By Thomas Cowley
Here it finally is. After months of inquiries and enough broken promises to qualify me for a role in Federal Government, the review is finally here. Hopefully now when I talk to fellow nerds at conventions I will no longer be treated with the same reaction I would have received had I told them I was a holocaust denier.
For those of you unaware, until now I had never seen “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” Joss Whedon’s much toted comedic and alternative take on the traditional superhero/supervillain relationship. Why you ask? Simple really; I hate musicals. Well let’s not beat around the untrimmed 70’s bush: I’d rather subject myself to actual physical torture than expose myself to those never ending verbal parades of nonsensical rhythmic dialogue. Were I to find myself in the unfortunate situation of having to choose between spending some quality time with Bill Cosby and watching a musical, I would have to give some considerable thought as to which mixed drink I’d like with my Rohypnol.
I blame this on my experiences as a child. One of the first musicals that exposed itself to me like a trench coat wearing exhibitionist was Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.” The way I felt while watching that movie is comparable to the effect kryptonite has on Superman in that I felt like I was slowly dying. Trapped in a world of nonsense with the ramblings of the insane as your only guide as you spiral deeper and deeper into madness. The haunting grin of the Cheshire Cat taunting me from the darkness before once again disappearing, leaving me cold and alone with nothing but the knowledge that this place would become my tomb, and yet I will never die. Just continuing to spiraling lower and lower until the insane becomes that sane, for that is the only thing I know to be true.
That and the songs were all rather annoying.
Or perhaps my distain stems from the fact that the entire concept of a musical comes across as something ripped straight out of “The Stepford Wives.” An entire community sharing the same beliefs, values and consciousness like some sort of hive mind. All puppets for their unseen, parasitic overlords that have long since infiltrated the minds of every townsperson destroying individualism and ensuring that they all move and think the same way. And upon entering this seemingly idyllic town if it is discovered that you do not share these views, then you must be taken to “The Master” and “become complete.”
Since then I have found myself able to tolerate a grand total of two pure musicals: “The Sound of Music,” and “Grease,” both of which I consider to be rather enjoyable films outside of their forced marionette moments. But according to everyone else in this collective town we call “Nerdom,” I was told I would come to love Dr. Horrible if I gave it a chance. So after much procrastination I finally sat down, put on my reviewing hat and drank the collective Kool-Aid.
Let’s start with the good and get that out of the way first. Neil Patrick Harris absolutely owns the role as the title character. His understanding of comedic timing, facial expressions, and vocal cadence all undergo a distinct change as he shifts from lowly, unconfident Billy into the “nefarious” Dr. Horrible, helping sell the fact that there is more to this villain and persona as a whole than simple mustache-twirling debauchery. Felicia Day plays the love interest Penny and gives a great performance as the quiet and unassuming kind-hearted soul that we all love and rarely see in this world. She truly sells the concept of simply being a nice person who wants to do the right thing and help those around her. Though I must say, I was constantly waiting for her to drop the act and reveal herself to be Supernatural’s Charlie Bradbury with her trademark “What’s up, bitches?” but that is beside the point. Captain Hammer, played by my personal favorite Nathan Fillion, is a perfect mix of stereotypical heroic traits and surprisingly unappealing behavior that can be charitably described as “deplorable” and uncharitably described as being a “fucking obnoxious prick”. He completely revels in both sides so much so, that I found myself completely torn between loving his acting, and hating his character, the way it always should be.
The film also contains a good deal of humor, particularly in regards to the epitome of evil, Bad Horse, played by an actual horse (which is always a nice touch when compared to the alternatives of either bad CGI or a creepy man in a costume). The creativity that went into the written correspondence between Horrible and Bad Horse was perhaps my favorite musical number throughout the film. However, while I did not find myself wishing for the sweet release of death during the songs, I did not find any of them particularly engaging, nor memorable. While it is not an explicit requirement for all musicals to have memorable tunes, it is a trademark of all those that become engrained in pop culture.
The plot as a whole, while competent, is rather textbook. A, then B, then C. That is not to say that it is bad. It achieves exactly what it set out to do at the beginning of the film and leaves no dangling plot threads, the characters are well developed and it is their choices that drive the plot. Gold clap, golf clap. So if the plot is good, the characters are good and the songs don’t make me want to cheese grate my ears, then why am I left with a lukewarm feeling? (Yes, sadly it is not a solid gold 10/10 for me, so make sure to sharpen those pitchforks.)
Several reasons I suppose, and possibly very few anyone else will agree with. My biggest complaint against the film is that it simply ends. This is not me clamoring for more because it is the greatest story ever told, but rather I felt as if the film was unfinished. After the events during the climax of the film I was all ready for another hour of movie. “Wow,” I said to myself “They pulled the trigger with a major character death? Horrible’s personal goals ultimately destroy the one thing he loved in this world. Will he choose between the Evil League of Evil or will he give it all up learning that sometimes our ambitions destroy the things we hold most dear? Will he blame Captain Hammer or himself? Will anyone find out the truth behind Penny’s death and the string of circumstances that led up to it? What happens from here?”
And then – BAM – credits.
It felt like I was told to ride a rollercoaster because it was the best rollercoaster in the world. “You’ll love it trust us! I know you hate all the other rollercoasters in the known world and several on distant planets, but this one is amazing! It’s fast, it’s got loops, improves your credit score, waxes your car, and even ends with an enthusiastic handjob!” Then I get on the ride, holding my breath in anticipation for what has been described to me as the pinnacle of the human experience. Up we climb along with my heartbeat, pounding so hard that I can barely hear the persistent “clink” of the tracks taking us ever higher. I hold my breath as I rocket down the track, complete the first loop – and then come to a jarring stop.
“Right! That’s your lot.” Says a disinterested carny as he takes another swig of Jack Daniel’s from his not-so-hidden flask.
“What? That’s it? We just started to get to the good part and you’re telling me it’s over?” Ignoring my inquiries he begins to light a cigarette all whilst those in the seats behind me clamor on and on about how great it was saying “Remember the loop? Wasn’t that fantastic?!” It feels like I had a rather different experience than everyone else, as if I were the only sober person attending a Tool concert. Sure, we are physically watching the same thing, but something tells me I am just not getting the same experience as the smokers around me.
That’s not to say that “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog” is a bad film because it is not. I will even go as far to say it is above average. With its unique story, outstanding acting and creative characters there are definitely things to like here. However, none of its songs are particularly engaging or memorable, the plot structure is very rudimentary, and overall if feels like a great first half to an unfinished experience. It is more akin to being promised a hallowed gift unearthed from the lost city of Atlantis and all you get is a nice bowl of porridge. Perfectly good porridge mind you, better than most, but I do not particularly like porridge in the first place so I cannot help but feel disappointed regardless of its quality. At least now when asked what I think about “Dr. Horrible” I can finally answer with a heartfelt, “It’s alright I guess.”