Years after Mystery Science Theater 3000 went off the air, show head writer/star/novelist Mike Nelson decided to try and make money off of the franchise that made him famous via bringing back the whole concept of riffing on bad movies — but with a twist. Using the format of a podcast, Nelson now riffs on big budget blockbusters that studios would never ever let people like Mike make fun of. Hence RiffTrax was born.RiffTrax is a website where you can buy (for $3-5 a file) audio MP3s of Mike Nelson (and occasionally others) making fun of big budget blockbusters such as Batman & Robin and the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. Of course, you need to actually own or rent copies of the movies too, since the audio file only contains Mike's witty commentary on the films. (RiffTrax also releases riffs of educational shorts from the public domain, along with the occasional public domain feature; these include video files.)Synchronizing the video to the riff is explained on the website in detail. There are generally two ways to go about it: either use the special Windows software to synchronize the riff with your DVD, or play the MP3 and DVD separately with whatever you have on hand. Throughout the riff, a robotic voice called Disembaudio, visually depicted as a robotic toaster as seen in the Trope Image, recites lines from the DVD for reference. If the DVD and Disembaudio say the line simultaneously, you're in sync. Otherwise, pause whichever one is ahead.Since starting RiffTrax, Mike Nelson has been joined by several ex-MST3K loyalists (Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, aka the second voices of Tom Servo and Crow on MST3K) in his business. Guest stars such as Neil Patrick Harris, Chad Vader, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and Rich "Lowtax" Kyanka have also appeared. Disembaudio will also chime in now and then to crack a joke. Users are also allowed to send in their riffs; RiffTraxs then sells them and shares the money with the users. This program is called iRiffs.The concept was preceded by a brief series called "The Film Crew", in which Mike, Kevin, and Bill played themselves and were part of a Framing Device similar to MST3K, but much more mundane: they were working in the industry and tasked by their boss, Bob Honcho, to provide commentary on bad movies. A combination of Jim Mallon (owner of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 franchise) delaying release alongside MST3K DVDs and budget costs in comparison to RiffTrax torpedoed that project, but RiffTrax lives on and has even inspired original show host and series creator Joel Hodgson to get in on the act and create his own spin-off, Cinematic Titanic...The site can be found here. RiffTrax has also started a Kickstarter drive to have a live riff show of Twilight. They didn't suceed in getting the rights to Twilight, but they did suceed in getting the rights to riff the 1997 sci-fi movie, Starship Troopers.
Bill: Or...when he sits down to a meal of juice, toast, milk, and Trix cereal— Mike: Uh-oh, where's he going with this? Bill: And he looks at his bowl of Trix and he says, "THIS! IS!'SPART OF A BALANCED BREAKFAST!!!" Kevin: Wow! Mike: Wow, you pulled it out! Nicely done!
Mike:"Wait...so they're lingering on a shot of a frieze before introducing Mr. Freeze? Huh...that's actually pretty clever; maybe this won't be so bad..."
Despite their utter contempt and loathing for the Twilight movies, they find Michael Sheen genuinely amusing in his gloriously hammed up role, repeatedly collapsing into giggles when he gets particularly "enthusiastic". They also find Christopher Heyerdahl's Marcus near equally hilarious.
The jury's still out on which movies they DO like but the riffs of Road House and Casablanca (the riff of which was marketed as a "RiffTrax Challenge") certainly qualify.
On the note of Road House, Mike went on record of calling it the "perfect bad movie", and that despite its flaws, he can't ever bring himself to hate it.
The original Star Wars trilogy probably qualifies, too due to the amount of obscenely nerdy references and jokes they make (including ones aimed at the star wars EU). The amount of hatred that went into the making of the Riffs of the new trilogy (especially aimed at Hayden Christiansen and Jar Jar) seems to result from their love of the original, with them often noting how particular elements have "ruined the franchise" or just making quiet outburts of pure disgust over the more idiotic moments of the prequels.
Unlikely, however, due to Mike Nelson's vocal hatred of Luke Skywalker (and occasional Star Wars bashing on his Twitter feed), and Bill Corbett's rant at the end of the riff for A New Hope.
Bill: So that... That thing that we just watched, that...
Kevin: Yes, that...
Bill: That thing we just watched, that was Star Wars? The Star Wars, the world shaping Star Wars I've heard so much about.
Mike: It is, yes.
Bill: No one snuck into the vault of 20th Century Fox and quietly replaced a film that deserves a Star Wars-like reputation with the thing we just witnessed? That?! That thing we just watched?
Kevin: No, that was Star Wars.
Bill:Well... I'll be a gut-shot womprat... There must not've been a lot going on in 1977 I guess.
Their love for the the Lord of the Rings franchise is even more pronounced and heartfelt, with dozens of extremely detailed references to the Hobbit and the Silmarilion and practically zero real insults in all three movies. This doesn't stop them from making every serious scene into a farce.
In general, the riffs are pretty good-natured as opposed to simply ripping the movie to shreds. (Not that it doesn't happen occasionally...)
Mike (As Shelob the Spider Queen after being mortally wounded): Why? Why? Tell my 800 children I loved them . . . I was so close to curing cancer, give my notes to the medical community... I forgive you, Sam, and I will pray for you.
Kevin:(sputters) They can't do karate! They can't paint!
Bill: Yeah just. Drop it man.
Ascended Extra: The riffers occasionally take time out (usually while something ostensibly important is happening onscreen) to ponder the fates of an obscure character, such as Porkins, Mr. Ditkovich, "Big Dead-Ass Guy" from the Matrix Revolutions, Rock from Battlefield Earth, Trevor the toad from Harry Potter.
More indirectly, Disembaudio, who normally exists solely to ensure viewers have their audio and video synched, occasionally joins in for a brief riff and sings a few of the ending credit songs. He even became, more or less, the third riffer on the Willy Wonka track.
This was taken to its logical extreme in one scene of the Breaking Dawn Part 1 riff, where they spent an ENTIRE scene discussing a painting of a dog face in Bella's room (it was even brought up again about 20 minutes later).
Asian Drivers: In the Empire Strikes Back riff, Chad Vader (as R2-D2) tells Luke "You drive like a member of the TradeFederation. An elderly female member of the Trade Federation."
Ask a Stupid Question...: Kevin has a real low tolerance for these, especially when the movie is tasking his patience to begin with. Often, if someone in a movie asks something like like "Is that X?" he'll yell "No, it's (something/someone bearing no relationship at all to X). Of course it's X!"
Bill Corbett: I should really confront the film makers for being in conjunction with the drug industry for this film. Mike Nelson: What are you talking about? Bill Corbett: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stoned? Mike Nelson: That's it. Take your mike off and get out of here. Bill Corbett: Fine! I will! Mike Nelson: Get back here. You don't get off that easy.
In the RiffTrax of Attack of the Clones, Kevin tells Mike during the Greasy Spoon scene regarding slovenly cook Dexter, "Mike, I invite you to think about his underpants." Mike understandably reacts in horror and cries out, "WHY, Kevin?!" Kevin subverts the trope by telling him that as long as he's thinking about Dexter's underpants, he's forgetting the rest of the movie. Mike sighs happily, "You're right. Ah, his underpants..."
Similarly, their reactions to Jar-Jar whenever he appears tend to be either disgusted and bitter insults or flat out retching and groaning.
In the RiffTrax of The Room, every sex scene is greeted with horror, and Kevin's reaction to Tommy Wiseau's pasty white rear end is priceless.
Mike (as the dying Padme): Tell... Luke... I loved him... best.
Then three feature length riffs later in Return of the Jedi as he is leaving Leia after revealing he's her brother:
Kevin (as Luke): Oh and I remember mother loved me best. Bye!
In the riff of Order of the Phoenix, really early on in the beginning there was an owl onscreen with a floating letter next to it.
Mike: It's time for Letter and the Owl, rockin' your drive to work!
Then, more than an hour later, Harry turned on the radio:
Radio: ...notorious mass murderer Sirius Black.
Mike: So we're makin' "Sirius Black" the "Phrase that Pays" here on Letter and the Owl!
At Your Fingertips: Grasses infamously posed and never answered the greatest question of our time: "Is corn grass?" Over a year and about three live RiffTrax later, the answer—yes, corn is grass—was given in a title card at the Jack The Giant Killer live riff. The audience was very appreciative.
Early in Batman & Robin, when one of the cops gets hit on the head, for some reason the movie produces a very cartoony "bonk" sound. Kevin, Mike, and Bill commented on the poor man's "coconut head." Much later on in the film, Kevin makes an Incredibly Lame Pun, and Mike smacks him on the head, producing the very same sound effect. Mike then apologizes to Kevin, saying that he forgot about his "coconut head."
Often, they will make a joke during the opening of the Rifftrax, and then deliver a follow up at the end.
The Cast Showoff: Usually inverted. Kevin Murphy and Mike Nelson can both sing but they usually get Disembaudio to sing (badly) during the closing credits. Sometimes they play it straight and let Kevin show off.
Catapult Nightmare: Anytime a character does this, the guys will pretend they were dreaming about some bad movie the actor was in.
Cat Boy: Bill Corbett is a "sexy kitten" in their halloween costume sketch during their live riff of House on Haunted Hill (1959). Played comically halfhearted by Bill in spite of applause and catcalls from the audience because he "doesn't want to overwhelm the poor audience".
Cats Are Mean: Bill mentions in The Hunger Games that he doesn't trust kittens, because they start off all cute, then you turn your back, and BOOM! They turn into cats. Evil, evil cats.
Corpsing: More often than not, the guys are laughing along with their own riffs, especially if the material is bizarre. Bill Corbett utterly breaks when Mike drops into a Scooby-Doo impression in the Night of the Living Dead live riff.
Creator Provincialism: The guys take several shots at their home State of Minnesota, particularly its frigid winters, and their former governor Jesse Ventura. Other cities in the Midwest also get jokes made at their expense, particularly Chicago.
Damned by Faint Praise: In an effort to say something positive about Star Wars Episode I, Mike describes it as being "slightly preferable to having a sand burr in your eye." Kevin says he guesses he'd take the film over "having a hot needle stuck into my infected toenail."
Darker and Edgier: If there's a happy, cheerful song in a short, its lyrics will be immediately changed to reflect death and horror. See the "County Fair" short for a great example.
Demoted to Extra: As the syncing issues that were Disembaudio's origial purpose have pretty much been eliminated, he's pretty much relegated to once-a-show drop-ins and singing (badly) over the end credits of whatever movie they're tackling.
Their discomfort is palpable during the scene in Star Trek: Generations where Picard reveals that his family was killed in a fire.
Dude, Where's My Respect?: A running gag in their riffs of the Harry Potter series particularly with regard to the continued distrust of the boy that saves Hogwarts once a year.
Harry: I was only [using magic in front of muggles] to save [them.]
Bill (continuing as Harry): Also I've saved the school four times and have a flawless record of being on the side of truth and justice.
Dull Surprise: The kids from "Drugs Are Like That"; their faces aren't seen often, but their voices are incredibly dull and lifeless.
Kevin: Someone ought to check this house for carbon monoxide.
Ear Worm: invoked Invoked by name from Bill Corbett.
Eldritch Abomination: How they interpret Renesmee Cullen from Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1, with Kevin flat out screaming "CTHULHU!" when he sees her during the birth scene.
Especially in Breaking Dawn Part 2. When she goes to Charlie's for Christmas, they have Mustache Dad claim "That all the Christmas decorations turned to ash and the advent calender started weeping blood."
Mike: Also hardware, lady's lingerie and blatant traps for idiot children.
invokedEnsemble Dark Horse: A gag used by the riffers. They often like to latch onto a character who is clearly not a focus of the story or even just has one or two lines and a memorable name. For example:
In Star Wars, they pine for Porkins, or sometimes Biggs Darklighter.
In Spider-Man (and beyond) they often reminisce about Bonesaw.
For the first ten minutes of Laser Mission, the guys keep asserting that the movie would be several times better if it were actually "Laser Chimps", as they randomly guessed at first.
During the climactic arm-wrestling match at the end of Over the Top, Mike muses on how the film would have been vastly improved if Sylvester Stallone had been teamed with a chimp, rather than a boy. Amusing activities the chimp could have engaged in would have included pickpocketing Robert Loggia's wallet.
Notably averted in One Got Fat. Bill is basically traumatized throughout the entire piece.
Fauxlosophic Narration: It's present in some of the shorts, including "American Thrift", "What It Means To Be An American" and "Your Chance To Live".
Felony Misdemeanor: While watching Star Wars: A New Hope, they decried the notorious changes to iconic scene of Han shooting Greedo as the foulest cinematic abortion of all time, comparing it to a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
Mike (as Joker): Because soup tastes better when it's difficult.
In the Star Wars series, they made Luke singularly obsessed with power converters, and gave Anakin/Vader a pathological hatred of sand (See Running Gag below).
They have a tendency to make hot women playing scientists or other brainy characters sound like completely shallow airheads. To be fair, they also make Sam Worthington sound about as intelligent as a strain of bacteria, as well.
In Twilight Breaking Dawn Part One, Bill interprets one of Edward's many bizarre facial contortions as him trying and failing to fart. This starts up a running gag that culminates with Kevin enumerating Edward's flaws, ending with "you can't fart." Bill says "In his defense, I kinda forced that one on him."
Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: In "The Bermuda Triangle", a shot of nothing but the ocean gives Bill horrible Waterworld flashbacks. Kevin tells him to get a grip, a slap is heard... and Bill, feeling much better, thanks Kevin for letting him slap him.
The guys mock a group of tone-deaf singers in "Coffeehouse Rendezvous" by singing "I harmonize badly" in set of truly horrible voices. They're otherwise pretty good singers, especially Kevin.
Hollywood Tactics: They like to Lampshade this now and then, such as in New Moon where the vampires' and werewolves' tactics seemed to consist of "run directly at the enemy." Likewise with the battle at the end of Avatar, they would have Sully shout "Proceed with the plan!" and someone else would shout back "And what was the plan again?"
Kevin: And I especially hate those stupid advertisements for sound tracks where people just make fun of perfectly good movies.
It doesn't stop there, though.
Kevin: And all those stupid ads for downloadable commentaries! Mike: Uh, Kevin? Kevin: *beat* I love those things! Twilight Mr. Rhinehart: You have a problem with authority, Mr. Anderson. Kevin Murphy: No, I don't! Go to hell! The Matrix
Made of Explodium: Mike likes Lampshading this. When something explodes for no good reason, he's likely to shout something like "No! Not my collection of antique kerosene lanterns!"
Madness Mantra: Some of the shorts provide their own, including "Quality freshness and flavor" (Three Magic Words), "Give George some more beans" (Each Child Is Different) and "Mr Bungle!" (Lunchroom Manners).
Magic Countdown: In The Hunger Games, while Katniss is waiting to get put into the Games, a voice over the PA announces "Thirty seconds." Mike starts counting down, and gets all the way to ten before the announcer comes back and says "twenty seconds." Mike immediately revises his count back up to 20. Especially odd since it wasn't even a Race Against the Clock situation, so there wasn't really any need to stretch time.
Mondegreen: In-universe and invoked. The riffers make a lot of rather puerile (but very funny) gags about mishearing the word "bonus" as "boners" in their Alien riff. Cue many references to "the boners situation".
In Batman & Robin, Mr. Freeze freezes Robin and quips, "Stay cool, bird boy." The riffers mishear it as "beard boy", thanks to Freeze's accent.
Mundane Made Awesome: Mike levels an accusation of this during Predator. He says that the tense music being played during an otherwise boring scene of Arnold walking through the jungle could be used to make anything sound epic, such as going to the store for milk or discovering you might be able to pay off your car sooner than you thought.
They will often have the bad guy (especially if he's hiding his intentions) blurt out things like "I'm not being evil!"
Oh Crap: Occasionally shows up among the riffers. For instance, during the short Live and Learn, in which even the most innocuous activities (such as cutting out paper dolls) turn out horribly for the children involved, we cut to two kids with a rifle:
Mike: Oh, this isn't going to end well.
One of Us: While all three of the Rifftrax crew are pretty down with pop culture, it seems that Bill Corbett is a dyed-in-the-wool Whovian — during the riff of Doctor Who And The Daleks, he was the one who made riffs about the movie not being canonical, and during a Christmas live-riff show was seen wearing the Fourth Doctor's scarf.
Overly-Long Gag: Kevin has a really bad (almost intentional) tendency to do jokes that run on for several minutes. They only stop when someone actually stops him.
Bill:(after Kevin has been making annoying siren noises in Highway Mania) Kevin? Don't take this the wrong way, but I will murder you and smile doing it.
A callback to his tendency to do so as Tom Servo in MST3K, most notably in Manos: The Hands of Fate when he single-handedly delivers the single longest riff in the entire series.
Subverted on the Twilight commentary when Mike starts to praise the plausibility of the love story only for Kevin to hit him with a phonebook.
Later on in the same film, Mike comments that Kevin "covered three city blocks" in setting up a joke about the Kansas City Royals baseball team.
Precision F-Strike: In general, the guys keep their commentary clean. They usually don't use language the film itself avoids. However, there are a few exceptions.
On the short The Red Hen, the following conversation takes place.
Kevin: I think it was really important to focus on the Red hen. The subtle differences between how the Red Hen and the speckled hen would handle this situation really elevates this short to a new level. Bill: What level is that, Kevin? Kevin: Completedogshit.
Protagonist-Centered Morality: They like to call movies out on this. For instance, during the Paris chase scene in The Bourne Identity, they made comments about how millions of euros in property damage were inflicted, dozens of lives endangered, and how years of therapy would be needed to pieces people's shattered lives back together, but that's all OK, because Matt Damon and his girlfriend are safe.
Bill Corbett: Well, I think he certainly proved that THIS! IS! SPARTA! Mike Nelson: Yeah, his kids make fun of him cause when he's handing out stuff on the 4th of July he insists on saying, "THIS! IS! A SPARKLER!" Kevin Murphy: Or, when he's giving his car a tune-up and his kid asks, "Hey Dad, what's that small white thing with the metal at each end?" he always replies "THIS! IS! A SPARKPLUG!" Bill Corbett: Or, when he sits down to a meal of juice, toast, milk, and Trix cereal... Mike Nelson: Uh-oh, where's he going with this? Bill Corbett: And he looks at his bowl of Trix and he says, "THIS! IS! SPART OF A BALANCED BREAKFAST!" Kevin Murphy: Wow! Mike Nelson: You pulled it off; nicely done! Bill Corbett: Thank you very much.
Later, there's "This! Is! Dinner!"
And in the Twilight RiffTrax, "THIS! IS! Forks High School: Home of the SPARTANS!"
And in Revenge of the Sith: "THIS! IS! THE TEDDY BEAR PICNIC!"
Rimshot: Kevin makes the sound about six or seven times in the Rifftrax for Casino Royale during some witty flirting. Mike asks at one point if he can go get Kevin a snare drum and a cymbal.
"The silver screen cannot contain the heated passion of Twilight!"
Self-Deprecation: For professional snarkers, the guys direct a refreshingly large number of jokes at themselves (or each other) for being overweight, nerdy, incapable of holding their drink etc. This sportingness probably contributes to the fact that their riffs never sound truly mean-spirited.
Self-Referential Humor: A lot. But special mention goes to the opening of their Highlander riff where Bill and Kevin begin with a generic template of their normal dialog.
In Titanic, Kevin's line of "I'm gonna sink this bitch" for Captain Théoden is taken verbatim, at the exact same scene, from way back when Mike and the bots did a short special to look over the movies that were at the Oscars that year (one of which of course was Titanic). Notable for Bill saying in an interview that for the longest time, it was one of his favorite jokes in the history of the show.
Reportedly, the chance to make this joke again is what prompted him and the team to riff on the movie at all, as they hadn't riffed on many "good" movies yet.
Star Wars Attack of the Clones has Mike saying "Into the Weenie-Mobile and off I go" as Anakin hops into a hovercar during the early assassin chase. It's a callback to the same remark in MST3K: The Movie.
Revenge of the Sith also has Mike commenting that General Grievous "needs a posture pal."
In Phantom Menace whilst continuing the Running Gag about certain aliens' notable Chinese accents one of them says (to a robot servant): 'Ahh, thank you, Number One' which is a shout out to The Navy Lark, a common phrase said by the re-occuring Chinese villain.
When Darth Vader is slaughtering the members of the Trade Federation, one of the riffers shouts "Macken!!" during a close-up of a horrified look.
Kevin:"Oh, come on, what kind of crazy director would make his movie backwards?!?!?"
A scene with Jacob in Breaking Dawn has Bill saying "Sleeping nose to anus is something I'll never get used to," then quietly whispers "wahrwilf."
In the RiffTrax Live show for Manos: The Hands of Fate, the riffing begins with Kevin saying "Wow, this really looks familiar...". He then says that it's video from his "vacation in hell".
Mike: Actually, Kevin, this looks like El Paso. Kevin: Like I said, hell.
They like to reference LOST quite a bit, particularly their disappointment with the last few seasons. A very subtle reference was made during the riff of The Dark Knight. At one point in the film, Kevin (speaking as the mayor of Gotham City) says "Get off the island, you say?" The mayor was played by Nestor Carbonell, who also played Richard Alpert on LOST.
Kevin: (as Neo discards his empty weapon during the climactic lobby shootout) "Ugh, you know what message that sends to the young people out there? That it's okay to just go ahead and throw their semi-automatic rifles on the floor like he just did. Well, shame on you sir!"
Stealth Pun - In the The Fifth Element Riff, Mike points out that the fifth element on the Periodic Table is actually Boron, and hopes that's not what the movie's about, since Boron is not a very interesting element.note One could say he finds Boron boring.
It also functions as a Shout-Out to their second MST3K summer blockbuster special.
While passing time during the Pod Race scene in The Phantom Menace, Kevin starts reading from IMDB, to Mike's annoyance. One of the facts Kevin reads off was about the poor box office showing of Barb Wire, which Gramercy Pictures chose to promote instead of MST3K: The Movie over a decade earlier.
Lots of take thats at Jar Jar during the first two movies (he wasn't on the screen much for the third). And then in the original trilogy riffs, all kinds of horrible things happen to Jar-Jar off screen and Gungans in general.
Mike: Now eat your fried Gungan.
They completely ignored what was happening onscreen during the Mace Windu vs Palpatine fight in Revenge of the Sith in favor of listening to one of the gang explain his old family pate recipe.
Kevin invokes this trope by name when Barbara is trying to guess Alfred's password in Batman & Robin.
This Is Gonna Suck: The day after Transformers: Dark of the Moon was released, Mike, Bill and Kevin endlessly tweeted about how terrible it was - and they know they'll have to do a RiffTrax for it. Sucks for them, great for us.
Throw It In: If they think a joke is particularly funny the crew will leave their laughter in as opposed to editing it out. Sometimes it can go on for several minutes and almost derail the commentary.
The Unintelligible: The kids in the short "A Visit From Santa." They are described as "speaking in tongues," and a little bit later as though they're speaking an "obscure Carpathian dialect."
The gas station owner in Birdemic. The riffers treat his incomprehensible speech a bit more kindly than the children in "A Visit From Santa," possibly because the guy is clearly a foreigner and just as clearly not an actor.
Values Dissonance: invoked Frequently addressed by the riffers, especially when it comes to women and having a personality.
Viewers Are Geniuses: As with MST3K, the guys like to make very obscure jokes, things that only a handful of the fans can be expected to get. Sometimes they Lampshade it, like when Mike made a joke about Crossroads during Avatar, and Kevin said "The 0.1% of the audience who got that joke thank you, Mike."
Viewers Are Morons: The audience that many of the shorts were originally created for. Some of these include how to draw a rectangle and how to boil water.
Bill Corbett: Should a person who doesn't know what boil means even be allowed near an open flame?
What Measure Is a Mook?: Frequently Lampshaded. When the hero is wiping out a room full of Mooks, sometimes one of the guys will call out something like "I work in the cafeteria! I was just getting some more napkins!"
"Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Mike does one at the end of Road House, except it's about all the characters dying in various ways — he even includes such characters as "the man who wanted to try Dalton" and "the man who encouraged fellow patrons to grope his wife". Afterwards he claims he was joking and in fact everybody lived Happily Ever After...except Tinker.
Mike tried to do this at the end of Ocean's Eleven, but the epilogue cut him off mid-sentence. Twice.
Wife Husbandry: In Dawn Part 2, once it's revealed that Jacob and Renesme have imprinted, the guys don't let up on him for a second.