The Film Crew: The Giant of Marathon (2007)
For those who somehow haven’t heard, three cast members from Mystery Science Theater 3000 have reunited to bring the joy of riffing on bad movies to the world. They are: Kevin Murphy (better known as the voice of Tom Servo), Bill Corbett (better known as the voice of Crow T. Robot), and Mike Nelson (better known as the voice of Mike Nelson). Together they are: The Film Crew.
The Film Crew originally joined forces to host colorized Three Stooges shorts; Since then, they’ve made sporadic appearances on cable (American Movie Classics, Encore, Starz) hosting a variety of cult classics. This year, the Film Crew finally brought their act to DVD, but this time, they aren’t just hosting the movies—they’re giving them the full-on MST3k-style riffing treatment.
The Film Crew DVDs started coming out in July, and I just now got my hands on these babies. (Hey, I may love MST3k, but Degrassi High will always come first in my heart.) The release I’m reviewing here is the Film Crew’s take on Giant of Marathon, and it’s the most recent in the series. (There are three more DVDs I plan to review in the coming weeks.)
In a nutshell, this DVD is like a lost episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The only thing missing are the silhouettes of Mike and the Bots in the corner of the screen.
The premise is pretty simple: Mike, Kevin, and Bill are three low-wage employees toiling away in a cluttered industrial basement. They’ve been assigned the task of coming up with a commentary track for every movie that doesn’t have one. Something of an audacious goal, you’d imagine, but if anyone is up to the task, it’s these three.
On each DVD, they’re assigned a movie by their boss Joe Honcho (only seen in photographs). Okay, you can easily see the parallels to Dr. Forrester sending them cheesy movies, but it’s enough of a fresh spin that it doesn’t feel like a total rip-off.
The Film Crew also cut down on what I always felt was MST3k’s weakest aspect: the host segments. When they spoofed the movie they were riffing on, the skits were pretty funny, but I always found attempts at actual storylines in the host segments somewhat lacking. Thankfully, the Film Crew’s skits are limited to an intro, an outro, and a “lunch break” in the middle of the movie. (And also, a couple of skits in the DVD bonus features, which are kind of hit and miss.)
One interesting thing I noticed: Despite coming out this year, the DVDs all bear a 2005 copyright, indicating that they sat on the shelf for a while. I’m guessing that a Film Crew TV series was pitched to various cable networks without much success, which is too bad. And if these DVDs were filmed two years ago, this might be why there are currently no plans for future installments. But maybe if the DVDs sell well enough, the Film Crew will return in one form or another. You can make it happen, America!
Well, technically speaking, the Film Crew has already returned in another form. Namely, a website you may have heard of called RiffTrax. FULL DISCLOSURE: This website is a RiffTrax affiliate, which is the surprising reason you see a lot of RiffTrax banners on this site. However, contrary to what some might think, this does not mean I have standing invitations to Bill Corbett’s Sunday brunches, nor do I receive monthly autographed 8x10s of Mike Nelson (autographed by Bill Corbett, of course), nor do I get to borrow the Tom Servo puppet on weekends to show off at parties (it would make a great keg, too). I’m just a fan like everybody else, doing what I can to keep the home riffing fires burning. And despite having a similar concept, and featuring the same people, I think there’s plenty of room in this world for both RiffTrax and the Film Crew.
RiffTrax, as you might know, is a much more interactive experience. Because once you purchase the MP3 audio track containing all the riffing (a “riff track”, if you will), it’s up to you, the viewer, to go out and get the DVD separately. You see, it’s their way of keeping you from living too much of a sedentary lifestyle.
But what it really means is the guys don’t have to negotiate the rights to the movies involved, freeing them up to riff on big budget blockbusters. So RiffTrax can take on your Point Breaks, and your Glitters of the world. So don’t complain about having to put a little effort into it, you lazy bastards.
The Film Crew, on the other hand, gets around the whole “rights” issue by taking on films that appear to have slipped into the public domain. While the films are obscure, the riffing is just as good as RiffTrax, and if you enjoy one, you’ll probably enjoy the other.
Speaking of obscure films, Giant of Marathon is a 1959 sword-and-sandals epic starring Steve Reeves. The Film Crew is certainly in familiar territory here, having already riffed on the likes of Colossus and the Headhunters and Samson vs. the Vampire Women during their MST3k days.
The plot is somewhat hard to follow, especially with three guys talking over the movie, but it seems to be loosely based on the ancient Battle of Marathon. Steve Reeves plays Pheidippides—or as he’s called in the movie, “Philippides”—the legendary figure who ran from Athens to Marathon, and still inspires people today to run 26 miles for no damn reason whatsoever. But despite the historical basis for the character, Reeves plays him as just another Hercules clone.
Philippides is a champion at the Olympics, and for some reason or another, he gets seduced by a woman who stole her eyebrows from Divine, even though he’s really smitten with a woman named Andromeda (played by Myléne Demongeot, who’s just straight up hot). At some point, the Persian army attacks, so Philippides runs all the way to Sparta to persuade them to help Athens fight. Then he runs to Marathon, and helps defeat the Persian army there. Then he travels to Athens, drowning his horse somewhere along the way, and fends off an attack by sea, rescuing Andromeda in the process.
Imagine my surprise to find out Giant of Marathon already has a connection to one of the movies on this site. The battle footage looked eerily familiar, and it didn’t take me long to figure out why: The Alexander the Great TV pilot from 1964, starring William Shatner and Adam West, stole nearly all of its battle footage from Giant of Marathon. All of the catapults, boulders, archery, horses doing face plants, horses plowing into shields, and big drums being pounded come directly from this movie. (Assuming, of course, there’s not an even earlier film that Giant of Marathon is ripping off.) How about that? The Alexander pilot was even cheaper than I thought. (Which reminds me, I really need to get around to updating the Alexander recap one of these days, with better screencaps from the new DVD.)
Taken on its own, Giant of Marathon is a forgettable sword and sandals flick. But the Film Crew have a field day with it, especially due to the strange, homoerotic nature of the film. I mean, really, what’s up with all these sweaty, barely-clothed men, anyway? I swear that half this movie was watching dudes swim around in diapers.
If I may, I’d like to share just a taste of the riffing to be heard on this DVD. I don’t think the Film Crew guys would mind, as long as it helps to move some product. Plus, it allows me to fantasize that they’re actually contributing screencaps to this site.
Sample riffs from the DVD:
As you can tell, the riffing is a little more risqué than the average MST3k episode, but not by much. I was expecting it to be even edgier, considering this is a direct-to-DVD release. I mean, come on. Where’s Mystery Science Theater 3000: Too Hot for TV already? But given that these DVDs were probably meant as TV pilots, that would explain why they mostly keep it clean.
The “lunch break” skit is funny, with Bill using lunchmeat to dramatize the Battle of Marathon. The bonus features are fairly amusing. There’s a short bit where Mike tries and fails to apologize to groups he offended during the movie. Also, there’s a skit where Mike pretends to be “Walter S. Ferguson”, a supposed extra from Giant of Marathon, doing his own “guest commentary”. At about ten minutes, it went on a bit long, but I wouldn’t mind hearing more joke commentaries in this vein.
My biggest complaint is that the Film Crew DVDs have no option to watch the films uncut. Would it have killed them to include an extra audio track without the riffing? But then again, if all you want is an uncut copy of these movies, there’s plenty of places to get them for cheap.
Now, when the heck is that Cinematic Titanic DVD coming out?