Sunday, July 29, 2007
The Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark
Review by Sombrero Grande
Since the cancellation of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the masters of mockery behind the cult hit TV show have been finding ways to continue to do what they do best: riff on bad movies. Mike Nelson (who served as head writer of the show and host for the second half of its run) has recently been providing his own sarcastic commentary tracks on DVD releases from Legend Films (such as the colorized Plan 9 From Outer Space) and even started up a web site, Rifftrax.com, to offer up downloadable riffs for newer or more popular films. Occasionally joining him in these endeavors have been Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett (who performed MST3K’s robot-puppet hecklers as of the series’ conclusion), but now the three have reunited fully for a new direct-to-DVD series dubbed “The Film Crew.”
Now, the first thing a fan of MST3K is going to want to know is: how does “The Film Crew” compare to watching Mike and the ‘bots aboard the Satellite of Love? The differences are really pretty minor. First off, there are no robot puppets, silhouettes covering the movie or sci-fi themes with “The Film Crew.” Instead of receiving bad movies from a mad scientist as a kind of experiment, now the trio receives bad movies from an eccentric billionaire and are tasked by him with providing commentary tracks for old films that previously had none. The rest is pretty much the exactly the same.
The Film Crew’s first offering is a bleak, borderline nonsensical 1960s drama about strippers entitled Hollywood After Dark. In the film, a young (but not too young) Rue McClanahan dreams of becoming an actress but is saddled with a lowly strippers’ existence. She meets a junk dealing diver who also gets caught up in the seedier side of Hollywood’s nightlife and together they find a brief bit of happiness before everything comes crashing down for both of them. In the meantime there’s a tensionless robbery, goofy scenes of “frolicking” at the beach, and lots of nearly nude “dancing” that involves surprisingly little stripping. It’s just the kind of cinematic turkey that Nelson, Murphy and Corbett can really sink their teeth into, and their riffing of Hollywood After Dark is easily just as hilarious or even more so than many of their MST3K episodes.
As great as it is to have these guys back verbally assaulting faulty films again, I do have a few minor quibbles with the presentation of “The Film Crew” on DVD. First off, there’s no chapter selection on the DVD, and the chapters that do exist on the disc are broken into huge chunks. What this means is that when I start the main feature and skip ahead twice, I’m already at the middle of the movie. If I want to skip ahead to a favorite scene I have to manually fast forward to get there. The few chapter breaks that exist on the disc serve only really to scoot the viewer ahead to the “skits” Nelson, Murphy and Corbett perform in the middle and at the end of the feature. These bland and disappointing sketches are even more of a nuisance when you have to buy a DVD to see them than when you’d get them alongside commercials on free TV, but thankfully they are fewer in number with “The Film Crew” than with MST3K. Occasionally on MST3K you could run into a pretty funny sketch, but for the majority of them it’s clear that these guys are most adept at pointing out the foibles in others’ works instead of creating original, amusing content of their own. The only “extra” on the DVD is another of these skits, wherein Corbett performs a sonnet he wrote about his sack lunch. Yawn. Several of the MST3K DVDs featured a trailer, interview or even a commentary-less version of the riffed film. This humdrum treatment of the Film Crew’s first feature does not bode well for future installments. Hopefully Shout Factory will beef up their presentation as the further episodes are released.
Minor quibbles with the DVD presentation aside, it’s wonderful to see and hear these guys back together again. The more opportunities given to Nelson, Murphy and Corbett to mock bad movies the better, I say. Any fan of MST3K will feel right at home with “The Film Crew” and should thank and support Shout Factory for bringing these guys back into our homes again with all new riffs on more of Hollywood’s worst.