Aspiring supervillain Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) is having a tough go of things. Unwilling to settle for joining the Henchman’s Union, he’s just sent in his application to the Evil League of Evil. In the meantime, he’s working up the courage to say hello to his dream-girl Penny (Felicia Day), who he sees every week at the Laundromat. Not helping matters is Dr. Horrible’s nemesis, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), a superhero whose physical strength is only exceeded by the size of his ego, who not only beats up Dr. Horrible on a regular basis but soon has his own eye on the fair Penny. Did I mention that the whole thing’s a musical? Hijinks and some tuneful moments ensue.
Conceived as a side project during the recent writer’s strike, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog distills the best of Joss Whedon’s work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly into a 45-minute musical dramedy. No spoilers – suffice to say that the story is Whedon at his best and his worst, which amount to the same thing, really.
The musical format won’t be surprising to anyone who watched “Once More With Feeling”, the musical episode that was the highlight of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s sixth season. Dr. Horrible’s songs, co-written by Whedon with Zack Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, are arguably as good as the ones for “Once More With Feeling” and flow so seamlessly with the story that they feel natural (with none of the “I feel a song coming on!” artifice that afflicts many movie musicals).
As silly as much of Dr. Horrible is – face it, we’re in a parallel world here with villains named Moist and Fake Thomas Jefferson – it packs a remarkable amount of character depth and emotion into its brief running time, as well as some nifty satire on what constitutes real villainy and real heroics. And none of it would work were it not for the cast, who all find the right tone and play the absurdity straight-faced. Harris has the biggest and most complex role, making Dr. Horrible completely convincing as both a lovesick nerd and someone who wants to make the world better by tearing it down. As Dr. Horrible’s dream girl and the real hero of the story, Felicia Day is sweet and goodhearted without making her character too cloying or unbelievable. And of course there’s Nathan Fillion as the moronic and egotistical Captain Hammer, all smarm and swagger (in a good way, of course…when will that Captain Hammer groupie T-shirt I ordered arrive in the mail?).
First viewable for free online (demand was so heavy it crashed the site) and then available on iTunes, Dr. Horrible is now on DVD (an Amazon exclusive) and it’s well worth the purchase. The most standout extra is “Commentary! The Musical”, a (you guessed it) musical commentary featuring the writers and stars. As a commentary goes it’s not worth much, rarely addressing what’s happening on screen, but extremely enjoyable for the songs and the good-natured ribbing all those involved give each other. Musical highlights are Fillion’s soulful “I’m Better Than Neil”, Tancharoen’s lament explaining why she didn’t play Penny (“Nobody’s Asian in the Movies”), and even Joss gets a turn.
More relevant commentary happens in the film-maker’s commentary, which brings the cast and writers together again to actually discuss what we see on screen, explain the technical difficulties of working on such a tight time frame and low budget. Nearly as funny as the musical commentary, this one’s a delight. A set of three brief featurettes discuss the movie, the music, and the reception the fans gave the show and includes footage from the Comic-Con panel (I was there! Way in the back!). Lastly, there are fan video applications to join the Evil League of Evil, some of which are forgettable but a few (notably the ones from Tur-Mohel, Lord Stabbington, Enfant Terrible, and The Reverend) stand out and are amusing.
Great story, great music, great acting, and great extras. Go buy one now. Bad Horse demands it.