For those not in the know, the Rifftrax crew is a trio of Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumni: Michael J. Nelson (head writer and host), Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot). They joined together to create a great series of downloadable audio tracks that could be played along with a film on DVD and featured the crew's signature barbed jokes and obscure pop references. Every one that I've heard is very funny and harkens back to the best days of MST3K. Occasionally they will broadcast a live show to theaters across the country, billed as Rifftrax: Live. This is my favorite way to experience a film that they skewer. Watching at home is fine, but there's no comparison to seeing them on the big screen with an appreciative audience full of fans.
The jokes start right as soon as patrons walk into the theater. Instead of the usual elevator music and slide show or ads, Rifftrax makes their own pre-show entertainment. I've always enjoyed the pre-show entertainment and make a point of getting to the theater early so I don't miss it, but this time the slides and songs weren't as funny as usual, and the audience I was with seemed to agree as there were very few laughs to be heard. The songs were so-so at best, and some of them weren't even funny. One of the musical offerings was just a single line sung over and over again: "Christmas time is wonderful, wonderful with you... Christmas time." I was waiting for the punch line, but it never arrived.
The slides were surprisingly drab too. There were a series of images revealing "Rejected Stocking Stuffers" such as "Blitzen scat" and "Zuzu's fingernail clippings: and fake movie quotes, but none of them were more than slightly amusing.
That is admittedly a minor complaint. Once the show started things really picked up. Before the feature they presented a wonderfully wacky short, Santa and the Fairy Snow Queen. This low-budget American-made film seemed to make up Santa lore as it went. It was presented by Snoopy, no, not Charlie Brown's dog, but one of Santa's helpers... not an elf, but a Brownie. While Santa was sleeping one Christmas Eve, the Fairy Snow Queen enters his workshop and brings all of the toys to life. They march around and act as obnoxious as they can, but when Santa wakes up the fairy can't turn them back into inanimate objects.
This was a great short to start things off with and the riffing made it hilarious. Snoopy was peppy, androgynous and seemed to be channeling Mr. B Natural and they had a lot of fun cracking jokes at her expense. The Fairy Snow Queen was accurately described as "a 3rd string ballerina on pain killers" as she tried to dance around the set. The guys had a lot of fun pointing out how silly the whole thing was and the short really set the tone for the feature.
"A long time ago, in a galaxy far more stoned." Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a wacky, silly film, and it perfectly lends itself to the Rifftrax style of humor. The plot is simple; a group of Martians kidnap Santa Claus along with two young children and bring them back to their home planet. There, Santa shows the dour Martians how to have fun. The jokes are generally solid, though there were a few more duds than usual. Still, the standout lines were well worth waiting for. When the children are served their Martian dinner, small tablets, Mike chimes "pills for dinner? Courtney Love would just love that!" I also laughed at their description of retrorockets; "[they] talk about how everything sounded better on vinyl." And my favorite gag of the evening was when the children attached some renegade Martians: "Have a holly, jolly ass whoopin'."
The previous live event was at the end of October, and maybe that made the schedule a bit tighter than usual, but this film's riffing wasn't quite up to the previous ones. The jokes weren't quite as funny, and they didn't seem to come quiet as frequently as normal. Even so, it was a great showing and well worth the price of admission. Face it, even an okay Rifftrax film is better than a lot of the comedy films being released nowadays. This comes recommended and fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax should make a point of going to the next live show.