Friday, August 16, 2013

Review: Rifftrax Live - Starship Troopers

I didn't follow the program Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its original television run, but fortunately I began obsessing with the show around the same time MST's Mike Nelson started up Rifftrax; I believe my first download was Star Wars Episode I: the Phantom Menace. Much like MST, Rifftrax features comedians making quips about a movie as you watch it; on MST, the films were simply bad, easily-obtainable flicks with the silhouettes of the three riffers laid over part of the screen. In Rifftrax, the films run the gamut from the classics, the popular and the well-received to films which are infamously terrible, but instead of seeing the riffers' silhouettes, you have only an MP3 audio file which you synch to your copy of the film (often imperfectly).

I was happy to support Rifftrax's Kickstarter, in which they attempted to obtain the rights to riff the movie Twilight live in theaters across North America. Although the Kickstarter was a success, Twilight's owners were leery of accepting good money for bad press. Enter Sony, who happily offered 1997's Starship Troopers as a consolation prize.

Although there have been many live Rifftrax shows in the past, this is the first to broadcast into Canadian theaters; I found two good friends to accompany me and as the event went on just one day after my birthday, I was pretty stoked; how did the night turn out?

For starters, the theater screwed up somehow by playing the show on the wrong screen; the patrons who had expected to see Red 2 had to be evacuated from the theater (sounds painful). Those of us who were in the right screening room had to relocate to the mixed-up screen and the film started up about 40 minutes later than it should have. Thus, I didn't actually see the show live, but because they started the live stream from the beginning I didn't miss anything. We all received coupons for a free Cineplex show by way of apology (I don't know what the Red 2 customers received; a copy of Your Movie Sucks?)

The greater problem was with the actual presentation of the show; as I've seen others complain on the internet, the sound mix between the three riffers (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy & Bill Corbett) did not mesh with Starship Troopers whenever the film's action scenes began (and the movie has a lot of action scenes). Something should have been done to adjust the audio, to at least lower the volume of the movie whenever the riffers began speaking. Some of the quips were completely inaudible.

The film was usually presented on screen as you would normally view it, but on occasions 1/3rd of the screen would project the Rifftrax crew at their microphones; occasionally the view would change to show the full stage where the performance was being made; there were also two instances (both of the film's nude scenes) where Kevin organized "gorilla grams" to distract the audience (and cameraman) from the on-screen nudity; the gorillas exited the theater at about the same time as the bare flesh. It reminds one of the MST episode ("City Limits") where Joel Hodgson suddenly opened an umbrella, "coincidentally" covering up the on-screen nudity.

Otherwise, it was a typically funny Rifftrax offering. Given the MST/Rifftrax folks have expressed how difficult it is to make funny of a comedy (even a bad comedy) because their jokes are in competition with the jokes on-screen, I was very impressed at how well the riffs worked with Starship Troopers; although Troopers is a satire, the straight-faced performances by the actors left plenty of room for riffing; the intended satire sat perfectly alongside the riffers' mockery; no one who actually enjoys Starship Troopers would be ashamed by the production.

Some of the best jokes came at the expense of Denise Richards (portraying "Carmen Ibanez" in the film; all quotes from my faulty memory):

Carmen (buzzing a ship near the moon): "I'm flying that tomorrow."
Riffers: "Honey, no, that's the moon."
"You're going to be the worst Bond girl. Like, ever. Seriously, your name is 'Christmas Jones!'"
(Carmen makes a blank smile) "Gah! It's the Smile-a-tron 4000!"
Character (to Carmen): "What will you be doing?"
Riffers (as Carmen): "Oh, Matt Dillon and Neve Campbell."
"Even I get the Nazi thing and I'm Denise Richards!"
(Carmen is flying recklessly) "Wheee! I'm John Solo!"

Of course, there were many, many others:

Rico: "Someone asked me once if I knew the difference between a civilian and a citizen. I know now."
Riffers (as Rico): "Spelling."
Rico: "Welcome to the Roughnecks."
Sugar: "Rico's Roughnecks!"
Riffers (as Rico): "Seriously? 'Cause I kinda suck."
(Rasczak enters wearing his artificial arm) "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad.
(Zander first sees Carmen) "Hi! I'm discount Rob Lowe!"
Rasczak: "I need a corporal. You're it until you're dead or I find someone better."
Mike Nelson: "Just like my wedding vows!"
"Quit playing Wing Commander on your 386 and get back to flying the ship!"
Rico: "Carmen!"
Riffers: "San Diego! Where in the world were you?"

If more Rifftrax live shows find their way into Canada, I may well wind up attending!



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