|A self-described ‘supervillain musical’ follows the titular doctor’s day-to-day attempts to be accepted by the Evil League of Evil and to make contact with the girl of his dreams.|
If there is one good thing to come out of the 2007-8 Writer’s Strike, it’s Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. A self-described ‘supervillain musical’, this online miniseries follows the titular doctor’s day-to-day attempts to be accepted by the Evil League of Evil and to make contact with the girl of his dreams. It was penned by Jed Whedon, Zack Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.
Oh, and Joss Whedon.
Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog (or Doctor Horrible, as I will henceforth refer to it as) was conceived with the idea of making something that could be done very well, but very cheaply. $200, 000US might not seem cheap to some, but allow me to put this into perspective: Joss Whedon’s last film at the time of this review (The Cabin in the Woods) was made with an estimated $30 million budget.
Everyone involved had worked with Whedon at one point or were friends with either him, his wife, a member of his production posse Mutant Enemy or someone else. None of them saw a cent either—not until DVD sales reimbursed them, anyway.
You wouldn’t know it with the performances given.
The fun comes from watching actors play off one another, both in song and in performance. The songs are masterfully placed in between the dialogue that has made Whedon a success in Hollywood.
The only problem caused by the budget is lacklustre sets. While there are a few examples of not-so-good looking sets, it’s the most obvious in Doctor Horrible’s laboratory since, as a mad scientist, you would think his lab would look a little less like a kitchen with coloured liquids in beakers.
While arguments can be made about the simplistic props being too simplistic, the knowledge that the character made these at home in-universe really helps ground them in reality.
I feel that Captain Hammer’s costume’s very lack lustre. For such a bold character it’s far too subdued. This said, I’m unable to groan every time I see it—in fact, I still crack up when Hammer pounces on the van. That’s because Hammer’s actor is fantastic, as are the others.
The cast is kept to an intimate size that doesn’t grow beyond three major characters, one or two minor characters, and an ensemble of extras. This is one of the better aspects of the film because it lets us examine our three main characters: Doctor Horrible (played by Neil Patrick Harris of How I Met Your Mother fame), Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion of Firefly and Castle fame) and Penny (Felicia Day of online sensation The Guild).
In the first eleven minutes, we’re introduced to everyone: the awkward yet ambitious Doctor Horrible trying to sound tough, the mild-mannered and sweet Penny trying to do the right thing, and the over-the-top cheese machine of Captain Hammer trying to outsing his nemesis. It won’t be the last time you get a sequence like this either; the contrasting natures of these characters is a driving aspect of the overall plot of Doctor Horrible. The last number of the act, which beautifully summarises said plot, is a song shared by the trio, ‘A Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Gotta Do’.
|Captain Hammer isn’t a hero so much as a bully with a really good reputation.|
For those of you who don’t remember, during their first real conversation Billy is completely focused on the remote control and the wonderflonium heist. It’s at this heist where Penny meets Captain Hammer.
This is no coincidence: as Billy tries harder to get in the good graces of the League, Penny grows closer to Hammer.
It soon becomes clear that the miniseries is about Doctor Horrible’s descent into the world of villainy and, as noted many times by others, Penny is the one thing that might have made him turn back while he still could.
Conversely, we learn that Captain Hammer isn’t a hero so much as a bully with a really good reputation. Captain Hammer is the one pushing Billy deeper into the Doctor Horrible persona, even if it’s just so he has a villain to stop. This is reflected in Hammer’s gloves becoming an integral part of his second costume: he is becoming more like the people he sought to overthrow.
How does Billy plan to solve his problem? A misguided attempt to kill Captain Hammer to open the way to Penny and the League.
This simple shift warps a light-hearted musical into a very dark, tragic piece.
The music itself reflects it; in Act I we have a lot of light-hearted tunes about how Billy’s going to rule the world with Penny and how Captain Hammer will always be there to thwart his plans.
Once Act II kicks off with My Eyes, we start to see the more bitter side of Doctor Horrible slipping out, but it’s stifled by Penny’s insistence that there’s ‘good in everybody’s heart’. It’s when Brand New Day and Billy’s final plan is revealed that everything goes downhill.
Act III is much worse, to say the least. Not even the one comedic song in the entire act, Everybody’s a Hero, is exempt—it’s cut off with the threat of Captain Hammer’s death.
It’s a relief when the assassination fails; Hammer flees crying and Billy didn’t have to kill anyone. We feel like everything’s going to be okay, maybe Billy’s going to find a way into the League without shedding a drop of blood…
Then a piano begins to play. Billy’s mouth starts to grow wide.
We don’t need to see what happened.
Whedon shows us anyway.
There’s schrapnel in Penny’s stomach. Her eyes are staring lazily into Billy’s. The accusations and the flashes of paparazzi cameras are in the background.
It’s here the final number, Everything You Ever, begins.
The title says it all, both literally and ironically. It’s with this closing number that the descent and Doctor Horrible’s victory is complete.
You’re not clapping, though. There’s a good chance you’ll reach an end with that same deadened, hopeless face that Neil Patrick Harris is wearing in the final shot.
Doctor Horrible will leave many yearning for more with its bite-sized run time of 42 minutes, but this is enough to convey the story without hurting it. It’s a unique entry in miniseries history that uses both its time and budget effectively.
The sets and props may seem lacklustre compared to usual Hollywood fare, but they’re far from the main focus. It’s watching Fillion and Harris duke it out and the catchy songs that’ll make you watch this film multiple times.
While not everyone has a Broadway actor on speed dial or a loft they can transform into a recording studio , the film shows what you can pull off with nothing but a small budget and a giant pile of talent.
Article by Greta Rehak