How to describe "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog?" High-quality superhero-and-supervillain fun. With a swell soundtrack of original tunes.
The first thing I noticed about the Internet musical created by the brothers Whedon -- Joss, Jed and Zack and Jed's fiance, Maurissa Tancharoen -- was how fabulous it looks. No YouTube grainy-blurry here, thanks to the talents of director Joss and d.p. Ryan Green.
The second thing I noticed about the production was ... nothing because a few minutes in to Thursday night's screening of the 40-minute program at CAA, I was thoroughly engrossed. Gotta hand it to Joss and Jed for their skill in penning the tunes, which really make "Dr. Horrible" work as a tuner.
Not gonna spill any story details, at the request of the creators, other than to say it's cheeky and comic book-y with a love story at the center. It is, of course, elevated by the strength of its cast. Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion are fantastic; it wouldn't work if they weren't as good as they are in their roles. Felicia Day is just right as the unconventional love interest; sidekick Simon Helberg is equal parts perspiration and inspiration.
"Dr. Horrible" is a Joss-led attempt to test-drive the made-for-Internet production business, on his own dime (more like low six-figures though no one would get specific on the budget) and with a lot of help from industry friends. It was, as might be expected, very liberating and tons of fun, Harris opined in a post-screening chat with reporters and bloggers.
"We had the freedom to be like professional amateurs," Harris said, and that sensibility was "worked into the vibe of the film."
The plans and the initial script work on "Dr. Horrible" were hatched during the writers strike. It was based on an old idea that Joss had been kicking around, and of course "let's do something for the Internet" was a mantra of the picket line during the WGA's 100-day war.
"Dr. Horrible" was shot over seven days at the end of March, with much of the music recording work done at Joss' home studio. They made a point of getting the blessings of the DGA, WGA and SAG, and Joss was committed to offering even more generous residual terms for the talent, in success, than they would receive under guild contracts.
"You don't make a statement about what we can accomplish as a community...by screwing people over," Joss said.
"Dr. Horrible" is a stab at new media, but it will launch with a nod to the olden days. Skein will debut free online at
www.drhorrible.com in three parts next week -- July 15, July 17 and July 19. By the time the third installment goes up, however, viewers will have 48 hours to check it out before it is pulled to build anticipation for a forthcoming DVD release, download options and more.
"We want to make an event out of it, like an old TV event, something were you have to be in a certain place at a certain time" to see it, Whedon says.
"Dr. Horrible" will get a special reprise later this month at Comic-Con -- a no-brainer for stoking interest among distribs in the DVD and Internet download offerings. (Joss' main man at CAA, Chris Harbert, is working overtime to pull all those deals together.)
The Whedons and Tancharoen are already giving some thought to a followup program; there's clearly more to explore in Dr. Horrible's world. But at the moment Joss has to devote plenty of his energy to his other new offspring, the Fox midseason drama "Dollhouse," on which Jed and Maurissa are also writers. Zack, meanwhile, is on the staff of Fox's other big-ticket new drama, "Fringe." But they all are promising a killer DVD release with extras, outtakes and not one but two commentary tracks.
As far as Joss is concerned, "Dr. Horrible" was a shot of pure joy -- writing, directing and producing a tuner from scratch.
"If this is just my mid-life crisis -- it's the most awesome one imaginable," he said, with feeling.