Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008)

If it’s one thing I’ve learned about myself that surprised me is that I like musicals. I was never a My Fair Lady-type of girl, but with more horror films featuring song and dance numbers (Sweeney Todd, Repo!, Poultrygeist) I’ve discovered I’m a sucker for these kind of productions!

So you can imagine my delight when I watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a short film by creators Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly), Jed Whedon, Zack Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. Dr. Horrible was an internet sensation last summer, crashing the site on the release of the first installment after generating more than 1,000 hits per second. Well, I’m here to tell you it sure does live up to the hype and praise it has generated! It’s top-notch performances, quirky characters, catchy songs and overall fun atmosphere make this a must-see for all Whedon and musical fans alike.

Dr. Horrible is about a wannabe villain, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) who is trying to get into the Evil League of Evil but not having very good luck, even though he claims he has a “Ph.D in horribleness!!” By day he is the mild-mannered Billy and hopelessly in love with Penny (Felicia Day) whom he admires every Wednesday and Saturday at the Laundromat. By night (or whenever he slips into his doctor’s coat and evil-scientist goggles and gloves) he’s Dr. Horrible, who has plans to use his freeze ray to re-structure what he sees as a crumbling, corrupt society and eventually rule the world. One thing that stands in his way is arrogant hero Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), who always swoops in to thwart his plans.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was conceived during the writer’s strike and financed entirely by Whedon’s own production company, Mutant Enemy. It’s a pretty low-key, low-budget affair, but this actually works in its favor and lets the performances from Harris, Fillion and Day and the writing from the Whedon’s and Tancharoen really stand out).

The film has a decidedly light-hearted tone, but it really shines when it delves into the darker themes of lost innocence and the villain-as-the-hero and the hero-as-the-villain motifs. The ending is also decidedly down-beat, but this being a Whedon project it is to be expected that the characters don’t exactly get all they wanted.

All of the actors do a fine job in their roles. Nathan Fillion really nails the cheesy yet cocksure Captain Hammer. His performance brings to mind his character from Firefly, just with a slightly more crooked moral compass. Neil Patrick Harris is a delight to watch as the bumbling Dr. Horrible as he grows more and more evil and determined to succeed every time he is undermined by Captain Hammer. Comedic relief is found in many places, one of those being Dr. Horrible’s useless sidekick Moist (Simon Helberg) who says, “At my most badass, I make people want to take a shower.” All characters are larger than life and played with bombast, with the exception of Penny, played by Felicia Day, who is just your everyday sweetheart. Surprisingly, all of the actors also sing (and quite well, I might add), belting out Broadway-worthy tunes.

The songs themselves are witty and extremely catchy, covering many different genres from rock to soul to just straight showtunes! I dare you not to get them stuck in your head…

If you’ve already seen the show online, you might be wondering what the draw of the DVD is. Well, let me tell you that the DVD is worth its price for the commentary alone!! One of the commentary tracks, called Commentary: The Musical! is just that – a commentary done completely as a musical! For the entire running time of the film, the movie’s dialogue is muted and there are entirely new songs that tell us about the making of the movie during the writer’s strike (“Strike!”), the price of fame (“$10 Dollar Solo”), how the cast got along (“Better Than Neil”) the actor’s process (“The Art”), writing the script (“Zack’s Rap”), how the cast passed the time on-set (“Ninja Ropes”), racial tension (“Nobody’s Asian in the Movies”) and much, much more! Of course, just like the movie these are all done very tongue-in-cheek, if you couldn’t guess that already! The special features also include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a more straightforward commentary that is spoken, not sung.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog yet, I highly recommend this whimsical and fun musical. Even if you don’t like musicals, give it a whirl – you might surprise yourself like I did.

Available from Amazon!

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