Special Event: Rifftrax: Prisoners of the Lost Universe
March 7, 2024 5:18 PM - Subscribe

MST Club presents! We're going back and forth between The Mads and Rifftrax in this phase of our riff watching project. This week Rifftrax is up, with the movie Prisoners of the Lost Universe. You may have seen a bit of it before: when Film Ventures International repurposed Ator the Fighting Eagle into Cave Dwellers, they gave it a generic fantasy scene behind the opening credits: that, it turns out, was from Prisoners of the Lost Universe. IMDB says: "Three people are transported into a parallel reality, where they find they must use modern technology, but medieval weapons, in order to save the citizenry from a murderous warlord." Selective technology, got it. For more on Rifftrax, see inside. This riff was released in 2012.

Some years after the Sci-Fi Channel era of Mystery Science Theater 3000 came to an end, Mike Nelson had tried a number of other projects: the short-lived web humor magazine Timmy Big Hands, writing the books Mind Over Manners and Death Rat, writing a column for Cracked, a rejected pilot for a movie humor series called Film Trailer, and four episodes of The Film Crew with fellow MST alums Bil Corbett and Kevin Murphy. What first seemed like another entry in the list, now in its 18th year Rifftrax has had greater lasting power than the classic show!

Originally a joint venture with Legend Films, Rifftrax started with Mike recording an audio file that would be played along with the movie, allowing him to riff movies that he didn't actually have the rights to. It gets around the principal difficulty with the idea, making sure the joke-laden audio is synced up with the video, by introducing the character of Disembaudio. Promo art for Rifftrax depicts Disembaudio as a toaster with big eyeballs, but what it really is is a voice that every so often speaks a line of dialogue at the exact moment it's said by a character in the movie. If the line, spoken by both, sounds like it's as of one voice, then you know that the two are synced perfectly, and the comments from Mike, and later Kevin and Bill as well, are relevant to what you're seeing on-screen.

Honestly, that system is a little clunky, and it's not unknown for the movie to drift out of sync depending on circumstances out of the riffers' control, but it was successful enough to make Rifftrax a going concern, surviving long enough to come up with two alternate methods of sync: a phone app that plays the audio and takes care of synchronization for you automatically, and, increasingly over time as their finances allowed it, Rifftrax would get the rights to movies themselves and bake their commentary into the video. Yet RT still produces riffs under the original system, called "Just the Jokes."

Mike was soon joined by Bill Corbett, who worked as a playwright and screenwriter, notably (and, to him, embarassingly) of the original script of the movie that would become mutated into the Eddie Murphy "vehicle" Meet Dave; and Kevin Murphy, who wrote (the excellent!) My Year At The Movies, a blog of comedic blurbs for movies, and pieces for NPR. Both also had joined in with Timmy Big Hands and The Film Crew.

Rifftrax has endured, and has never been more successful. In addition to content presented in Shout Factory's official infinite MST3K Youtube marathon and their own channel on Pluto TV, they have a service that, for a monthly fee, provides access to a substantial portion of their content through the years.

With so many Rifftrax, and many of them at 90 minutes or longer, it's impossible for us to completely review every episode beforehand. We're choosing episodes more or less randomly: we have to pay for everything we show, and are largely stuck with what we have. Please take the videos for what they're worth, and in any case, thanks for following our weird thing!
posted by JHarris (2 comments total)
MST Club shows Thursday nights, at https://cytu.be/r/metafilter_mst3kclub! If you want to watch cheesy movie with jokes, both from the screen and from the chat, come on by some time! We also show different things on Sunday and Tuesday nights!
posted by JHarris at 5:36 PM on March 7

Someone left the show because of a transphobic riff, and although I missed the joke, I can kind of understand? There is a history of these kinds of jokes in MST3K and related projects, even in some of the most beloved episodes and shorts.

I cannot defend those jokes. I note that the more recent riffs are more likely to steer clear of them. The Mads are quite good about it, but it took some time for Rifftrax to abandon that kind of humor. (This is one of the reasons I noted the year of the riff in the post.)

Bill Corbett was called out once for a transphobic riff, and to his credit he accepted the correction and said he'd be more thoughtful in the future. I have heard (but have no proof) that they've edited riffs out of some trax. Even if that is true, I don't know where and when the edits were made.

It's left me a bit anxious about doing more Rifftrax, unless they're really recent. There are a lot of Mads riffs that we could do, I might try to focus on those.
posted by JHarris at 6:54 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]

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