More than a decade before commentaries became a standard bonus feature on DVD releases, providing commentary on crappy sci-fi/fantasy B-movies was the entire plot of the TV series (and feature film), Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Although there were some major cast and crew changes during the show’s 1988-1999 run, that did not prevent MST3K from developing a strong fan following…so strong a following, in fact, that members of the show’s cast and crew have returned to their “roots” and are back providing their notorious brand of comedic commentary for films again through newer projects.
MST3K’s creator and original host Joel Hodgson created Cinematic Titanic in 2007, and in addition to performing live shows also began producing a series of B-movie MST3K-esque DVDs and digital downloads which are available through the offiicial site: CinematicTitanic.com. Hodgson is joined on the commentaries by former MST3K cast members Trace Beaulieu (voice of Crow T. Robot), J. Elvis Weinstein (voice of Tom Servo, Gypsy) , Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank), and Mary Jo Pehl (voice of Magic Voice).
MST3K actor/writer/director/music composer Michael J. Nelson partnered with former MST3K co-stars Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett to form The Film Crew. The trio hosted segments produced for cable movie channels, and produced a handful of commentaries for DVDs released by Shout! Factory in 2007.
Due to legal entanglements, The Film Crew fizzled and Nelson moved forward to create a much more prolific and successful project, RiffTrax.com. If you haven’t yet heard of RiffTrax, they’re downloadble audio commentaries riffing on a wide variety of genre films such as Jaws, Transformers, Star Wars, Star Trek, and many others. Through RiffTrax.com, users can download commentary tracks and listen to them as they watch the movies. RiffTrax has also produced a series of shorts and VOD movies, and offers user-contributed commentaries through the site as well.
RiffTrax feature the voices of MST3K alums Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett (voice of Crow T. Robot), Kevin Murphy (voice of Tom Servo, Cambot), Mary Jo Pehl, and Bridget (Jones) Nelson, as well as guest “riffers” Weird Al Yankovic, Fred Willard, Chad Vader (aka Matt Sloan), and Neil Patrick Harris — all whom have done a fair share of voice acting.
Prices for RiffTrax downloads vary between .99 and $3.99, which is pretty dang cheap entertainment if you ask me, and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home.
Also, if you want to see one of the early influences on MST3K, check out the 1963 Jay Ward series Fractured Flickers, for which the complete series was released on DVD in 2004. The show featured silent and vintage B&W films overdubbed with music and dialog performed by a cast of actors well-known for their cartoon voice work: Hans Conried, Paul Frees, June Foray, and Bill Scott, with guest appearances by Edward Everett Horton (Rocky & Bullwinkle narrator), Sebastian Cabot (Pooh narrator), Roddy McDowall (Pinky & The Brain), Paul Lynde (Charlotte’s Web), Pat Carroll (The Little Mermaid), Bob Newhart (The Rescuers), and Zsa Zsa Gabor (The Rescuers).
Here are some preview clips of the series via YouTube.com:
– Fractured Flickers with Hans Conried (opening/closing titles and a brief segment)
– Rod Serling “Interviewed” by Hans Conried
– Barbara Eden on Fractured Flickers
– Peter Lorre – The Quitter (Fractured Flickers – 1963)