|by Brian Orndorf
In an effort to provide a thrilling new twist to their legacy, Cinematic Titanic decided to plunge into the cherished vaults of their forefather “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to pluck a feature film to riff anew. Sounds a little strange, doesn’t it? I’m sure eye-bleeding sacrilege to some. However, the results snuff out the initial unsettling vibes, with Cinematic Titanic adding another energetic brew of laughs to their flourishing library.
The film stained here is the 1964 holiday spectacular “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” considered by many message board mavens to be one of the all-time finest episodes of “MST,” while also reserving a spot as one of the all-time worst films ever made. Both titles are heartily earned. A cheap-looking family matinee diversion starring an eight-year-old Pia Zadora and a bunch of sad actors smothered in green makeup, the film is notable for being belligerently annoying, paint-huffingly bizarre, and dreadfully acted. The only thing keeping the film from the poetic ice floe of cinema obscurity was the lauded 1991 “MST” effort, now rejuvenated by an enthused Cinematic Titanic attempt.
Fans already know the saga of little Billy and Betty, the villainous Voldar, and the idiot Dropo by heart. For Cinematic Titanic’s pass at this yuletide clunker, the “gift” is the opportunity to view the film in its entirety, without the editing “MST” had to submit to fit their time constraints. After years of watching the previous riff on “Martians,” it’s a strange sensation to endure the entire film, though I will admit it’s nice to see how the entire story fits together. Still, I can’t imagine watching this thing unriffed. The Dropo (referred to by the gang as the “Green Dane Cook” and “Jar Jar”) material is enough to give up on life altogether.
Thankfully, the Titanic crew (J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, and Joel Hodgson) snatch the familiar sights and manage to mold fresh comedy out of a delicate situation. Impressively avoiding callbacks to the “MST” version, the Titanic take on “Martians” is a triumph, with the crew taking advantage of the full, uncut version of the picture to brand their own comedic speed on the source material. Perhaps imbibing some eggnog around the writing room, the squad appears more casual and snappier, submitting a real velocity to the delivery of riffs, even tittering at each other’s comedic shots over the course of the program. Beyond the laughs, there’s a palpable sense of teamwork on this episode that prior efforts were often shy to display, with the cast members squeezing in a surprising percentage of stout one-liners.
Of course, it’s hard to avoid comedic gold with “Martians.” Mercifully, the gang comes prepared for war, with references to a Katie Couric colonoscopy, Illya Kuryakin, and William Shatner’s “sabatage” fiasco filling the riff masterfully, along with pokes at the Jonas Brothers and Ann Coulter, and a Pigmeat Markham callback Hodgson hilariously dubs from the “Over 40 Collection.” Most of the rancor is reserved for the film’s thick scoops of nonsense, with the comedians all taking well-deserved shots at the movie, from its low-budget fragility to the frighteningly creepy depiction of Santa. The laughs are consistent and, again, brand spanking new. The opening (where Beaulieu, upon hearing the film’s title, attempts to escape the episode) does make a muted reference to the previous takedown of “Martians,” but that’s all the reminiscing included. It remains an original experience throughout.
Also welcome is the episode’s lone stop point, where Hodgson passes out Christmas and Hanukkah gifts to the group. It’s short, sweet, and barely dents the pace.
The full frame presentation mixes sharply outlined Cinematic Titanic props and set with the patchy, poorly-aged “Martians” print. Much like previous episodes, this isn’t a reference-quality disc, but a fine offering of a modestly budgeted comedy program.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also blessedly simple. All that’s required is a nice separation of riffs and the movie’s original soundtrack, and that’s precisely what the DVD offers.
Nothing to be found here.
I can understand the hesitation some may encounter to accept a new version of “Martians” and, criminally, the reasons behind the re-riff are not available on this DVD. While I wouldn’t want Cinematic Titanic to make this artistic detour a habit, the experiment pays off remarkably well, putting an inventive, uproarious spin on an old, thoroughly razzed, holiday stinker.
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originally posted: 12/01/08 16:50:52
last updated: 12/01/08 16:54:15