause the player to fast forward through various 'offensive' parts) were allowed under the ruling [].

      There's a pretty good analysis of the verdict on FindLaw [], which isn't too long and is worth reading. In particular: "The defendants also argued that they were protected by the so-called "first sale" doctrine ... [they] failed to win on this affirmative defense, because they were not just dealing in the hard copy, but rather making copies of it." (Emphasis mine.)

      If you're willing to spend some more time reading things actually written by folks who have law degrees, I recommend this substantial article from the Georgetown Law Journal [], which was written in 2004 and examines the viability under copyright law of several video-censoring technologies, including old-school razorblade tape splicing, CleanFlicks-type digital editing, and EDL-based 'skip over' systems.

      Although CleanFlicks no longer offers the edited copies of DVDs, another company, ClearPlay, still offers an EDL-based product [] (which IMO is a much more elegant solution to the problem anyway, since it lets you pick what types of smut you personally dislike), as can be seen on their website.

      This type of on-the-fly editing is legal, and was clarifed as such by President Bush's passing of the "Family Movie Act of 2005," which specifically allows you to make changes to an authorized copy of a motion picture, as long as you don't create a fixed copy of the edited version. The best part of the law? It's not limited purely to obscenity edits; according to one Forbes article [], it could be used just as easily to protect a fan's removal of the more obnoxious parts of Star Wars Episode 1 as it could the removal of Kate Winslet's nudity from Titanic. (Sadly, apparently the technology can't replace Jar Jar Binks with a naked Kate Winslet. Yet.)

      So the next time you think that G.W. hasn't done anything for you, it seems that he may have let some good slip through after all.
  • Speaking of which... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by identity0 ( 77976 ) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:31PM (#15754048) Journal
    Hey, speaking of amusing but uninformative MP3s (just kidding, guys... :-) ), when are you guys at Slashdot going to restart Geeks In Space, or at least restore the archives? In case you haven't noticed, many of the old MP3s are missing from It's wierd, some of the MP3 files seem to have been replaced with a tribute page for a deceased person sometime in 2004.

    Can you please host the whole archive of shows again?

    And new shows would be good, too. I'd love to hear Cliff rant on about the name Wii, or Taco get cranky over Vista.

    And to not be totally offtopic... I can't be the only one who thinks it won't be the same without the shadows in the corner. Especially not without the robots. What I would love to see, though, is a group of totally insane people like the cast of SeaLab 2021 commenting on the movies.
  • Lame (Score:2, Informative)

    by Lane.exe ( 672783 )
    As anyone good Austinite knows, The Sinus Show [] guys have been doing this for a while now, and while they aren't MST3K (for copyright reasons), I've never left a Sinus Show without a stomach ache from laughing so much.
    • "The Sinus Show guys have been doing this for a while now"

      No they haven't, and whoever modded you up as informative can't read.
    • So they're not the first, so what? The more, the merrier. They won't be any less funny for not being the only ones doing it.
  • by John Fulmer ( 5840 ) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @10:33PM (#15754284)
    CowboyNeal *DOES* know that Mike was a writer on the show from season 1 on, and the head writer starting season 2, right.

    That's one thing that I've never understood about the Joel vs Mike thing.... The writing staff was pretty much the same for both (with the huge exception of Frank Conniff leaving. Things were never quite as.... surreal afterward).

    • Also, I've bought and read Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese, and Mike Nelson's Mind Over Matters... two excellent books that show just how funny Mike is. I reccomend them highly.

      Oddly enough I just realized I know my MST3K fan club ID number off the top of my head: 18642 (I think)
    • I don't know about the rest of the world, but for me the difference in Joel vs. Mike isn't any percieved better writing in one vs the other, but rather that Joel just delived the lines better than Mike did.

      Mind you I like both of them, I just thought Joel was more fun.
  • ...though it was well before I became a MST3K fan. Woody Allen's What's Up Tiger Lily? was my inspiration. The only real problems with the idea were that 1) this was before DVD was a serious concern, so the idea of commentary was pretty new (my idea was to sell audio tapes, and play them in your stereo while watching your VHS movie), 2) No one ever took me seriously, and most inportantly 3) I have no real comic talent of the caliber actually needed to make money off this.

    I'm quite glad that Mike Nelson (a
    • While Mike was the head writer for most of the show, calling Joel "just the public face" is a little unfair.

      Check the "Created by:" credit.
    • Was mike on the staff when they were doing the KTMA shows? You know, the ones that landed them the gig on comedy central? The ones that, without which, there would not have been any show for mike to be involved in?

      Not that I don't like mike, mind you. They are two just different flavors of humor. Both are funny in different ways.
  • I've been doing this both alone and with my buddy Jack [] for a few years now, using Asian films as the base. First I pulled off a 6 hour marathon turning We're Going to Eat You! [] into We're Going to Eat Jack for his birthday. Here's a short clip from some facially deformed man originally singing some fairly normal song, with timecodes, etc removed:

    A fucking bell? It's part of the birthday party... This is Jack's Birthday song with blood and gore all night long and drink until you all fall down Watch me

  • Frank! Glad you could make it to the clam bake.
    I am not a lousy butler!
    That nosewheel feels mushy!
    He tried to kill me with a forklift!
    The master will not approve!
    I accuse my parents!
    Hirohito Gamera! Hirohito Gamera!
    No Lupita! No!
    There was no monster!
    It was after the apocalypse...
    Daddy, I want a coke!
    It stinks!
    Hi, I'm Max Keller.
    Master Ninja Theme Song!

    Frank, push the button.
  • What a coincidence, I just finished watching the MST3K Skydivers episode. I hadn't watched an episode in awhile and sort of grabbed it out of the blue.
  • What we really need is a special media player that can play the comentary track on top of the DVD in your computer, so that the sounds will be synced properly. Also, you would need a little threatre seat outline at the bottom of the screen overlayed on the video to add to the full effect. It might be nice to include a file that would turn the sound of the actual movie up or down to accomodate hearing the commentary during noisy parts of the movie, without cutting out all the sound to the movie. This could
    • Already have something for Windows that does some of that: as mentioned in other comments, Sharecrow [] allows syncing of commentary tracks to DVDs, and includes independent volume controls so you can make commentary or DVD as loud or quiet as you want in relation to each other.

      Doesn't have the theater seating though.
      • It would be nice to have a file that said what volume the movie sound track should be at each point. Using the same volume throughout the entire movie or manually switching it yourself would be a real pain. Plus, if they're selling these tracks, it would give a more professional appeal to them. It wouldn't really be much to complain about for fan made commentaries that your download for free, but for something they expect to charge for, it would be a nice feature.
    • What we really need is a special media player that can play the comentary track on top of the DVD in your computer, so that the sounds will be synced properly.

      Why do you need a special media player? Just use mplayer with the -audiofile option.
  • Personally, I think a Crow vs Crow flamewar would be much more interesting. The day Trace Beaulieu left and Crow was "replaced" was the day the show got a lot less funny for me.
  • Did this [] movie ever get beyond Australia? Same kind of concept, as cinema owner realises the soundtrack to his classic print is stuffed.
  • What about the underground success 'Wizard People' ( r yId=4582190)? Basically, a performance artist, Brad Neely, created a voice overlay for the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. If you have not heard it, you should download it. It is hilarious! He would do live performances of his work with the original movie playing with the sound turned off. He was threatened with lawsuits from the studio saying that any use of their film that deviates from t
  • Kevin Smith has already recorded a commentary track (granted, not a funny one like this MST3k type thing, but a commentary none the less) for Clerks 2 that will be available on iTunes soon.

    The thinking is that you can see the movie once to actually see the movie, then go again with your iPod and listen to the commentary while in the theater.

    Pretty smart thinking, actually. And while I'm sure KS doesn't mind the additional money it would bring in, it's actually a pretty cool thing for him to do. I doubt a
  • I dare them to do something like "Munich" or the upcoming "World Trade Center".

    Do "The Passion Of The Christ" and I'll actually pony up the dough.

  • The sample track totally sucks without Crow and Tom Servo.

    Joel was way better than Mike. Mike is your typical "writer who came out from behind the curtain because his ego couldn't stand not getting the laughs personally like he did when he was the class clown in high school". His delivery is flat; Joel had an actual on-screen personality. Mike may be a good writer, but he should have stuck with that.
  • The Floor Is Sticky [] released the first commentary to Star Wars: Episode I back in April... We need to do another one soon!

    I guess it wasn't as original idea as I thought, although The Floor Is Sticky [] shows are free!

  • These guys [] are funny. You basically go to a movie theater and watch a movie to which they make comments over a PA and stop the movie from time to time to perform a live skit. They are from Austin, Texas, but I have seen them numerous times in Houston. Movies viewed with them so far: Karate Kid, Pretty in Pink, and Dirty Dancing.

The absent ones are always at fault.