Friday, February 17, 2012

2009 Hugo for Dramatic Presentation, Short Form – DR HORRIBLE’S SING-A-LONG BLOG

Two genres that have a long tradition of busting budgets are superhero movies and musicals. Leave it to Joss Whedon to make a low budget, DIY superhero musical for web broadcast. There are a lot of firsts here. You don’t see superhero musicals every day, and this style of superhero comedy hasn’t really been seen in live action (outside of Ben Edlund’s The Tick, at least). This is the first musical to win a Hugo, for that matter. Super-villain protagonists are fairly rare, though I can think of a few comic and cartoon examples. And, of course, there’s the whole web-series thing. Whedon (and his brothers) went with the format during the 2008 writer’s strike. By all reports, the show made back its budget (and the crew could be paid!) and then some. At the time I saw this as something of a harbinger of things to come, but three+ years later, the division between tv and webshows seems to be more solid than ever, though Netflix and Hulu are up to some interesting things.

Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) is a supervillain auditioning to join the Evil League of Evil, a team of baddies led by Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin. At the beginning of each of three fifteen minute episodes, Horrible updates us in videoblog format. He explains that cheesy hero Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) is his arch-nemesis, and he has a crush on a girl he sees at the laundrymat named Penny (web-series maven, Felicia Day). And he tells us in verse. When a heist goes wrong, Horrible inadvertently introduces Hammer and Penny, and they hit it off, increasing his alienation and anger, and leading him to raise the stakes of his audition villainy.

The music and singing probably aren’t going to win any Tonys, but they’re strong enough, and Whedon can be quite clever with the lyrics, as he showed in his excellent musical episode of Buffy. In fact, I’m rather fond of the naturalistic, strong-but-not-quite-professional vocal performances that Whedon gets from his actors in these two musical projects, and I almost expect it to be a trend in musicals to come. It’d be preferable to the over-polished generic pop that you get out of most of the cast of Glee, at least. Its Whedon, so of course the dialog is funny, and we quickly see depth out of the main characters. The best thing about the series is Dr. Horrible’s villainous motivation – he’s clearly a confused, disenchanted person lashing out rather than a maniac (telling lyrics: Horrible boasts that he’ll have “all the cash all the fame and social change” and calls for “anarchy that I run”). A lot of mixed-up kids share his weird utopian/dystopian politics, and I think almost every American can sympathize with his odd efforts to justify his work financially and socially. Even though this is a brief comic piece, Dr. Horrible is one of the most fully realized villains I can think of.

So, it’s great fun. If you’re a Whedon fan, you’ve already seen it a million times. If you don’t like Whedon, I doubt this will win you over. If you’re on the fence though, I’d give it a shot. Also, Commentary: The Musical takes DVD-commentary tracks to a new level and probably deserves some kind of award itself.

Grade: A-

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