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Cinematic Titanic @ The Pabst Theater

Sept. 20, 2013

Sep. 23, 2013
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Photo credit: Benjamin Wick

With its homemade, public access aesthetic, simple premise and distinctly Midwestern lack of pretension, TV’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” which elevated bashing crappy Z-movies from a late night dorm room past time to an art form in and of itself, always seemed something of an underdog. Despite this though, or more likely because of it, the show amassed an impressive cult following during its 11-year run, one which, following its cancellation in 1999, has made due with the programs two different, but still competitive, offshoots, RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic. Soon that rabid fan base will be down to one option, as the latter is calling it quits to focus on other projects. For the first of the project’s two-night stay in Milwaukee as part of its farewell tour, the turnout was predictably high, as was the crowd’s enthusiasm, and Cinematic Titanic didn’t disappoint.

Formed by the series’ first host Joel Hodgson, Cinematic Titanic also features the original voices of his two robot buddies Crow and Tom Servo, Trace Beaulieu and Josh "J. Elvis" Weinstein respectively, along with regular villains Mary Jo Pehl and Frank Conniff, who after all this time are perfectly in sync with each other’s timing and comedic rhythms. For Friday night’s show, the troupe turned the rapier wits on exploitation director Ted V. Mikels 1973 action film The Doll Squad, an underexposed, cliché-ridden mess, full of plot holes, tone-deaf dialogue and leading ladies chosen more for their measurements than their acting ability. It provided ample fodder for Hodgson and company, who sat just out of frame, reading their scripted, but extemporaneously delivered, jibes from off of dimly glowing tablets.

The humor is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with MST3K, complete with all the smart film-nerd allusions, shamelessly corny, groaner puns, and cheeky pop culture references that made the show so much fun in the first place, only updated to include swipes at notable dirtbag Chris Brown or the new iPhone, and, free from the restrictions of basic cable, with a few obscenities thrown in for good measure. But while it’s naturally similar, it’s also subtly its own thing, with the hecklers’ real personalities coming through instead of their former characters’, not that that lessened the laughter of the packed house. When the credits rolled, Cinematic Titanic took a humble bow to roaring applause, disappeared into the wings and the audience filed out, satisfied but sad to say goodbye. Hey, there’s still RiffTrax, right?


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