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Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog(2008)
In his internet-distributed miniseries 'Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog', Joss Whedon puts his chorus where his comic books are, uniting once and for all his loves of sci-fi and musical theater. Broadway vet Neil Patrick Harris stars as the title's cut rate supervillain, a wannabe who's always one step behind his preening nemesis, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). The hero thwarts Dr. Horrible's schemes and courts his dulcet-voiced, do-gooder crush, Penny (Felicia Day), a sad fate the evil doctor laments via blogs and hilarious, brokenhearted ballads.
For more about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and the Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Blu-ray release, see Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 4, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion, Simon Helberg, Jed Whedon, Steve Berg
Director: Joss Whedon
» See full cast & crew
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Blu-ray Review
It may not be 'Oklahoma!', but that's probably a good thing for those raised in the Internet Age.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 4, 2010
Musical theater cognoscenti may want to sniff in disapproval, but Joss Whedon may be the Great White Hope (so to speak) of musicals. While theater-centric writers like Jason Robert Brown and Adam Guettel, both of them routinely called geniuses (and not just by themselves), struggle to get their Broadway musicals to turn a profit, "little" television writer and producer Whedon has stormed the battlements, first with his highly regarded musical episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and now with the even more innovative Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, a short form piece that started as an internet only phenomenon borne of the writer's strike that crippled film and television production a couple of years ago. Whedon's genius is that he invented a way around the strike-imposed strictures against writing, probably tangentially inventing a new cog in the negotiation wheel of the Writer's Guild the next time it decides to up the residuals ante. And while no one would accuse Whedon and his co-writers, brothers Zack and Jed Whedon, as well as Maurissa Tanchareon, of being in the same compositional league as Brown or Guettel, they've crafted an artful and resourceful little musical that manages to skew convention while simultaneously celebrating it.
With a running time of barely over 40 minutes, don't come to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog expecting a work of Sondheimian complexity, despite Whedon's somewhat ingenuous insistence that Sweeney Todd was—ahem—instrumental in influencing Whedon's evil genius. But what we are offered is a succinct and clearly drawn portrait of three characters: supervillain wannabe Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), whose mild-mannered alter ego Billy has a crush on girl next door, Penny (Felicia Day), who just happens to start dating Dr. Horrible's arch-nemesis, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). That's it, folks, more or less.
Dr. Horrible aspires to join the "Evil League of Evil," a sort of who's who of bad guys, and he must commit one really horrible act to achieve membership. That sets him out on his mad quest to perfect his Freeze Ray, which backfires badly. In the meantime, his halting attempts to woo Penny also hit a red light when Captain Hammer arrives to save the day from Dr. Horrible's horribleness. Things catapult merrily along to a tragic denouement, one perfectly in keeping with grand opera, if not the sunnier climes of musical comedy.
What makes Dr. Horrible so breezily inspired and fun to watch is Whedon's unassuming writing style, one that not only mimics while sending up musical conventions from days of yore, but which is also able to be effortlessly self-referential in this age of instant internet wonderment. One of the biggest laughs in the piece is Dr. Horrible's grudging admission that perhaps he'd better not be revealing his plans for world domination on an internet blog, as Captain Hammer and the Los Angeles Police Department are evidently big fans and tune in daily. It's a perfect commentary on the internet phenomena (Dr. Horrible included) that Whedon himself has fostered in the past several years, as he's repeatedly proven to the showbiz powers that be that their Hollywood fortresses are not immutable, and indeed may be things of the past.
The music, while not deep by any stretch, is certainly serviceable, and has the same bouncy ethos that Laurence O'Keefe brought to both Bat Boy and Legally Blonde in their musical incarnations. Lyrically, the Whedons and Tanchereon are a good deal more facile, weaving internal rhymes with the best of them and actually elucidating the dichotomous soul of Dr. Horrible as well as the smug idiocy of Captain Hammer. Only Penny seems to come off as a naïf cipher musically and lyrically.
From a performance perspective, everything here is decidedly spot on, especially for a project that was filmed in a couple of weeks on a paltry budget. Harris has been proving his theatrical vocal chops for some time (check out his excellent recordings of Sondheim's The Frogs and Evening Primrose), and Fillion and Day acquit themselves quite nicely as well. Harris also brings a delightful sense of menace mixed with inadequacy that makes Dr. Horrible a (to coin a musical phrase) singular sensation.
Whedon may indeed raise the ire of legitimate theater mavens who perhaps rightly point to the decades of schooling and years of hard knocks a lot of Broadway composers and lyricists endure before getting even a smidgeon of a break. What Whedon can probably just as rightly offer in his defense is that he did it "his way," to paraphrase that great lyricist, Paul Anka. Whedon has been coloring outside the lines for most of his television career, and he's spread that anarchistic tendency now to the internet, with largely uproarious results. When Jason Robert Brown wrote his breakthrough revue Songs for a New World several years ago, he probably didn't envision that world being one of internet musicals. Luckily for us, Whedon did.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Blu-ray, Video Quality
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog dances onto Blu-ray with a very nice VC-1 encoded image in full 1080p and an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. I must admit, much to my chagrin, that I never caught the piece on the internet, but it's only obvious that this presentation is heads and shoulders over the streaming video quality of its premiere. While this is certainly not the sharpest Blu-ray I've ever seen, there's an appealingly warm ambience to the colors (though they're muted a lot of the time) and some excellent detail to be found. Watch Harris' face as he arrives at his "lightbulb" moment after Captain Hammer reveals he's about to bed Penny and you'll be able to see "involuntary" twitches of Horrible's jaw muscles. The outdoor footage (albeit on a backlot) also has a decent amount of depth and detail. If you take Dr. Horrible as a modern day analog to the storied B-movies of yore, you'll have some idea of the image quality here: not reference quality, but serviceable and enjoyable on its own terms.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There's more flash and panache to Dr. Horrible's excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, thankfully. The music itself sounds wonderful, with some of the baroque accompaniment filling the surrounds wonderfully. A lot of the foley effects are a lot of fun, as well, as Dr. Horrible's rampant experiments run amok and offer some punch and bombast. Whedon offers us a quodlibet or two (simultaneously sung melodies over the same basic harmonic structure), and separation in these moments is excellent, allowing the listener to hone in on any given singer as they may choose. Dialogue is also crisp and clear throughout. There's not a wealth of zowie immersive moments here, probably due to the limited budget of the piece, but this 5.1 mix certainly gets the job done for this small scale project. You'll notice quite a difference in frequency range between the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and the standard DTS 2.0 mix. While the 2.0 mix is clear and crisp, there's a very noticeable drop off on the low end, which toggling between the two tracks will clearly show.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Perhaps because Dr. Horrible was free to begin with, Whedon has provided a plethora of supplements to this admittedly still budget priced Blu-ray. Probably the most inventive extra is Commentary! The Musical, a through-sung commentary track that is hilarious and catchy to boot. A standard spoken Commentary with Whedon et al. is also included. (Strangely under the Commentary options is a choice to watch the film without the Commentary. Intentional irony, perhaps?).
In addition to the commentaries, there are more typical supplements. All of these SD extras offer fun and even a bit of occasional insight. Up first are three Making of featurettes, split into various subject matters: The Movie (7:52), The Music (7:23) and What Just Happened? (5:28). While the first two give us the nuts and bolts of the filmmaking and composing process for Whedon and his co-horts, it's probably Happened that may prove to be the most interesting, as it investigates the internet savvy audience that has been Whedon's core fan base for years.
My personal favorite extra was the at times laugh out loud funny ELE Application Videos (30:50) sent in by fans to request admission to the Evil League of Evil. From a hilarious faux rock application to a low-fi special effects laden video, this shows that Whedon may have some competition for the next internet phenomenon.
Rounding out the extras are some less successful offerings, including some very short (as in snippets) Outtakes (1:57), a brief Behind the Scenes (1:04), showing Whedon rehearsing Fillion and Day in "A Man's Gotta Do," and a fitfully amusing fake Evil League of Evil Interview (3:15). The teaser trailer is also included.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Whedon may not exactly be up for the next Kleban Award, but he's done a neat little job here on a self-admittedly small scale. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog doesn't aim extraordinarily high, but it's that rare entertainment that sets the bar where it wants and hits the bullseye more often than not. If, like I, you didn't catch this on the internet, this is a low cost way to have an enjoyable 40-plus minutes of crazy and often funny entertainment. If you did catch it, the extras included on this Blu-ray make this an attractive buy nonetheless.
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Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blu-ray Coming Up - April 17, 2010
New Video Group has announced and detailed the Blu-ray edition of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which will hit store shelves on May 25. Dr. Horrible is a 42-minute musical in three parts, created by Joss Whedon during the 2007-2008 writers strike and originally ...
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