I just discovered RiffTrax this weekend. This is basically a project where Mike Nelson, of MST3K fame, riffs on a movie (in MST3K style) and then releases the audio track as an MP3, which you can then play as you watch the movie on DVD. (He includes a few devices to help you keep the two in sync.) While this is obviously a bit of a kludge, it gets around the issues that MST3K had with licensing movies, and allows him to do movies that he’d never be able to get the rights to do, like The Matrix, X-Men, and Star Wars: Phantom Menace, all of which I downloaded and watched/listened to this weekend. (I’ll readily admit that I already own the DVDs for those three movies.) There was some pretty funny stuff on all three of them. Lots of Jar-Jar jokes for Star Wars, of course, and the usual assortment of oddball pop culture references and general silliness that you’d find in an episode of MST3K.

After discovering Rifftrax, I did a little searching, and found that there are quite a few other sites out there offering alternate commentaries for movies, some funny and some serious. There’s Commentary Central, offering an index of popular commentaries, and DVD PodBlast, offering a number of freely-downloadable commentaries on generally bad movies. And there’s the strange Wizard People, Dear Reader, which is an oddball alternate audio track for the first Harry Potter movie.

To help make the whole process of listening to these things a little easier, there’s a program called Sharecrow, that basically just plays a DVD movie (from your computer’s DVD drive) and an MP3 file at the same time, keeping them in sync, and letting you pause them simultaneously. Of course, this doesn’t work if you want to watch the movie on your TV. The method I used with Rifftrax was to play the DVD on my normal DVD player, while playing the MP3 on my laptop, which I just plopped down on the couch so I could easily hear it and control it.

I’m not sure if I’ll bother downloading any more of these right now, but I’ll definitely keep an eye on the Rifftrax site and see if they do any other movies that I’m really interested in.

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