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Friday Film Review: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)
Genre: Comedy/Musical/SF
Grade: B+

Cheer for the villain? Hate the “hero?” Listen to people sing catchy songs? Have Joss Whedon turn superhero/villain tropes on their heads? You’ll do all this and and more when you watch “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” For those who’ve never seen it, go now and watch it then read this review because I’m afraid there’s no way to praise and talk about it without giving everything away.

Dr. Horrible – who has a PhD in Horribleness (Neil Patrick Harris) – is an aspiring supervillain trying to get accepted into the Evil League of Evil (ELE) headed by Bad Horse (who has an evil death whinny) – the Thoroughbred of Sin. But he’s also in love with shy, Penny (Felicia Day) whom he met in the Laundromat though since he’s also shy, he’s never worked up the courage to actually talk to her.

Dr. Horrible’s application to the ELE is being considered but he needs to pull off a major act of evil or Bad Horse will vote “neigh.” It’s just Dr. Horrible’s bad luck that as he’s attempting to steal the Wonderflonium needed for his Freeze Ray, he runs into Penny who’s trying to get a shelter opened for homeless people. Just as it looks like the heist is a done deal, his nemesis, the self absorbed Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), appears and takes the credit for saving the day.

To Dr. Horrible’s dismay, Hammer starts to date Penny and even contemplates sleeping with her twice – cause that’s when you get to do the weird stuff. Outraged that Hammer is merely after Penny to piss him off, Dr. Horrible decides to turn his Freeze Ray into a Death Ray and take Hammer out. Can Dr. Horrible defeat the shallow Captain Hammer? Will he get the girl? And will his application to the ELE finally be accepted?

Out of boredom during the writers’ strike, Joss Whedon et al created a wonderful three part Internet series. It’s a musical! It’s SF! It’s funny! And it’s poignant too. In a little over forty minutes, they make me care for a character whose stated aim is to overturn the world order and create a new one through anarchy. An evil character who has standards – he’s working with a voice coach to perfect his evil laugh and who also loves the girl-next-door – or rather the girl-using-the-next-washing machine-at-the-laundromat. They also turn who would usually be the hero into a boorish Corporate Tool with the depth of a piece of paper.

The actors cast are mostly terrific. Harris is sweet and vulnerable in his yearning for Penny and then lost when he’s achieved his aim but at the cost of woman he loves. I want him to get the cool weapon and defeat Hammer and get into the ELE. Fillion is perfect as the assholic “hero” more concerned with how good his hair looks and beating out Dr. Horrible for the girl than he is with the needs of the smelly, alcoholic homeless people who smell like poo. He’s so un-PC that I love him despite his smarmy self centeredness and the fact that he’s a dick (“The hammer is my penis.”) Felicia Day makes Penny the slightly nerdish woman who is beginning to realize her mistake in dating Hammer just a little bit too late. But honestly, Horrible and Hammer are such great characters that, to me, Penny tends to get lost in between them.

And these people can sing! And the songs are catchy and stay in your head because the lyrics are smart. I almost wanted to stop the DVD each time and rerun it to listen to the words again. The songs aren’t just there for musical filler but define the characters and advance the plot. Watch for the three groupies and the Bad Horse Chorus adding their bits to the story.

The three acts were filmed in six days and it shows at times. There are some “they lost the light” shots and a scene that plunges into darkness but I was so focused on the story that the first time or three through, I didn’t even notice. But despite some problems, what they all managed to accomplish in that amount of time and with that little money is freaking amazing. The awards and the acclaim that “Dr. Horrible” have garnered are a testimony to the talent here.

The ending is sad. Both the death of Penny and the way it affects Dr. Horrible. It’s got that bittersweet tinge as Horrible gains everything he’s ever wanted but now he’s got no one to share it with. He and Penny were really acting for the same results only Horrible uses anarchy while Penny was using peaceful, social change. But I don’t think the ending would have worked any other way. I can’t see gentle Penny being comfortable with a super villain boyfriend yet she’d also be miserable with Hammer the bastard “hero.”

Opinions on this one range from uber love (the majority) to ultra hate. TBH, it’s the character of Penny – the headlines nailed it when they called her “what’s her name” – who lowers the grade for me. Yes, Day can sing but otherwise she’s like a candle beside the klieg lights that are Horrible and Hammer. For the most part it’s OTT camp mixed with fun snark and catchy lyrics plus a dollop of drama in the thought provoking ending. I don’t like everything Whedon’s ever developed but this one I do. B+

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

28 Comments

  1. Shannon Stacey
    May 20, 2011 @ 05:41:43

    LOVE Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog! My kids love it. Even my husband loved it once we could talk him into watching it. We have it on DVD. And Blu-ray. And a digital copy from iTunes that lives on my iPad and my iPod Touch. We have the soundtrack, too.

    I’m not sure there’s an actress out there who can hold her own between Nathan Fillion and NPH, who are both a little larger than life, but I think Felicia Day was good. I think she’s supposed to be the candle eclipsed by the klieg lights and the more they each get puffed up over her, the smaller she becomes.

    I never noticed the light changing, so I’m going to have to watch it again today. (Yes!)

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  2. Sandy D.
    May 20, 2011 @ 07:50:32

    Reading your review gave me a serious earworm.

    “Captain Hammer’s here, hair blowing in the breeze….”

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  3. Joy B
    May 20, 2011 @ 08:09:57

    Love Love Love Dr Horrible. I also highly recommend the DVD commentary track “Commentary: The Musical”

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  4. Angela
    May 20, 2011 @ 08:23:56

    Well, I guess I know what I’ll be watching this weekend!

    I was glad to find it on Netflix instant queue so now I don’t have to wait for the dvd to show up.

    I’ve never seen this, but your first paragraph (which is all I read) made me have to…

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  5. Jayne
    May 20, 2011 @ 08:24:56

    @Shannon Stacey: So…you like the movie? ;) Is there anything different on the Blu-Ray version vs the regular DVD? Not that I own a Blu-Ray player but am just curious.

    I think you’re right about “Penny the Candle.” She’s really just there to be an object of Dr. Horrible’s affection and Captain Hammer’s “it’s all about me” ness.

    Watch for the light changing during the scene where they’re all coming out from the Laundromat.

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  6. Jayne
    May 20, 2011 @ 08:26:24

    @Sandy D.: He’s got great hair, doesn’t he?

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  7. Jayne
    May 20, 2011 @ 08:28:11

    @Joy B: I’ve watched it with the regular commentary and the making of featurette but haven’t savored the musical commentary yet. Got to save something for a rainy day.

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  8. Jayne
    May 20, 2011 @ 08:43:03

    @Angela: Or you could pop over to youtube for instant gratification.

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  9. Jaci Burton
    May 20, 2011 @ 08:44:31

    I LOVE Dr. Horrible. I have mad love for NPH and Nathan Fillion, and I think they’re both filled with awesome in this. I also think Whedon is genius. Oh, and what’s-her-name is good, too *g*

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  10. Cathy in AK
    May 20, 2011 @ 08:56:35

    My entire family loves this show. We’ve introduced several people to it, probably coming off as a tad pushy in our enthusiasm. The musical version of the commentary is brilliant.

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  11. Heather Greye
    May 20, 2011 @ 10:16:24

    Love, love, love Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog. We have the soundtrack and DVD too. I’ll buy whatever I must to get Joss to make more stuff like this. Especially with rumors of a sequel

    I was watching something unrelated the other day (can’t recall) and some line of dialogue made me think “we do the weird stuff!” Cracked myself up!

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  12. Cathy KJ
    May 20, 2011 @ 10:26:34

    I love Dr. Horrible so much. I thank him for introducing “sheeple” into my vocabulary.

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  13. Sarah Frantz
    May 20, 2011 @ 11:01:58

    Loved loved loved it until the end. Now I can’t think about it without cursing. I hated that she had to die. I hated that she was a cipher. I hated that Whedon, who can write amazing female characters (obviously), wrote such a dishrag. I hated that the complications of Penny and Horrible working for the same thing, like you said, are just ignored b/c she dies. I think it was a cop-out and I hated hated hated it.

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  14. Abigail Strom
    May 20, 2011 @ 11:13:41

    Love Dr. Horrible with fierce fangirl love, but that’s how I feel about almost everything Joss Whedon’s done. Back in the dark ages when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was in its first season, I would “encourage” friends to watch it with such obnoxious fervor it’s amazing I still have friends. Even more obnoxiously, I would gush during episodes—did you see what he did there with that shot? And with that dialogue? And how he can take you from humor to terror to romance to pathos and back to humor in the space of five minutes? Did you see that? Did you? Joss also became my hero when he said something like (forgive the paraphrase if you know the actual quote): “I’d rather create a show a hundred people have to watch than a show a hundred thousand people just enjoy watching.” I love that attitude towards making art, and the connection he has with his fans. And I love that he’ll explore any medium to tell a story—TV, movies, internet, musicals, comic books—and that whatever medium he uses, he can make me care about his characters.

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  15. willaful
    May 20, 2011 @ 11:51:24

    I feel the same about Penny. Classic disappearing female in a guy flick.

    Have you listened to “Commentary: the Musical” BTW? It’s just as wonderful in its way — a whole other musical in the guise of a commentary track.

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  16. Samantha
    May 20, 2011 @ 12:33:19

    My husband bought me Captain Hammer earrings for Christmas and the Dr. Horrible Sing Along Blog Book for Mother’s Day. He truly knows the way to my heart.

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  17. Angela
    May 20, 2011 @ 12:45:57

    @Jayne: Oh, if youtube was only an option here at work LOL. It would be nice on this boring Friday afternoon though :P

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  18. Sarah Frantz
    May 20, 2011 @ 13:10:51

    @willaful: THAT’S it! OMG, yes, there’s nothing NEW or exciting or interesting about Penny. She’s awful, a cipher, and disappears and in a film that’s so interesting otherwise, that overturns so many conventions, WHY couldn’t she grow a pair and reject both of them? It could still be a side story, but she’s just so…nothing. ::shudder::

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  19. Jayne
    May 20, 2011 @ 15:02:48

    @Sarah Frantz: Okay so the rewritten DA fanfic could start with Penny staunching her wound, grabbing the death ray from Horrible, blasting him then staggering after Hammer as he crawls away in pain, blasting him too – or maybe just kicking him out of the way – and …then what?

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  20. Janine
    May 20, 2011 @ 15:23:13

    Am I the only one who falls in the middle? I neither loved it nor hated it. I liked it only mildly, especially compared to “Once More with Feeling,” the Buffy musical episode, which was pure brilliance, or “The man they call Jayne” song from Firefly. By comparison, Dr. Horrible felt too short, like there wasn’t enough time to fully develop the characters, except perhaps Dr. Horrible himself.

    The death Felicia Day’s character didn’t surprise me a bit. Didn’t Whedon kill off Anya in the final episode of Buffy and Wesley at the end of Angel? Topher sacrificed his life at the end of Dollhouse (no huge less there, though) and Paul Ballard was killed as well. In season five of Buffy, when it looked like the show might be canceled, Buffy died in the finale, only to be brought back from the dead when the show was renewed. Then there was the death of Wash in the movie Serenity.

    If Joss Whedon ever makes a show where no one dies in the final episode, then I’ll be surprised!

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  21. Bren
    May 20, 2011 @ 16:22:48

    I freaking love this video and rewatch it on a regular basis. Best line evar: “The hammer… is my penis…” That and other lines had me *rolling*, but like you said, it’s Horrible’s vulnerability, when he’s “Billy Buddy,” the guy who loves Penny, that is soooo sweet. And of course Fillion chews up the scenery.

    Contrary to the review, I really liked Penny, but I’m a big Felicia Day fan (The Guild, anyone?) The songs are great and are available on iTunes. My favorite is “My Eyes” and the one at the very end. The cut to the last note of that song, where he is sitting desolate, alone at his video-blog camera, that sheer sorrow in his eyes is really touching.

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  22. Lexxie Couper
    May 20, 2011 @ 17:52:28

    I can’t even begin to put into words how much I love Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. I have it on my iPod, my iPad, I run on the treadmill at the gym to the soundtrack, I cook to it playing on the telly. I have footage of my youngest daughter (aka The Demon Princess) singing A Man’s Gotta Do into a toy microphone word for word (obviously I play it so often my girls know it better than Hey Diddle-Diddle *grin*). I wear a Dr. Horrible T-shirt and bought my husband a Captain Hammer T-shirt. Oh, and of course I have the keys to a Shiny New Australia ;)

    And the ending still breaks my heart every time I watch it.

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  23. cead
    May 20, 2011 @ 18:27:00

    I thought Whedon was using Penny’s character to make some deliberate points about the role of women in male-dominated media (e.g. the fact that both Horrible and Hammer treat her like an object, and so on), but I could be reading too much into it.

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  24. pamelia
    May 20, 2011 @ 19:47:44

    Hmmm.., I saw Penny as a gentle soul and a pacifist who had strong beliefs and the courage to be good and believe in the good in the world; not a dishrag at all. Who says women have to get violent or strident to be strong? Maybe the piece was too short to fully flesh out her character (or anyone else’s. Captain Hammer as funny as he is does not exactly sparkle with dimensions.), but I really love it from it’s skewed view to the lovely music.

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  25. L.K. Rigel (likari)
    May 21, 2011 @ 11:21:17

    Penny had to die! Otherwise, Dr. Horrible’s horrible sorrow at the end wouldn’t have been so horrible. It’s all about the tragedy of getting what you think you want at the cost of what you have.

    Or not! I’m in Camp Loveit on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. There are so many great little bits. I didn’t appreciate the groupies until about the fourth time through, and I need to go watch it again to catch the loss of light.

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  26. Darlene Marshall
    May 22, 2011 @ 20:18:06

    Love, love, love, Dr. Horrible! In an age of overblown 3-D extravaganzas this little gem stands out for its fun, music and pathos. I would love to see NPH reprise his role in a sequel, and this time get the girl.

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  27. Lynda the Guppy
    May 22, 2011 @ 22:26:03

    @Abigail Strom:

    I used to work for the caption company that captioned Buffy & Angel. Joss’s scripts always got passed around, because even the instructions to cast and crew were priceless.

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  28. Lynda the Guppy
    May 22, 2011 @ 22:33:02

    I Love Love Love Dr. Horrible. One of the things I love is all the layers I keep stumbling on. Joss really is a genius at inserting things you don’t really pay attention to, as you think its inconsequential, but it ends up being Of Great Importance.

    For example, in “My Eyes” when Horrible & Penny are singing in counterpart, Penny is the dominant voice at one point, but underneath it you hear Horrible’s lyric

    Anyone one with half a brain
    Could spend their whole life howling in pain
    ‘Cause the dark is everywhere
    And Penny doesn’t seem to care
    That soon the dark in me is all that will remain.

    It’s a great moment, because you realize that Penny is so focused on problems at a global level, that she’s blind to Horrible’s pain. And at the end, maybe if she had seen it, and loved him, maybe he would have had a chance to fight off that darkness. And maybe it wouldn’t have ended the way it did. But it’s such a heartbreaking and, eventually, prophetic line that Joss is SUCH a genius at.

    Still, though, the phrase “Deltoids of compassion, the abs of being kind” cracks me the hell up. Every. Single. Time.

    Joss Is Boss.

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