New Video // 2008 // 42 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 29th, 2009
"I'm Dr. Horrible. I have a PhD in horribleness."
The 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike made a lot television viewers quite unhappy, but for me, there were two silver linings to be found among the storm clouds: Conan O'Brien's madly entertaining late-night improvisations, and Joss Whedon's delightful Internet creation Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Presented in three separate 12-15 minute segments and offered for free to the public, Dr. Horrible became an unexpected sensation, earning a great deal of acclaim for everyone involved. It's hardly a lavish or visually spectacular production (it was filmed in six days for about $200,000), but this delightful 42-minute film remains one of the more originally entertaining media experiments I've seen in recent years.
Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) plays Dr. Horrible, a wannabe megalomaniac with great ambitions and only a modest level of genuine villainy. His big dream is to become a part of the nefarious (and wonderfully-named) Evil League of Evil, an organization of supervillains run by the terrifying Bad Horse (an actual horse). Though Dr. Horrible very much likes the idea of becoming a supervillain, he also has a softer side. He has a crush on a girl named Penny (Felicia Day, The Guild), whom he sees twice a week at the laundromat. Unfortunately, Horrible's superheroic nemesis Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion, Serenity) also has eyes for the girl, meaning that the battle between the two old foes has become more personal than ever. Oh, and did I mention everyone sings?
With a combination of genuine wit and delightful tunes, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is right up my alley. The odds are pretty high you'll dig it too. There are a lot of laughs here, both broad and subtle. Brothers Joss, Zack, and Jed Whedon (along with Jed's wife Maurissa Tancharoen) provide a screenplay that expertly blends humor, musical set pieces and a little bit of genuinely moving sentiment. Though Dr. Horrible is as funny as you would expect it to be considering the talent involved, it holds up well under repeat viewings due to the fact that the plot (and the humor, for that matter) has considerably more substance than usual sort of star-studded web creation you might find on a site like FunnyorDie.com
Neil Patrick Harris (an actor whose comic gifts seem to be getting better all the time) is spot-on as Dr. Horrible. He spends much of his time sitting in front of his webcam providing constant updates to visitors of his website...often filled with a little too much information. At one point, he turns up looking bloody and battered. "So, it seems that the L.A.P.D. and Captain Hammer are among our viewers," he moans. A lot of humor is milked from the complications of being a villain, such as the equipment breakdown that turns Horrible's bars of stolen gold into liquid. Nathan Fillion's Captain Hammer is a typical superhero as depicted by Garth Ennis; a self-absorbed buffoon whose ego overwhelms any positive qualities he might have. Fillion is a riot in the part, multiplying that Captain Mal swagger by 100 and stealing every scene he appears in. Finally, Felicia Day is enchanting as Penny, a character who is admittedly more of a plot device than anything else.
The Jed-n-Joss-penned songs here may not quite be worthy of Stephen Sondheim, but quite honestly many of them are absurdly catchy and entertaining. Harris gives us a wonderful opening number with the infection pop tune, "My Freeze Ray," and later boisterously declares his plans to kill Captain Hammer in the memorable "Brand New Day." Fillion has the funniest number of the film, the gloriously cheesy and self-congratulatory "Everyone's a Hero," while all three primary cast members harmonize very effectively on "A Man's Gotta Do." Good stuff all around, and Harris in particular is a rather exceptional singer (he's a Broadway veteran, it seems).
Though I believe you can still check out the film for free online, this DVD is still well worth a purchase. First up, you get an exceptional transfer that I really have no complaints about. The level of detail is surprisingly strong for a standard-def disc, and depth is very satisfactory. The 5.1 audio is dynamic and crystal-clear during the musical numbers, delivering a very stellar experience.
However, the real treats are in the supplemental department. The disc is worth the price of admission simply to hear "Commentary: The Musical!," a deliriously entertaining musical commentary by the entire cast and crew featuring a dozen or so original songs. While the tunes range in entertainment value from moderately amusing to flat-out hilarious, the whole experiment is a wonderfully absurd idea that mostly works like a charm. Without wanting to spoil too much of it for you, I'll throw out a few personal favorite moments: Nathan Fillion turning in an unapologetic ballad called "I'm Better Than Neil," Fillion and Harris doing a duet about the joys of playing "Ninja Ropes," and Maurissa Tancharoen providing a satirical piece called, "Nobody's Asian in the Movies," (complete with slyly hilarious stereotypical musical accompaniment). It's a lot of fun that takes a lot of amusing digs at ordinary commentaries ("There'll be none of those awkward pauses!" one song declares). More ordinary supplements on the disc include a breezily engaging standard commentary with the cast and crew, a three-part making-of featurette, and a series of fun fan-created applications to the Evil League of Evil. Good stuff all around.
As of the writing of this review, this DVD can be picked up for a measly 5-10 bucks (depending on where you shop). It's more than worth the cost. Here's looking forward to the eventual release of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog 2.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 42 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Musical Commentary
* Fan Videos
* Official Site
* Official Fan Site