Feb 23, 2016
RiffTrax Live! Sharknado (2014)
RiffTrax is the ongoing project of former Mystery Science Theater 3000 writers/stars Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett to provide hilarious audio commentaries for films in the style of their former TV show (though it’s hard to imagine that anyone reading this isn’t already well aware of this).
RiffTrax was founded in 2006 and is currently more popular than ever, and is now regularly hosting live events broadcast to theaters around the country. These live events have seen the guys riffing on everything from classic bad movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space, MST3k favorites like “Manos” The Hands of Fate, and even high profile crap like Starship Troopers and the 1998 Godzilla. And last summer, the movie Sharknado became the subject of a RiffTrax live event, and after watching it, the only real question on my mind is, why did it take so long?
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When Sharknado premiered in July of 2013, SyFy had already aired plenty of movies produced by the Asylum that were just as ridiculously awful, and with even stupider titles to boot. So why Sharknado became the first Asylum film to really break into the public consciousness remains an enduring mystery. But break into the public consciousness it did, and so it was only inevitable that the film (with the full blessings of the Asylum, of course) would become the subject of a RiffTrax live event.
The live broadcast, which is currently available for download on the RiffTrax site, was recorded in July of last year at the State Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mystery Science Theater 3000 originated on local Minneapolis UHF station KTMA of course, and it’s clear by the packed house and the standing ovation as Bill, Mike, and Kevin take the stage that they still have a big following there.
Much like other RiffTrax live events, this one starts with an aperitif of the guys riffing on a old black and white short film. This time around, it’s 1940’s “A Case of Spring Fever”, previously riffed on in a tenth season episode of MST3k. It stars a put-upon middle-aged husband who becomes increasingly aggravated as he fixes the springs in his couch. Eventually, he becomes fed up with the very concept of “springs”, and wishes aloud that springs never existed. That’s when an animated character called “Coily the Spring Sprite” materializes and makes his wish come true, George Bailey-style.
The guy is shown the apocalyptic scenarios that would result if there were no such thing as springs: your watch wouldn’t work, your window shades wouldn’t stay down, you wouldn’t be able to dial a rotary phone (the horror!), and you wouldn’t have brakes on your car. Ultimately, the man sees the error of his ways, and is allowed to return to a comforting world overflowing with springs.
You’d think this would be where the short ends, but then we get a lengthy, insane sequence where the guy goes golfing, and proceeds to harangue his golfing buddies about all the ways that springs are vital to life on Earth as we know it. I’m not exaggerating when I say this part of the short film lasts at least as long as the bit with Coily, probably even longer.
It’s yet another short where you spend the entire running time trying to figure out who thought this film was necessary, and who exactly it was made for. Was there growing anti-spring sentiment in pre-war America? Naturally, the RiffTrax guys get a lot of mileage out of the absurdity of the short, mostly in the way Coily repeatedly cries out in his scratchy, demonic voice, “No springs!”
Before the feature presentation, the guys get the opportunity to present a never-before-seen clip from the (then) forthcoming Sharknado 2: The Second One, and this “preview” is every bit as half-assed as you would expect. It’s about a minute or so of Ian Ziering and Mark McGrath and Vivica A. Fox at Citi Field seeing a sharknado approaching, and they all grab baseball bats, that’s it, the end.
But it should also come as no surprise that RiffTrax is planning a live event on July 9, 2015 to riff on Sharknado 2 (with tickets already on sale), just in time to coincide with the airing of the third movie (yes, they made a Sharknado 3, who knew?). I must admit, Sharknado 2 has been sitting on my DVR for nearly a year now, and I still can’t quite bring myself to watch it. As I’ve already made clear, I abhor the whole concept of intentionally “bad” movies like Sharknado 2, but I suppose a RiffTrax live event might just be the thing to finally help me stomach it.
At last, we get to the main event. For those who somehow don’t know by now, Sharknado stars former Beverly Hills 90210 star Ian Ziering as Finn, owner of a surfside bar, who along with his bikini-clad waitress, his annoying Tasmanian friend, and Kevin’s dad from Home Alone end up getting caught in a freak Southern California hurricane that brings thousands of sharks to shore. And just when they think it’s safe to not go anywhere near the water, tornadoes form and suck up the sharks and become the film’s titular threat. On the run from flying (and somehow, still biting) sharks, Finn rounds up his ex-wife (Tara Reid) and their two kids, but instead of simply hiding in a safe place like sane people, they hatch a plan to defeat the sharknadoes by dropping welding gas cylinders from helicopters to dissipate tornadoes. And if you really need to know more, just read the recap I wrote shortly after the film aired.
The RiffTrax guys get plenty of material out of this movie, riffing on Tara Reid’s rather dimwitted party girl image, and constantly getting Ziering confused with his 90210 co-stars. The riffing is solid and nonstop, with almost no dead spots for the entire runtime. Also, you can tell that most of the audience for the event had never seen Sharknado before, and it’s fun to hear them react with horror and glee at some of the film’s most brazenly idiotic moments (particularly the ending) as well as all the awful acting on display.
Watching Sharknado again (which, believe me, is not something I ever planned on doing), I was especially struck this time by just how unwatchable this film is. Its reputation leads you to believe it’s a unintentional laugh-fest, but it’s actually pretty painful to experience and really unpleasant to look at. On top of the hideously cheap CGI, the film has atrocious ADD editing, and at one point during the riffing, one of the guys remarks that the movie looks like it was edited in a Vitamix, and that’s pretty accurate.
Any pause in the action is filled with rapid-fire, nondescript shots of actors, scenery, buildings, terrible CGI, or whatever else they had lying around, all seemingly picked at random. While pure incompetence was surely a factor, it seems more like a calculated effort to make this film seem more “exciting” by constantly cutting for no reason. One of the best riffs comes when we get a random shot of someone loading a shotgun during a lull in a conversation, and one of the guys quips, “Well, that murder-suicide pact isn’t gonna honor itself!”
So I’d say that the RiffTrax crew has actually made Sharknado watchable, and that may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it’s pretty high praise coming from someone who would have been perfectly happy never experiencing anything Sharknado-related again for the rest of his life. And now look at me—I’m actually thinking about attending a screening of Sharknado 2. But only with the help of the stars of RiffTrax, of course.