Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Dr. HHave you ever found a movie sufficiently interesting that you watched the director’s commentary, hoping it would enhance your enjoyment of the film, only to waste two hours listening to pointless self-congratulations? Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (Dir. Joss Whedon) has one of those few commentaries that I actually watched a second time – and just might watch a third. What makes the commentary so good is the same thing that makes the movie so good – the music. Dr. Horrible revives a dying art: musical theatre. Many genres of music are exhibited in the film, and in Commentary: the Musical.

Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser fame stars as Dr. Horrible, an aspiring megalomaniac who is striving to be admitted into the Evil League or Evil (ruled by a horse – go figure), but is hampered by his aversion to murder. Meanwhile, he gazes longingly at Penny (Felicia Day), a girl he sees at the laundry mat (“I’m just a few weeks away from a real audible contact!”). As the script would have it, Dr. Horrible’s crucial heist of “wonderflonium” to fuel his freeze ray is the same occasion that Penny first talks to him. He succeeds in stealing the wonderflonium, but is nearly foiled, and badly beaten, by his nemesis, Captain Hammer (enthusiastically played with ample cheese by Nath3an Fillion). Captain Hammer is an unsympathetic super hero who fights crime mainly for the pleasure of beating up on mad scientists and taking advantage of groupies (“this is so nice, I just might sleep with the same girl twice!”). To add insult to injury, the chaos gives Hammer the chance to save Penny, and Dr. H. watches them fall for each other (right). Hammer’s bullying eventually pushes Dr. H. over the edge and leaves him willing to do what he must to get into the E.L.E. (Penny may cry, but her tears will dry when I hand her the keys to a shiny, new Australia.)

This film debuted in the summer of 2008, being broadcast over the internet. Whedon funded the project himself, at just over $200,000, and used his home as a studio. The production is a bit rough. One thing you’ll notice is that the actors wear little-to-no makeup, showing their blemishes to the world. Gutsy. Hammer’s “costume” is a T-shirt with an iron-on. The movie was blogged while in production, and the marketing was immediately taken over by Whedon’s internet-savvy fans. When the film was finally broadcast, the network almost crashed from the number of viewers.

I rented this one on Netflix and wound up watching it over and over, not so much for the movie as for the songs. At 43 minutes, the film doesn’t develop its story very well. Then again, that doesn’t stop people from loving The Phantom of the Opera. Much like Phantom, Dr. Horrible is more of a concept album with a moving picture in the background than a real movie. That said, also like Phantom, Dr. Horrible is worth watching just for the music. Harris in particular demonstrates some real voice talent. The lyrics have a depth to them that you don’t see in contemporary pop music, and keep coming up with different rhyming patterns. Almost every scene involves a well written and well performed musical number, my two favorites being the anguished “My Eyes” and the ominous “Brand New Day.”

As if that wasn’t enough, they added Commentary, in which they brought back virtually everyone who was involved in the movie to sing at least one song. Just about every type of music you can think of is covered, including a rag, jazz, and lounge singing. To top it all off, Marissa Tancharoen, co-writer and “groupie #1” sings a rant about how “no one’s Asian in the movies” (not sure where she gets that).

The DVD also includes videos of applications for E.L.E. membership that fans sent in. Each one has an original song. Be warned, some of them are what you’d expect from geeks filming in their living rooms. Some, however, are quite good, most notably an evil rabbi who pitches a plan to blow the tip off the Washington Monument, and a Catholic priest who has a disturbing take on Catholic theology in the form of a rap.

I have to say the writers really dropped the ball on Act III of the film, because the ending sucks. It’s the kind of ending that gives the impression that they meant to do more, but just ran out of time/money/steam. The idea seems to be that Dr. H. get everything he ever wanted, except that he inadvertently destroy the thing he wanted most. But it’s implausible to the point of not making sense. It tries to do in 5 minutes what would have taken about 50, and leaves the audience feeling like they’ve been plunged into nihilistic darkness for no reason.

The decision of what rating to give this film was a difficult one. It’s a bit too simplistic and unintentionally comical to be considered a true contribution to the world of cinema, which would justify a four-star rating. In fact, with an ending that falls flat on its face, I can’t even consider it a solidly good movie, which would merit three stars. On the other hand, it’s too well done and innovative to be passed off as just another piece of mindless entertainment (two stars). Hence, I have decided to give it

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Rating: 4.2/5 (13 votes cast)