As Hollywood faced a challenge from the Writers Guild over digital royalties , Buffy, Firefly, and Dollhouse auteur Joss Whedon spent his spare time and cash producing this truly unique web serial. Unique both in terms of its content as well as its artist-owned distribution model, Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog flew in the face of many long-held beliefs about programming. Not the least of these was monetization. Whedon's idea was to just give it away for free to build a fanbase that could later be expected to pay for added content. The accepted wisdom here in both the music and film industry was that no one in their right mind would actually pay for something they could get for free. But they did, many times over.
The reason for this is the unique content. Dr. Horrible isn't the sort of thing you would find on TV or in the cinema. A musical comedy/tragedy about superheroes running at an unmarketable length of 42 minutes is like a square peg in the industry's round hole. What's more, it tells its "superhero" tale from the point of view of an aspiring supervillain, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), who is less horrible than inept, timid, and lovesick. The real "villain" of the film is its ostensible hero, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), who is closer to the self-loving captain of the high school football team than to, say, Captain America. In between the two men is Penny (Felicia Day), the girl who falls for Captain Hammer's easy charms while Dr. Horrible pines for her in secret. That neither of the men "get" the girl in the end is yet another subversion, but one many Whedon fans have come to expect.
What sets the film apart from the thousands of other productions streaming in cyberspace is its high production values and incredibly talented creators and cast. Even with only a six-day shooting schedule, Team Whedon (Maurissa Tancharoen and brothers Joss, Jed & Zack) gives the production a look comparable with most TV shows, and, since it's a musical, wonderful songs that encourage singing along. The script is a gem of a comedy with great one liners and characters who are immediately engaging. The only downside to all of this is that it all ends much too quickly. But most filmmakers would kill to have an audience leave their films wanting more. Most of the time, I'm left wanting less, much less.
Both Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion are fantastic in their roles, but this is really Neil Patrick Harris' show. I have to say that the emergence of Harris from child star to pop-culture icon has been one of the more pleasant surprises of this decade. An old-fashioned entertainer, Harris can sing a little, dance a little, and even act a little, but what he has going more than anything else is charm. He's simply likable. That might even be the best way to describe Dr. Horrible itself. It's simply a pleasure to watch.
The big question is whether or not the Blu-Ray version of the film is worth buying. The picture and sound have never been better (especially if you've only seen it on the net). If that's what you're looking for, then this is the version for you. But if you are into added features and already own the standard-definition DVD, there's really nothing new here. Everything has been ported over from the SD disc. But in any case, these are excellent.
The added features include "The Making of Dr. Horrible
," which is broken into three smaller parts: "The Movie," "The Music," and "What just Happened?" The first two are amusing chronicles of the production process from writing, to casting, to the recording of the songs and shooting. "What Just Happened?" deals with the aftermath as a "home movie" project became a pop-culture phenomenon.
There are two commentary tracks. The first is a group commentary with the Whedons and cast all talking informally while watching the film. It's fun and informative. It also reveals the "secret" cameo of Sarah Michelle Gellar for those Buffy
fans out there playing "Where's Waldo."
The second track is "Commentary: The Musical," which is exactly what you might expect. Since it runs for the entire 42-minute length, it's basically a second musical about the making of the first one. It features another fantastic lineup of songs, this time much more ironic and self aware. The tracks are:
- "Commentary!" -- Company
- "Strike" -- Company
- "Ten-Dollar Solo" -- Stacy Shirk (as Groupie #2), Neil Patrick Harris
- "Better (Than Neil)" -- Nathan Fillion
- "It's All About the Art" -- Felicia Day
- "Zack's Flavor" -- Zack Whedon, female backups, Joss Whedon
- "Nobody Wants to Be Moist" -- Simon Helberg (as Moist)
- "Ninja Ropes" -- Jed Whedon, Neil Patrick Harris
- "All About Me" -- Extras
- "Nobody's Asian in the Movies" -- Maurissa Tancharoen
- "Heart (Broken)" -- Joss Whedon, backups (Jed Whedon, Zack Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen)
- "Neil's Turn" -- Neil Patrick Harris
- "Commentary! (Reprise)" -- Company
- "Steve's Song" -- Steve Berg
Finally, there is the Evil League of Evil Application videos from fans, which are applications submitted to "Bad Horse" to get into the supervillainous organization. Some are quite clever.
So, is it worth the $13.49 price tag at Amazon? Well, at that price even if you own this on DVD you might want to upgrade for the improved sound and image. If you don't then it should be a no-brainer: buy it.