For 10 seasons, they earned a cult following on cable by pummeling, pillorying and poking fun at hapless, low-budget science fiction movies.
And now — like the cheesy rubber-suit monsters they loved to jeer — the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000
are rising again, this time with a streaming media series debuting this month on Sci Fi Channel's Web site.
Their target this time? No less than the dean of fantasy fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Edward the Less
is a 13-part illustrated streaming-media comedy that sends up Tolkien's touted Lord of the Rings
trilogy. Timed to debut on Oct. 25 — just ahead of the release of the big-budget Lord of the Rings
movie — the Web series will follow its height-challenged namesake on a journey from his silly fantasy world into an equally ridiculous real world.
The series is presented like a storybook, with illustrations and character voiceovers. Plans are to debut about two new five-minute installments a week.
The online series continues the association between Sci Fi and Mystery Science Theater 3000, known to its fans as MST3K. Although the series (which began on Comedy Central) ended in 1999, it remains one of the most popular links on the scifi.com Web site, according to Web site executive director of original content Sean Redlitz.
"We were interested in exploring what we could do with them on the Web because we know the audience for them is so big, and we don't want that audience to feel like there is nothing left for them; there is no reason for them to stay together," Redlitz said.
head writer Mike Nelson, offending legions of diehard Tolkien fans wasn't as worrisome as finding the right Internet format for Edward the Less.
"One of the problems is delivery of sound and obviously the picture — and we've tried to maximize to make it actually work," Nelson said. "As a person who has been frustrated by the technology too much, you have to realize its limitations and then play to it. Then, it can actually be very fun.
"We tried to avoid that frustration and make a style of animation not so unbelievably complex that it simply doesn't work," added Nelson.
The series is part of a growing list of scifi.com original content that's not tied to programming on the cable channel. Scifi.com views itself as a service that serves a wide science-fiction fan base, rather than as merely a marketing arm for the network.
"We are an entertainment site that deals with people who love science-fiction TV, science-fiction movies, science-fiction stories," Redlitz said.
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