Judge Adam Arseneau wrote this review with his hammer.
Our review of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, published June 29th, 2009, is also available.
"The hammer is my penis."
Oh, how far things can come. Created on a shoestring budget between family and friends and released in a series of Internet videos, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog tore a new hole in the side of pop culture. Next thing you know, Dr. Horrible has hijacked the Emmys and declared television dead—and it's hard to argue with a man with a freeze ray.
Winner of the most incomprehensible Emmy category ever made (Best Outstanding Special Class—Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs, a category the Emmys created specifically for them so they could win one), Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is now available on Blu-Ray. The question is, for the legions of fans already in possession of the DVD, is it worth the upgrade?
Facts of the Case
For aspiring supervillian Dr. Horrible, a.k.a. Billy (Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother), evil is a growth business. He keeps a video blog updating his fans on the status of world domination (still pending). He has two goals: gain admittance to the prodigious Evil League of Evil, and working up the courage to talk to the pretty girl at the laundromat, Penny (Felicia Day, The Guild).
The only thing standing in his way, on both fronts, is his nemesis: the superhero Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion, Serenity). Thwarted by Hammer in both love and world domination, Dr. Horrible concocts a plan to get into the E.L.E. and win the heart of Penny…but at what cost?
For all intents and purposes, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog came out of nowhere. It wasn't a big-budget, mass-marketed affair full of corporate sponsorship, or the brain child of a marketing executive at a broadcast network looking to cross-promote using those fancy Internet tubes everyone keeps talking about. Instead, this is pure creative overflow; the end result of creative talent in Hollywood desperate to find something to do during the Writers Guild of America Strike in 2007-2008. Joss Whedon threw in about $200,000, grabbed his family and some friends, and started shooting. The end result was something born of genuine freedom—no rules, no restrictions, no network executives with notes. You can feel the exhilaration in the air when you watch it.
What more can be said that hasn't been said already? Dr. Horrible is brilliant, pure and simple. If this review were a board game, you could throw every positive adjective into a Scrabble bag, give it a shake and pull them out one by one—funny, witty, romantic, catchy, creative, hilarious—and this Judge would run out of board space before he ran out of complimentary words. The music is clever and surprisingly catchy. In three acts, Dr. Horrible generates a surprising amount of pathos, which is downright impressive from a narrative standpoint. This tiny little web series manages to capture the perfect balance between comedy and surrealist superhero action, something network television has been scratching its head over how to capture for years. I'm looking at you, live-action adaptation of The Tick. With a scant running time of 42 minutes, the only thing wrong with Dr. Horrible is that it ends far too quickly.
If ever there was a role born for Neil Patrick Harris to play, this is it. His comedic timing is bang-on, and the dude is a Broadway veteran. Without him in the titular role, it is unlikely that the project would have succeeded. He's that good. Fillion holds his own musically and in comedic fortitude, bringing just the right amount of sleazy arrogance to the role of Captain Hammer to make him abhorrent in comparison to the good (bad?) Doctor. Felicia Day is effortlessly charming and adorable in the romantic heroine role. Neither co-star can hold a candle to Harris' singing chops—but really, who can? On the back end of production, things are just as tight. Joss always gets the credit in such things festooned with his moniker, but Dr. Horrible is a collaborative effort, a family affair even, with writing and creation credits going to director Joss, his two screenwriting brothers Zack and Jed, and Jed's fiancée Maurissa Tancharoen. His brother Jed is a professional musician, so it's no surprise the format turned out here is equal parts Sondheim to sci-fi.
Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blog (Blu-Ray) benefits from a 1080p transfer insofar as it improves on the DVD transfer as far as technically possible—not a lot, but certainly noticeable. Shot on HD, colors are vibrant and details are sharp. Black levels are deep, but white levels have a tendency to blow out, cranked up just a bit too high. Low-light shots are grainy and some chromatic aberration creeps in during shots with heavy backlighting. Blu-Ray is always preferable to standard definition, but don't expect wonders here. Remember, kids, relatively low production values. With limited post-production tweaking, the whole production has a raw indie feel, which is kind of the point.
Audio is where this disc noticeably improves over its DVD predecessor, albeit in a confusing fashion due to some misinformation on the packaging. The box states the disc has Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, but your surround system will disagree—DTS Master Audio all the way. Even the 2.0 stereo track eschews Dolby in favor of legacy DTS, making it the first stereo DTS track I've even encountered in the wild. Weird, but I'll take it. The lossless audio offers up a noticeably smoother, crisper and more detailed treatment than the DVD version. There are a lot of small nuances that come out in the harmonies and instrumentation. It doesn't match up to the polish and detail of a full-blown studio production of course, but the audio is still the biggest selling point to the Blu-Ray.
Extras are identical to the DVD release, and they are fantastic. Two commentary tracks make up the bulk of the material—one musical, one normal. The standard filmmakers commentary track is pretty much exactly what you'd expect, featuring cast and crew discussing the making of the feature. The second track, ah, well. It's pretty self-explanatory. "Commentary! The Musical" is just about the greatest thing you'll ever hear. It's a second feature in of itself; an all-singing, all-dancing (well presumably, but we can't see it) commentary lambasting the Writer's Strike, the commentary track format, shilling for The Guild, and mocking the whole silly process of filmmaking. I'd kill for subtitles for this thing. They wrote an entire set of musical numbers just for the commentary track, people. It's fantastic. A making of featurette runs about 20 minutes and covers the expected material, interviewing cast and crew about making the film. "ELE Application Videos" run about 30 minutes, featuring fan-submitted videos requesting application to the ELE, with mixed results—some are great, some are decidedly less so. A few short behind-the-scenes and outtakes clips are tossed in for good measure, along with some teaser trailers and a 3-minute Evil League of Evil interview. All the supplements are in standard definition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
No two ways about it: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (Blu-Ray) is pretty much identical to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. The material is identical—same commentaries, same extras, same audio track, etc. The presentation gets a tiny bump on Blu-Ray, but not so much that it justifies the double-dip. It would have been nice to see New Video toss in a carrot or two on the Blu-Ray edition to woo fans in.
I'll repeat it, because it bears repeating: Dr. Horrible is brilliant, pure and simple. You must own a copy. If by some bizarre series of circumstances you find yourself not owning a DVD copy of this amazing work? Well, by all means, pick it up on Blu-Ray! There's really no reason not to. You'll be getting a technologically superior product.
For those fans already in possession of the fine DVD version, well…problem is, you already have a pretty amazing product. There just isn't enough new material or improved fidelity here to justify the double-dip. Then again, it might not matter. Like the DVD, retailers are pricing this Blu-Ray absurdly low into the $10 range. For that price, who's going to resist adding some evil to their life?
Television might not be dead yet, but for the first time, the possibility seems kind of appealing. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
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