Warner Bros. // 2014 // 108 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // May 6th, 2014
"I appreciate you keeping it PG-13 for me."
The internet has finally been used for pop culture good. For years, fans of low-rated, critically acclaimed TV shows have had to sit by and watch their favorite series disappear. Type "Firefly cancelled" into a search engine and you'll find the message board equivalent of a Matthew Brady battlefield photo. Veronica Mars fans (unfortunately dubbed "Marshmallows") saw the show they loved under threat of cancellation from its first season on. The series lasted through three seasons, wrapping things up in a satisfying way. As satisfying as losing a great show could be.
Six years after it was cancelled, Veronica Mars got new life when series creator Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a follow-up movie. He hoped to raise $2 million dollars in 30 days. They got it in eleven hours, hitting the million dollar mark in less than five. The outpouring of interest and support inspired a flurry of news stories and opinion pieces both for and against the crowdsourcing approach. In the end, Thomas and Warner Bros. raised $5.7 million. A year later, the promised Veronica Mars movie hit VOD services and theaters, followed a month or so later with the DVD and Blu-ray release.
Nine years after leaving Neptune, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell, Frozen) has made a life for herself in New York City. Between supportive boyfriend, Piz (Chris Lowell, Up in the Air) and a job offer from a big law firm, everything is great. Then she gets a phone call from her ex Logan (Jason Dohring, Deep Impact), asking her to come back home and help clear him of the murder of his pop star girlfriend. Veronica arrives in Neptune to find that not much has changed. Her best pals Wallace (Percy Daggs III, Detention) and Mac (Tina Majorino, Napoleon Dynamite) are doing well, but the town's class struggles are at a fever pitch under the corrupt rule of a new Sheriff Lamb (Jerry O'Connell, Jerry Maguire). With time ticking on her New York life, Veronica digs deeper into the past over the objections of her dad (Enrico Colantoni, Galaxy Quest).
Full disclosure: I was one of Veronica Mars' 91,000+ backers. I was a huge fan of the show and wanted to be a small part of bringing it back. I don't have any financial stake in the movie. I'm not an investor. My donation was essentially a pre-order for a finished product. It could have been a huge waste of time and money; I'm glad to report it wasn't. Veronica Mars might not be the absolute best a Mars movie could be, but it's about the best ending fans could have hoped for.
The Veronica Mars movie is a fine little whodunnit, but it's not much of a feature film. It's fan service -- as it should be. Despite an opening montage that catches viewers up on the series' events, this was never meant to be a movie for the masses. It's a gift for the fans who helped fund the movie, whether they watched the show when it was on or discovered it later on DVD and streaming.
Written by Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero, Veronica Mars is somewhere between an extended episode and a condensed season. It's a tight fit to get one of the series' signature murder mysteries into less than two hours, but Thomas and Ruggiero manage it with room for a few side plots and a parade of recognizable faces. At one point Veronica calls her return to Neptune a "farewell tour." The same is true of the movie, possibly the last chance for fans to catch up with their favorite characters. The plot centers around Bell and Dohring's Veronica and Logan, but nearly everyone is on hand. There are fan favorites like Wallace, Mac, Dick, Cliff, Weevil, Gia, and Piz; star alums Ken Marino and New Girl's Max Greenfield; and famous new faces Martin Starr (who worked with Thomas on Party Down) and Jerry O'Connell as Lamb 2.0. There are even guest cameos by NPR's Ira Glass, and James Franco with a hilarious extension of his self-parody in This is the End.
Veronica Mars opens itself up to criticism for spending so much time covering its character and series-references bases. The jokey asides aimed at longtime fans are harmless -- including nods to Kickstarter, the Dandy Warhols' theme song, the shelved FBI fourth season, and Rob Thomas's Matchbox 20 name twin. The film is in danger of tripping over all the dropped names, but Thomas and Ruggiero strike a good balance, delivering the quick wit and twists fans expect. The only bummer is poor Piz's storyline, which seems there mostly to reference the show's third season and inject more drama into the Veronica-Logan relationship.
Thomas and Ruggiero take the right approach with the film, setting it nine years after the events of the series. Everyone looks a little older and characters have plenty of chances to catch up with each other and the audience. Veronica Mars shows the passage of time in other ways, too. Smartphones and web video -- a glimmer in Silicon Valley's eye a decade ago -- figure heavily into the plot. For all the reunion fun, the story is anchored in the tension between Veronica's new life in New York and her Neptune past.
Veronica Mars has been released digitally, on DVD, and as a 2.40:1/1080p Blu-ray. After checking out all three, Blu-ray is the clear winner. The hi-def image isn't a big improvement on VOD, but it looks great for a low-budget film, capturing the series' noir aesthetic of sunny days and deep-shadow nights with deep blacks and strong detail. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is clear and well-balanced, with smart surround effects and a punchy soundtrack.
The main reason to choose Blu-ray are the bonus features. The only extra shared across DVD and Blu-ray is "By the Fans: The Making of the Veronica Mars Movie." This hourlong behind-the-scenes doc covers the entire process, from pre-launch footage of Thomas worrying they might not get funding, to the movie's Comic-Con blowout. As the name suggests, it's as much about the series' superfans as the actual production, with lots of footage of backer extras and the crowds who camped out overnight to meet a very appreciative cast.
The rest of the bonus features are Blu-ray exclusive -- including deleted scenes (4:20), a gag reel (4:35), and a grab bag of extras under the heading "More On-Set Fun":
* "Welcome to Keith Mars Investigation" (2:54) -- Colantoni takes viewers on a tour of the Mars office.
* "Game Show with Kristen Bell and Chris Lowell" (4:30) -- The co-stars pose goofy questions to each other and Lowell admits fans don't like him that much.
* "On Set with Max Greenfield" (3:10) -- Greenfield brings the Schmidt to the Veronica Mars set.
* "Veronica Mars' Backers" (4:45) -- More interview footage of the backer film extras.
* "It's Not All About You, Monkey" (2:59) -- Focus on the guy who dances in a gorilla suit during the Vinnie Van Lowe scene.
* "Young Veronica" (0:58) -- A chat with the actress who plays Veronica's teen doppelganger.
It's crazy to think we live in a world where Arrested Development has a fourth season and Veronica Mars lives on in movie form. If the occasional '80s big studio reboot is the price for karmic balance, so be it. I'd gladly trade a Garbage Pail Kids: The Eww Class for this movie to be the pilot for a new Veronica Mars season on Netflix. Even if that never happens, this movie is something special -- documenting not only a milestone in crowdfunding, but a unique passion project at the crossroads between filmmakers and fans. Internet snark-monsters can have their think-pieces about studio exploitation and viral marketing. We've got a Veronica Mars movie.
We're still friends. Not Guilty!
Review content copyright © 2014 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2014
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Digital Copy
* UltraViolet Download
* Official Site
* Facebook Page
* Kickstarter Page