Mike Nelson, 2006–

The first thing I became known for online, back in 1995, was my MSTing of "The Eye of Argon," a legendarily terrible fanzine story from 1970. I'd been poking around on Usenet and had wandered into the fan group for Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show on Comedy Central in which a guy and a couple of robots watched bad movies, mocking them all the while. There I discovered that people were giving the MST treatment to spam emails and Star Trek fanfic and anything else unfortunate enough to be both risible and ASCII. I don't think I read more than two of these things before trying my own.

The riffing, after all, had always been my favorite part of MST3K. You might say that this is like Homer Simpson declaring that Paul McCartney was the most talented member of Wings, but MST3K was actually a fusion of a number of different elements. One was the riffing, but another was Joel Hodgson's affection for old B-movies and late-Boomer TV culture, and yet another was the frame story with the robots and the mad scientists and so forth. So it's been very interesting to watch as, over the past couple of years, every member of the old MST3K team has come back to launch one spinoff project or another. Jim Mallon and Paul Chaplin had dibs on the robots, and their animated Flash clips featuring them appear to have quickly flamed out, but MST3K creators Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, and Josh Weinstein have teamed up with alumni Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl to start Cinematic Titanic, selling DVDs of the five of them riffing on movies. The first one is an obscure grindhouse flick from 1972 called Brain of Blood. And that's why I'm not hugely interested in it.

When I was applying to grad school I wrote that I wanted to study pop culture because it seemed more important to dissect what Top Gun and its ilk were doing to the culture than to dust off things like Paradise Lost that are basically only read at universities. Similarly, if you're going to make fun of a bad movie, why choose something that was shot in three days forty years ago, played a week at an Oklahoma drive-in and has never been seen since? Why not pick on the equally bad movie that just made $300 million? Fortunately, the second-generation MST3K cast — Mike Nelson (who replaced Joel Hodgson), Kevin Murphy (who replaced Josh Weinstein), and Bill Corbett (who replaced Trace Beaulieu) — were of the same mind. They couldn't get the rights to the blockbusters... but these days it's easy enough to download an MP3 containing just the commentary and sync it up with the DVD. And given that I always thought Mike was funnier than Joel anyway, it's no surprise that of MST3K's successors, Rifftrax is my favorite. After all, I was morbidly curious about the new Transformers movie, but you seriously expect me to sit through it without jokes?

Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, John Rogers, and Michael Bay, 2007

I saw the first Transformers movie the day it came out. It was 1986, and I was twelve years old, which is a little too old to be going to the Transformers movie. But being an eldest child keeps you young — my brothers were into GI Joe and Transformers, so if I wanted to associate with them at all it was going to involve watching the cartoons and playing with the toys at least some of the time. So, in a sense, I can't claim to be above this movie: when Optimus Prime and Bumblebee and Ironhide and Ratchet and Jazz introduced themselves, those names weren't new to me. But in another, more important sense, I am above it. This is no more a real movie than the cartoon with Unicron was. Most of the reviews I saw said that it was surprisingly good until the last hour, which consisted mostly of the camera careening around chaotically as robots whaled on each other. But the ear-splitting kaleidoscope that is the latter half of this movie is an improvement on the first, with its excruciating attempts at comedy, inline commercial breaks, warblogger fantasy soldiers, and FHM girls in every female role from military analyst to 29-year-old high school student.

And with the Rifftrax added it's as good as any Mystery Science Theater installment I've ever seen. Around the one-hour mark I had to pause it because the cumulative effect of all the jokes caught up with me and I couldn't stop laughing.

Top Gun
Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr., and Tony Scott, 1986

Top Gun is my standard answer on those rare occasions that someone asks me what my least favorite movie is. Quite often those who ask — usually students — are stunned, having expected me to name some low-budget B-movie. But Top Gun is the archetype of formulaic tripe, and its blatant attempt to narrow the range of acceptable thought is borrowed directly from the old "less filling tastes great" commercials. Will you support that devil-may-care Maverick, or are you more of a by-the-book Navy brass type? Either way, you end up on the same side at the end when our boys are blowing up insectoid Soviet pilots... who are defending their own airspace, but never mind that. Apparently this was one of the most effective military recruitment films ever, though I have to imagine that the Marines commercial that promises that the people you kill will just blink out of existence is a close second. Well, third, behind the one that offers the chance to fight lava monsters.

It occurs to me that the list of movies on my archive page is going to look pretty weird if I keep alternating between Skandie winners and Rifftrax movies. Oh well!

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