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Masters of SciFi – Mystery Science Theater Crew Resurfaces with Cinematic Titanic

Mystery Science Theater Crew Resurfaces with Cinematic Titanic ” width=”560″/>

As Mystery Science Theater 3000 celebrates its 20th birthday this year, Joel Hodgson and his original cast are riffing on B-movies again in Cinematic Titanic. Hodgson and his co-stars J. Elvis Weinstein and Mary Jo Pehl stepped out of the silhouettes for a conversation with about the show — available on DVD.

Q: Mystery Science Theater 3000 went off the air in 1999. Why did you decide to start back up again?

JH: Part of it was that people I would consider professionals in the industry would come up to me and say, “You gotta know I grew up watching Mystery Science Theater. It’s why I got into the business and I was really inspired by it.” But I think more than that, we decided it was so much fun to do. Part of the reason I felt Mystery Science Theater resonated with people was we never got notes from the network. We did exactly what we wanted. So when we realized we could market this ourselves and make it an artist-funded project, we wanted to do it again.

Q: You perform over 500 jokes a movie. Do you ever feel pressure to keep up that level of humor?

MP: I definitely think we’re working in certain constraints, like filling every available gap be it after dialogue, or if there’s no dialogue and it’s only action. That seems to be in all our blood.

JW: We’re acutely aware of air.

JH: It’s kind of like music too — as time goes on, you almost start composing within the negative space of the movie. Whatever you’re confronted with, it works.

JW: The other thing that’s different now is we’ve all developed our joke writing skills since we started Mystery Science Theater 20 years ago. We appreciate that a really well-written joke is a nice ripe piece of fruit, so we enjoy the writing now as opposed to just making noise during the air.

Q: What’s the story for Cinematic Titanic?

JH: When we started Cinematic Titanic, all I really knew was that someone was forcing these people to watch movies for future posterity. I got the idea from the Westinghouse Time Capsule from the World’s Fair in ’39. I once met Bill Gates and he said, “You should know, I used to watch your show all the time.” And then Al Gore said the same thing, so I got the idea of this influential think-tank that wants us there and wants us to riff on movies, revealing as they go what the purpose is.

JW: So essentially, our characters are actually the people from the TV show that they went out and recruited for this project.

Q: J. Elvis, you’re finally playing yourself and not a robot. Is that a big change for you?

JW: I only played the robot for the first two years of the show, so I’ve had other non-robot experiences, fortunately, to make the transition. But it’s a whole different thing controlling my body as the silhouette as opposed to being hunched down on the floor shaking a puppet. I realize as I’m watching the show, “Oh geez, my body is the puppet now. I need to be mindful of how I operate it.”

Q: Why doesn’t Cinematic Titanic feature any robots or sketches?

JH: When we were doing MST live, it took a ton of production and you had to behave like you were in a play. It worked and people were happy to see it, but it was not as direct. I wanted this to be a little bit more like a recital.

Q: Is it a bigger challenge for you to perform the show live?

JW: In a way it’s almost easier because we’re all comedians, so we’re used to a laugh being the logical response to a joke. It finally all makes sense when we’re doing it live.

JH: The Marx Brothers used to take their shows on the road and work them in front of a live audience before they made the movie. It’s kind of like that, because we’ve gotten a few chances to do movies before we go into the studio, and we really use that information when we’re recording.

Q: Would you ever riff on more recent films?

MP: I guess it would depend on the movie, but there’s a certain je ne sais quois with the old, shlocky, really bad ham-fisted movies. I don’t know if there’s a special quality that makes them especially kitschy, but I think I personally connect with what seems to be the smaller budgets of the older bad movies.

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