RiffTrax Live: Plan 9 from Outer Space

Rifftrax Live - Plan 9 from Outer SpaceSynopsis: Join the stars of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” for the comedy event of the year! This one-night event will feature the world premiere of a new short and non-stop hilarious riffing on a COLOR version of “RiffTrax LIVE: Plan 9 from Outer Space.” Don’t miss an evening of LIVE riffing on the Worst Movie Ever Made beaming into movie theaters nationwide on Thursday, Aug. 20 at 8 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. CT/ 6 p.m. MT/ Tape Delayed at 8 p.m. PT.

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RiffTrax Live: Plan 9 from Outer Space 8.0

eyelights:  the overall presentation. the awesome riffing. Jonathan Coulter’s idiosyncratic lyrics.
eyesores: Veronica Belmont’s hosting. some of the interludes.

When ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000‘ ended, following ten seasons of madcap riffing, Mike Nelson tried to find a way to continue releasing movies with his humourous commentaries overtop. After consulting a lawyer, he discovered that there was no way that he could get around the copyright issues, meaning that he would be sued to death if he tried.

Thus, he decided to write and record commentaries and make them available for download without the video – instead instructing fans when to cue their audio files so that they would play at the correct time during the films (which they would have to provide for themselves). Charging a miniscule fee for these recordings, RiffTrax was born.

Although he started off doing them by his lonesome, he eventually was able to coax some of his former colleagues from MST3K, as well as a variety of guests, to join him. They have now released a large number of commentaries, most of which are for massive Hollywood blockbusters – something they could never have afforded while on the show.

They eventually did a few live commentaries for movie audiences, but then the RiffTrax crew partnered with NCM Fathom Events to do exclusive live events, which would be broadcast live in cinemas across the United States. So far, they’ve done nine of these live shows. This particular presentation of ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’, was their very first.

I didn’t know anything about these live shows, unfortunately, until just recently when I stumbled upon the blu-ray recording of that broadcast. I knew about Cinematic Titanic’s live shows (CT features some of the other comedians from MST3K), but had thought that RiffTrax was strictly limited to downloads and that Mike Nelson otherwise only did solo commentaries for other companies’ releases.

So when I found this disc, I immediately snatched it right up: it was affordable, and although the sound was just in Dolby Stereo and not in full HD (Why put it out on blu-ray, then, if not to release it in lossless audio and in 1080p?), I wanted to know what this was all about.

Broadcast in 434 cinemas across the United States on August 20, 2009, the show is basically a direct port of what cinemagoers would have seen that evening: it’s a two-hour event featuring Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett commenting over a short film as well as Ed Wood’s infamous ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’. A few interludes added to the “live show” vibe.

The show began with a quick introduction of the RiffTrax gang by Master of Ceremonies Veronica Belmont. Cute and congenial, she needed to use her notes far too much given what little was demanded of her. I disliked that because it made the whole thing feel like a high school event – not a mildly ambitious show that was being broadcast across the country. It just didn’t feel professional.

Mike Nelson and co. started immediately thereafter, taking on the unusual training short ‘Flying Stewardess’. The three would be shown on left side of screen from time to time during the riffing, something that would also take place during the screening of ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’. Their commentary on this educational film, about the travails of air hostesses, was hilarious. 8.5

Then came the announcement of the winner of the night’s giveaway of an iPod Touch filled with RiffTrax commentaries – which would be awesome for any fan of the Nelson, Murphy and Corbett. This part felt like a prank because some guy came on stage to accept the prize in the winner’s stead while talking on a cel phone. (This same guy was also seen in the following segments) 7.0

Amusingly enough, this live RiffTrax event had sponsors – not real ones, of course. But this spoof “Flour and Grain Expo” advert was really quite funny, because it took on the tone of a monster truck rally, but it was merely for a weekend of fun with flour and grain. The acting is dismal as are the graphics, but it’s all in the spirit of RiffTrax, so it works. 8.0

Following the ad, musical Guest Jonathan Coulton came on stage with his acoustic guitar to play two songs, “The Future Soon” and “Re: Your Brains”. The first is a cute one about a nerdy boy who is making plans for his sci-fi future, and the next one is a zombie song in which he got the audience to sing “All we want to do is eat your brains” together during the chorus. This was quite good, and he clearly had devoted fans – as evidenced by the nerdgirls singing along throughout his set. I may actually have been converted myself. 8.0

By this point, 30 minutes had already passed breezily. And thus it was time for another “sponsor” ad, courtesy of “Berry Watch”. Also produced by somethingawful.com, this one was less amusing than the first, being a monitoring service for people who don’t want their berries to spoil. I love the absurdity of the bit, but it lasted far too long for my taste, stretching its gags beyond reason. 6.0

Following the “commercial break”, The Rifftones (Corbett on vocal and acoustic guitar, Murphy on vocals, Nelson on noseflute) took the stage with the help of Jonathan Coulter for a satirical introduction to ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’, singing a song about plans 1 through 8 . I love the idea, and they could have made a hilarious song out of it, but sadly this was merely a blueprint of a song (i.e. the lyrics  were seriously wanting). 6.5

And then came the time for the night’s feature attraction, Ed Wood’s notoriously inept ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’. I hadn’t seen it forever and was astounded by just how badly put together it is –  just the constant shifts between day/night and set/location shooting was hilarious. For anyone who hasn’t seen this über-low budget piece of crap sci-fi action-thriller, it’s hard to put it into words; it really is in a rare class of poor filmmaking on so many counts.

What’s strange is that the RiffTrax crew presented a colourized version of the original film. Why in the world would they want to do that? And further to that, who would bother to colourize it? Having said that,, it was well done – unlike the film itself. Heck, even after having watched so many bad movies since I was first exposed to Ed Wood’s disasterpiece, it still stands out for its gawdawfulness! But the riffs were awesome, so I had a good time anyway. 8.0

All in all, I was extremely pleased with this evening of RiffTrax, live. It harks back to the days of live TV variety shows, except with a geeky, nutty twist. I wish that these shows were broadcast in my own town, because there’s a good chance that I would go to see them – it would likely be a gas with a bunch of other MST3K/RiffTrax fans. (I asked about their latest, ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’, but they’re still coming to my town.

But I hope that they’re broadcast in your town. And, if they are, you should go. It’s loads of fun. In fact, the ‘Plan 9’ one was so popular that they did an encore presentation two months later – and have been doing many other films since (most/all of which are available on DVD and blu-ray now – so you actually don’t have to miss out entirely). I’ve made a few purchases recently, and I suspect that it won’t be long before I watch them.

Stay tuned for more RiffTrax soon.

Date of viewing: October 25, 2013

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