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Let’s face it — by now, the hardcore fans of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog have watched the series more than once on Hulu, downloaded and memorized the soundtrack thanks to iTunes, and maybe even bought themselves a Captain Hammer t-shirt. Of course, that won’t stop them from buying a copy of the DVD — but what do they get for this latest show of devotion? And what about the less-fanatical, who enjoyed the series but aren’t sure about dropping $10 on something they’ve already seen for free? In short: In these tough economic times, is the Dr. Horrible DVD worth your money?
Thanks to Dr. Horrible‘s minions (OK, the very nice person who sent me an advance copy), I had a chance to explore the disc this week, and I’m happy to report that, no matter who you are, the answer is yes. The devoted fan who’s already pre-ordered four copies (one for themselves, three for the loved ones who are getting it for Christmas) will be more than satisfied. The online video enthusiast, seeking to better understand this year’s undisputed king of web series, will find plenty of insight in the special features. And newcomers to the phenomenon, looking to enjoy a funny media experience, will also walk away happy — because the DVD presents Dr. Horrible in the best possible light.
The complete series comes in at approximately 42 minutes, which is equivalent to an hour-long episode of network television sans commercials — given that Joss Whedon has produced more than 200 hours of network television, that comes as little surprise. Rewatching Dr. Horrible five months after the intense experience of its release, I was surprised by how well it held up. Like any piece of media you reapproach, the flaws stand out a little more clearly on second viewing: the ballsy 4 minutes opening sequence in which Dr. Horrible updates his vlog definitely lacks the momentum that makes the rest of the series so enjoyable. But the three “acts” of the series, when cut together, don’t play like episodic installments — they play like a complete whole, and frankly, Dr. Horrible is at its best in that format.
As for special features, the centerpiece of the DVD is definitely Commentary! The Musical, a full-length commentary track that is a completely original musical in its own right. Redefining post-modernism (“I think you just broke the ninth wall” is a remark made towards the end), Commentary! is actually a fun, behind-the-scenes glimpse of the production, heavily laced with inside jokes set to music very nearly as good as that in the actual production. There is an entire ballad about the video game Ninja Ropes, which they all played on their iPhones while on set (Nathan Fillion holds the high score), and co-writer/Groupie No. 2 Maurissa Tancharoen sings a song about how she didn’t get cast as Penny because “no one’s Asian in the movies.” Commentary! gets so caught up in its own fun that it only syncs up with the action on screen a few times, but the end result is tongue-in-cheek good fun, the sort of friendly jibing that invites audiences to feel included simply by letting them in on all the jokes. Most amusingly for those in the online video world, a major running gag revolves around Felicia Day’s fanatical promotion of her series The Guild, which is worked into the lyrics of at least one song. “I have dozens of fans! Bakers’ dozens!” she protests toward the end of Act 1.
While Joss Whedon has definitely gotten the bulk of the credit for Dr. Horrible, the behind-the-scenes featurettes go out of their way to celebrate his co-writers. Jed Whedon is applauded for his visual style and musical sensibility (he claims the title “Writer/Composer”) while Zack Whedon (who’s also written for Deadwood, John From Cincinnati, and Fringe) is credited with authorship of most of the show’s best dialogue, including the most-quoted “The hammer is my penis” line. An entire featurette is devoted to the nitty-gritty details of the music recording process (which, per the traditions of classic musicals, was the first stage of production), while the final chapter, entitled What Just Happened?, covers the incredible web reaction to the series. A highlight is Jed Whedon admitting that the first two days of the show’s launch were “two days of hell,” thanks to intense demand that repeatedly crashed the web site.
Per the request of Dr. Horrible’s minions, I won’t go into details about the various Easter eggs — except to say that there are layers to the DVD well-worth exploring. For the same reason, I also won’t go into specifics about the disc’s major tribute to its fans: a compilation of fan-created applications to the Evil League of Evil. But the ELE applications are remarkable for what they reveal about those ultimately responsible for Dr. Horrible‘s tremendous success. The apps selected for the DVD represent an international, creative, and surprisingly talented community who were encouraged every step of the way to, as Day puts it in What Just Happened?, “participate in the show’s success.”
Ultimately, what this disc reveals is that those behind the series are not just fans of the product, but fans of their fanbase. And that affection is not unreciprocated, which is very fortunate for all involved — especially Dr. Horrible‘s DVD sales.