The Titans are shown standing or seated on scaffolding and filmed in silhouette in the studio-recorded DVDs; on the live DVDs and shows they sit at music stands with their scripts (or more recently, an iPad) in front of them. They riff bad movies, in the manner of MST3K. The actors essentially play themselves as they participate in an experiment for some unknown, possibly shadowy corporation or military force. The story currently provided to the cast is that there is a tear in the "electron scaffolding" that threatens all digital media in the world. Their experience doing MST3K is key to the organization's plans. The riffing for each film is recorded to a "nanotated disc" and inserted into a "Time Tube" by Hodgson that descends into the frame at the end of every episode. The unknown organization is very firm on keeping the cast focused on their duties, providing no time frame for completion and requiring them to stay within the facilities at all times. They apparently have massive resources and an autonomous military force, which they use to keep the cast in line. As of now, the cast is inquisitive of the true purpose of the experiments but have no major problems as, aside from having to watch bad movies, they are well-treated. There are often host segments on the studio DVDs, but unlike the MST3K ones, the players remain in silhouette in the theater.
On February 16, 2013, it was announced that Cinematic Titanic was going on indefinite hiatus. According to a notice, due to "5 people living in 5 different cities with different lives and projects, it has become increasingly difficult to coordinate our schedules and give Cinematic Titanic the attention it requires to keep growing as a creative enterprise and a business."
Films riffed (available on DVD, unless noted otherwise):
- The Oozing Skull (1972)
- Doomsday Machine (1972)
- The Wasp Woman (1959)
- Legacy of Blood (1971)
- Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
- Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (1974)
- Blood of the Vampires (1966)
- East Meets Watts (1974)
- The Alien Factor (1978)
- Danger on Tiki Island (1968)
- War of the Insects (1968)
- Rattlers (1976)
- Samson and the Seven Miracles of the World (1961 - Live Show only)
- The Astral Factor (1976 - Live Show only)
- The Doll Squad (1973 - Live Show only)
As of East Meets Watts, the show has moved from the scripted, silhouetted shows to taping the live shows (which are staged similarly to the RiffTrax live shows). As of 2021, episodes are available through Shout! Factory.
Compare and contrast RiffTrax, which features a different set of MST3K alumni. The main difference between the two is that the RiffTrax crew can riff on more contemporary films while Cinematic Titanic concentrated on obscure B-movies similar to what you'd find on the original MST3K. Also, Cinematic Titanic has a continuous storyline while RiffTrax does not. (That storyline is not referenced in the live shows or the DVDs recorded from them.)
Cinematic Titanic provides examples of:
- Anti-Humor: A preshow sequence had Frank use about half a dozen fat jokes on embattled New Jersey governor Chris Christie ("I don't want to say Chris Christie eats large portions of food, but all of his silverware was designed by Claes Oldenburg"), followed by this gem:No, but seriously folks, when Chris Christie sits around the house, he really passes laws that hurt working Americans.
- As Himself: All the Titans are playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves. They reference their past work as part of MST3K, and that experience is apparently why the mysterious organization decided to use them in the first place.
- Butt-Monkey: Poor Frank seems to reprise his old role from MST3K.
- California Doubling: During a driving scene from The Wasp Woman, allegedly set in Manhattan:Josh: Oh, I love New York in the summertime. Looks so much like... Encino.
- Cannot Spit It Out: In "War of the Insects", Mary Jo completely mangles a line, to which Josh quips "They can't all be sentences!"
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Partway through Blood of the Vampires, Frank decides he needs a freaking drink. Immediately after taking said drink, he gets a phone call from his AA sponsor. Frank tries to insist that it was just apple juice—then he wonders how the hell his sponsor found out about his drinking so quickly, and throws the phone away in panic.
- Darker and Edgier: There is definitely more profanity and adult-oriented humor from Joel and the gang, along with brief nudity and racial epithets in the riffing targets.
- Deadpan Snarker: All of them at times, but Mary Jo is the queen.
- Discontinuity Nod: The Doomsday Machine episode references the crew's involvement with MST3k.Government official: We've noticed you don't have the robots with you anymore.
Trace: We don't do that anymore, it's just us now.
Official: Oh, so it's not just a copyright thing?
- Distracting Disambiguation: In Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, Trace pauses the film because, as a huge fan of the original novel Frankenstein, he wants to say something about this adaptation. The others interrupt to say this is the first they've ever heard of his love for Frankenstein, or to ask him why he doesn't like Frank, and then that derails into wondering why some of them get to sit in chairs while the rest of them have to stand. By the time Trace finally gets to talk again, there's no time left for whatever rant he wanted to share in the first place.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: In The Wasp Woman, they make a bunch of jokes about how much the movie's youth serum resembles heroin, and eventually they get meta about it:Joel: Oh brother. She's shooting up again and I'm fresh out of heroin references.
Josh: Me too, and if I don't get another heroin joke in me, the spiders are gonna come back!
- Early Installment Weirdness: The Oozing Skull doesn't have the guy from the Institute giving an introduction to the film.
- The End... Or Is It?: Lampshading the usage of this ending in Rattlers:Josh: This shot tells you one thing: some dipshit actually thought there might be a sequel.
Joel: Snakey will be back in Sweet Sweetsnake's Badass Song!
- Failed a Spot Check: In Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, Mary Jo gets jealous of Frank's chair and wonders why she doesn't have her own chair to sit in. The others have to point out that she does have a chair, that she's currently sitting in.
- Felony Misdemeanor: The mysterious organization doesn't permit smoking anywhere in the facility (The Wasp Woman), nor gum chewing in the theater (Legacy of Blood). They have on-site soldiers to enforce these rules at gunpoint.
- Gilded Cage: Aside from being forced to watch bad movies, the riffers' accommodations are pretty nice. They just can't leave. There's even an office Christmas party in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians—attendance is mandatory, of course:Mary Jo: Well, then why the hell do we have to R.S.V.P.?
Government official: We like to keep the illusion of personal freedom alive whenever possible.
- HA HA HANo: Frank pulls this naturally.
- Hypocritical Humor:
- From Santa Claus Conquers the Martians:Voldar: All this trouble over a fat little man in a red suit.
Joel: ...said the pudgy ham in the green leotard.
- Rattlers has a brief shot where the romantic leads just appear as silhouettes, with the lights of Las Vegas behind them. Frank declares, "Just the silhouettes of the characters? That's lame!"
- From Santa Claus Conquers the Martians:
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Josh brings some unspecified alcohol into the theater for Blood of the Vampires and offers to share. Mary Jo initially declines—but upon realizing they aren't even halfway through the movie yet, quickly changes her mind. And Frank has been sober for years after going through Alcoholics Anonymous, but decides this movie is the perfect occasion to fall off the wagon.
- Is That What They're Calling It Now?: From Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks.Some guy: Alright, let's take her in for an autopsy.
Joel: Oh, is that what they're calling it now...
- Jizzed in My Pants: Trace makes a very well-timed joke about this in the live show for The Alien Factor, and it brings down the house, as well as Frank and Mary Jo.
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: The reaction to stock footage of a missile in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians:Frank: Hey, that reminds me of a giant penis!
Joel: Frank, we're gonna need you to try a little harder than that...
- Leave the Camera Running:
- Discussed at the end of Doomsday Machine, where the final scene has a tediously long segment with Daniel and Georgiana s-l-o-w-l-y fumbling with the spacecraft's control panel, not even talking to each other for minutes at a time. This leaves the riffers begging for something, anything, to happen, and even cheering at the prospect of dialogue returning.
- Similarly, The Alien Factor features many, many scenes of characters walking slowly through the woods (or in one case, someone's backyard), prompting Joel to quip that it's "the safest movie, ever, to go to the bathroom during." During an early scene, where a shot of a woman running away from the monster just goes on and on and on, Josh chimes in and pretends to be the director:Josh: Aaand cut. Alright, let's print that. [beat] Aaaand we're cutting. [beat] Aaand we should stop the camera, guys. Guys! None of this is gonna end up in the final movie! Just cut!
- Only a Model: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has a shadowrama segment where Joel gets impossibly cool presents for all the other riffers: Paul McCartney's bass guitar for Josh, a Tesla Roadster note for Mary Jo, and for Frank, the actual Moviola used to edit Citizen Kane. But Joel insists that they can't do anything with their gifts until after the movie—and Frank points out that specific Moviola was destroyed in a studio fire. The others ask Joel if he really bought them presents, or just brought in the silhouettes of things that would be cool presents if they were real. Joel gets offended and asks for the movie to start again before Trace gets to see his Time Machine with a laser canon.
- The Other Darrin: Discussed at the end of Doomsday Machine, as the riffers crack a bunch of jokes about how obvious it is that the director brought in new actors to film the final scenes. (The new actors only appear in face-concealing spacesuits, and their voices sound different.) Josh decides to borrow a page from that book and walks out of the theater—then "Josh" walks back in, wearing a bulky helmet and talking with a completely different voice. The other riffers aren't fooled, and insist that the real Josh come back.
- No Ending: The live shows don't continue the plot from the studio episodes. So when the Titans stopped doing studio episodes and just released recordings of the live show, this left the ongoing plot (the true nature of the their captors, and the question of whether they'd ever fix the "tear in the electron scaffolding") unresolved. Granted, said plot's a transparent excuse to make the cast watch bad movies, so leaving it unfinished doesn't hurt that much.
- Overly Long Name: In Blood of the Vampires, Mary Jo makes a joke about the vampire mom using a Full-Name Ultimatum on her son. Since this is 1800s Mexico...[scoffs] Eduardo Alonzo Juan Marco Pablo Rodriguez Benecio Francisco Manuel Hector Fernando Javier Roberto Miguel Raul Escodero, what do you think you're doing?
- Joel: Mmmm... Just a touch more padding, and this overstuffed couch of a movie is... [chef's kiss]
Josh: You know, as a viewer, I would have never accepted her getting back to her car without seeing every single frame of the journey.
Frank: She put an ad in Variety: "I can turn any short film into a feature-length movie, by walking!" The Alien Factor gets a lot of mockery for its numerous drawn-out scenes of people just walking through the woods.
- In Rattlers, the outspoken feminist photographer has a boring scene of aimlessly wandering in the desert, prompting Mary Jo to chime in: "See? I can slow down the movie with meaningless walking scenes just as good as any man!"
- Partially-Concealed-Label Gag: While watching Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, Trace Beaulieu mentions how much he loves the original novel Frankenstein. None of the other riffers were aware of this fact, so Trace shows off his novelty t-shirt to prove it:Trace Beaulieu: Why do you think I wear this t-shirt all the time? [opens his suit jacket to show off the shirt]Josh Elvis Weinstein: [reading the shirt] "I Like Frank."[Trace contorts himself so the rest of the shirt is visible...]Josh: [continued reading] "...enstein's Monster." Oh!Frank Conniff: I always thought that shirt was about me! I'm a little sad now.
- Phrase Catcher: in Legacy of Blood:Christopher Dean: Take your hands off me!Titans: [simultaneously] You damn dirty ape.
- Portrait Painting Peephole: Frank comments on the usage of this trope in Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks: "Once the abstract expressionists came along, it became harder and harder to peep at girls through paintings." Slightly later, Josh adds that people should put up landscape paintings instead of portraits to prevent this kind of thing from happening.
- Refuge in Audacity: Many of Frank's riffs, as well as his opening stand-up if you see the show live.
- Scenery Censor: At the beginning of Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, the government official explains that they're premiering a new "boobie blimp" technology. Sure enough, during the bathing and skinny-dipping scenes, a small blimp appears in the theater and hovers in just the right place to obscure the actress's nudity.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
- The cast tends to ditch the movies during their final few minutes rather than stay to the very end.
- When Trace learns that they'll be riffing on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians he attempts to flee, only to be dragged kicking and screaming back into the theater.
- Shout-Out: To a certain other movie-riffing franchise. From the East Meets Watts live:the film's lead is battling a snake in a rock pit
Joel: Hey, Trace? Watch out for snakes.
audience goes wild
the lead is climbing out of the rock pit
Trace: Hey, Joel? Rock climbing.
audience goes wild
Frank: Torgo! (audience cracks up) No, wait, that has nothing to do with anything.
Mary Jo: It's pander-monium!
- Sick and Wrong: From Blood of the Vampires.Mary Jo: Brother/sister vampire action; it's not right and it's not hot.
- Special Edition Title:
- Since the Cold Open of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians involves Trace trying to escape, the opening titles see him dragged into the theater by soldiers, rather than walking in himself like normal.
- The opening titles in Blood of the Vampires have all the riffers walk into the theater from the left side of the screen, since the entrance on the right is blocked off due to a movie spill.
- Spit Take: In East Meets Watts, the entire crew pulls off a simultaneous version when an onscreen character drops a particularly vile racial epithet.
- Subliminal Seduction: Commenting on the soundtrack from The Wasp Woman.Trace: This is like slowed-down klezmer music.
Josh: Yeah, if you play it backwards, the Devil orders a knish.
- Subverted Catch-Phrase: Rattlers, a film about deadly snakes, would be a perfect time to reuse that old chestnut, "Watch out for snakes!" Instead, the riffers wait until the protagonist describes how snake tracks get easily "washed out" by rain or wind. Then Frank chimes in, "Wash out for snakes!"
- Take That!:
- During the opening credits of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Joel mentions that they originally thought it was hilarious that Pia Zadora was in the movie, but he can't remember why now. (Either a Take That! at Zadora or a Take That Me for making such a big deal out of it in the first place.)
- When the local reporter in The Alien Factor is interviewing the M.D. about the mysterious death of a young man at the beginning and doesn't want to provide false information to keep rumors from getting started, Trace quips, "This is back when journalism used facts."
- For a host segment during The Wasp Woman, Frank resurrects jazz drummer Buddy Rich as a special guest. Everyone besides Frank thinks this is a terrible idea because Buddy was an infamous asshole. Sure enough, Buddy is verbally abusive to everyone and won't even play any music until Frank releases the wasps to sting him.