RiffTrax Shorts Volume 1 - from the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000!
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Remember the instructional films your teachers used to show you whenever they wanted to sneak out for a smoke, or just nap in the back of the classroom? They're back! Only this time, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and RiffTrax.com are there to exact revenge with their signature brand of hilarious running commentary! We offer you 9 shorts about safety, hygiene, and the difficulties of relating to women.
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This single DVD collection puts together eight short films which had previously been for sale via the Rifftrax website plus one bonus short.
1) Down and Out -- A typical factory worker safety training film. The multiple slapstick accidents are mostly fodder for encouraging workers to use their common sense. And if common sense was a commodity that could be easily transferred upon people using television, this film probably would have been very successful.
2) Patriotism -- This early 1970s film, narrated by Bob Crane, teaches children about how to be patriotic in their everyday lives. Fortunately, it turns out that virtually everything you would ever dream of doing is a form of patriotism.
3) Buying Food -- This short film is exactly what it sounds like from its title: rather trite, silly explanations about how one should and shouldn't purchase foodstuffs.
4) Right or Wrong? -- One part choose-your-own-adventure story and one part introductory ethics course.
5) Drugs are Like That -- This REEFER MADNESS type film is aimed at teenagers and children. As you may expect, it's a rather heavy-handed screed pinning all human suffering and unhappiness at the foot of drug abuse.
6) Skipper Learns a Lesson -- In this short about teaching children to embrace diversity, Skipper the dog is an incredible misanthrope who hates all those around him.
7) The Trouble With Women -- This 1947 instructional film isn't quite as awful as its title would suggest. It's not a pure rant against the female gender; instead, it's a guide for male bosses about how to handle the influx of women into the workplace in a post-WWII America.
8) It Must Be the Neighbors -- Every problem in a neighborhood can be blamed on someone else. Usually the guy who has a load of filth and junk in his yard.
9) Shake Hands With Danger -- Another safety instructional film where those unfortunately workers who ignore common precautionary measures end up dead or mutilated in various gory ways. This Rifftrax features an animated Mike Nelson, and Bill Corbett in the form of a cartoon inflatable parrot with Kevin Murphy as an anthropomorphic box of popcorn (I'm not making that up). The jokes are funny, but I didn't quite see the purpose of the animation. I suspect this was an experimental attempt to recreate something like the old shadowrama effect, but for me it was just more of a distraction which subtracted the size of the viewable image without really adding anything.
The jokes and riffs are quite funny. The big question I suspect most fans are interested in is whether these Rifftrax releases match up to what we remember from "Mystery Science Theater 3000". One thing I've missed (which I think is also applicable to The Film Crew and -- to a lesser extent -- Joel Hodgson's Cinematic Titanic DVDs) is the sheer breadth of material which the writers drew on for inspiration on the old show. With fewer writers, it seems that the jokes are taken from a smaller pool of references.
So, I'd place this release at about the level of an average episode of MST3k. While this may sound like hollow praise, I'd put an average episode of MST3k well above the comedy output we see from most sitcoms. I'd recommend this to any fan of MST3k or even to anyone who never caught the show when it was running. It's great to hear Mike, Kevin and Bill once again making fun of incomprehensible and dated old short films.
The short films, which were produced between the early Fifties and the late Seventies are here in run order but not chron order:
Down and Out
Skipper Learns a Lesson
Right or Wrong
Drugs Are Like That
The Trouble With Women
It Must Be the Neighbors
Shake Hands With Danger
As those of you who have seen prior Mistie shorts would expect, the short subjects range from the impossibly serious ("Buying Food"), to the laughably dated ("The Trouble With Women" from 1959), to the oddly skewed ("Patriotism," 1973, in which the topic seems to have more to do with civic appreciation and respect for the landscape than actual politics) to the perils of workplace carelessness. The well-meaning "Drugs Are Like That" for Southern Florida public TV - ca. 1975 - attempts to relate illicit drug use by children by likening it to the blight of a bad habit, the search for meaningless kicks, comparing the body to a well-run machine that brooks no experimentation, and setting up so many borderline-ludicrous analogies that Mike, Tom and Bill draw comparisons between drugs and practically anything else. They missed pointing out, though, that the relentlessly cheery narrator was Anita Bryant.
It is only the final and most recent short, "Shake Hands With Danger," in which the unseen narrators try for something like the old shadow narration technique of MST3K movies by using 3D animation technique to portray Mike as a human being, Bill as a bird (parrot, not crow), and Kevin, inexplicably, as a bag of popcorn. This is unfortunate as it adds no real visual humor and shrinks the effective screen size of what is a rather dreary worker-safely flick dogged by annoying country-western guitar licks.
I couldn't quite give this disc five stars, though Mistie fans will enjoy and appreciate them. However, there are better send-ups of movie shorts in these actors' pasts, most notably those attached to full-length MST3K movies.