Monday, June 23, 2008

The Not Too Distant Future

If you see RiffTrax at a party, say "Hi" from us.

That's what Joel Hodgson said about the relationship between the two different groups of Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumni roving around the country skewering bad and pretentious movies. Hodgson's group, is Cinematic Titanic, while Mike Nelson's group is called RiffTrax. The two groups have a different approach to making fun of movies, although the personnel differences seem to be more a matter of geography then any long-simmering feud.

I finally got to indulge my long-dormant inner MST fan, and watched an episode from both groups.

RiffTrax, which has been around a bit longer, primarily produces MP3 files which you listen too while you watch a separate DVD. Since they don't have to clear rights, this allows RiffTrax to produce episodes on actual real movies that you have heard of. They also do some video + audio releases of public domain shorts and films, although even in those videos, the RiffTrax performers remain offscreen.

Cinematic Titanic, which has done two episodes to date, uses an updated form of the MST shadowvision motif, placing the five performers in tiers along the sides of the film. CT releases their videos for DVD or download. There's none of the character kind of stuff from MST, although the CT performers periodically pause the action for a separate bit or to interact with the film some.

The CT download (which is $9.99) is an entire VIDEO_TS directory of the DVD, a 3GB download. Plus the special download manager you need to used repeatedly crashed, though I was able to burn the DVD using other software. On my second try. That was frustrating. On the plus side, I now have it on a DVD, and I can make it portable and take it with me if I want.

RiffTrax is a much smaller MP3 file. To watch on a conventional TV, you play the DVD and also play the MP3 file on some audio player. A short introduction on the file helps you get the two synchronized. Periodically through the film, a robotic voice will repeat a line of dialog to help you keep the DVD and MP3 in synch. That's clever. It'd be more clever if the file had an AAC option with chapters or if the chapters matched the DVD chapters. Still, I was mostly able to keep the two in synch with a manageable amount of irritation. (If you want to watch the DVD on your computer, there are some software options that will handle DVD and audio file together).

As for the quality of the material, I enjoyed both of them quite a bit. The RiffTrax I sampled was Willy Wonka, with Mike Nelson and guest riffer Neal Patrick Harris. Excellent choice of movie and they had fun with it. (It's just not true that a movie has to be bad to be MST-able. It just has to be pretentious and weird.)

My Cinematic Titanic experience was their first film The Oozing Skull, which would have made for a very good MST episode back in the day. CT is doing something a little bit harder, at least from a strictly production standpoint, and I think that some further work on managing the five performers and interacting with the movie will improve their outings a lot. Still, I really liked Oozing Skull, laughed out loud, and would recommend it to friends. I didn't quite realize how much I had missed Joel Hodgson's distinct voice and timing until I heard him.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ruby on Rails article

Just a quick mention that part 1 of my article series on using Rails to write iPhone apps is online at IBM Developerworks.

Parts 2 and 3 will be published sometime in the rather near future.

In other notes, Pathfinder has updated the company blog URL to Individual authors now have unique pages, I'm rappin.

Recent pieces there include a quick welcome to RailsConf, and a two-part article on HTML and code markup in Rails, available here and here.