Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog: a Review

August 7, 2008 | 23 comments
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I really liked Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, a short musical internet film in three parts. Perhaps you think this is a shameful admission, like my fondness for the Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. And perhaps you’re right. But there it is. I liked the superhero goofiness. I liked Dr. Horrible’s acting. I really liked the singing.

UPDATE: Now available for free.

SPOILERS

SPOILERS.

Right up until the end, it was a sweet-as-candy mixture of pop references, vacuous fun, internet knowingness, everything as tasty as you could want. So the end is a shock. I have never before seen a film end with a message of contempt for me for watching and enjoying the film where I felt that the message was right.

Whether the creators meant it or not, the message of the film is that the collapse of sexual mores, the ever increasing power of technology, and the sheer vacuity of our contemporary culture (reflected in our enjoyment in the first part of the film) means the end of civilization. The message of the film is cheery, pragmatic American nihilism eventually ends in the same place as the grimmer German version. Its pretty convincing, the way art is when you’re experiencing it.

23 Responses to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog: a Review

  1. tkangaroo on July 21, 2008 at 8:45 am

    I loved it. I am still walking around singing the laundry song (among others).

    I didn’t quite get the same message that you did. I did find it interesting that they were somewhat speaking to the consequences of our actions and nature of true “evil.” We have become so desensitized to the word “evil,” that too often we think it is innocuous and ineffective. In truth, it isn’t cute and frothy. The consequences of evil are truly heartbreaking—and I thought the ending was heartbreaking (even if I thought the lead actress was a little cloying, I actually didn’t expect her to die!).

    It is also nice to know that there are other people who watched this, and I am not the only geek out here.

  2. William Morris on July 21, 2008 at 10:17 am

    SPOILER WARNING……….

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    “The message of the film is cheery, pragmatic American nihilism eventually ends in the same place as the grimmer German version.”

    Yeah. Good stuff. Although it would be a little more convincing if Joss Whedon didn’t have a history of killing off the sweet girl/boy. But I think that on the whole you are right. It was a great set up combining a goofy/nerdy slacker love story with a cartoonish/the Tick-ish superhero story. I love that it undermines the dark, gritty turn superhero movies have taken post-Bourne. And that it premiered the same week as the Dark Knight is rather delicious. Genius casting, too.

    Also: I think we’re used to ineptness/slacking saving the person with the bad (even evil) intentions. In the end, they may want to cause harm, but they don’t. Here the reluctant yet decisive lust for violence (Dr. Horrible initially doesn’t want to kill, but then he clearly makes that decision — putting a piece of tape that says kill over stun on the gun is total genius) doesn’t save the anti-hero. Even when he has second thoughts, he has had the desire to kill. He is not saved from the consequences of that lust.

    I also like what the work has to say about courage and physical prowess — although that was a little more stereotypically handled than the turn to evil part.

  3. jjohnsen on July 21, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Part one and two were great. Though I didn’t dislike it as much, I have to agree with Adam on part three.

  4. tkangaroo on July 21, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    It took a few viewings for me to appreciate part 3. But I also took a break of a day in between those viewings. . . Having seen his Buffy musical, I expected it to be a little more light and fluffy at the end. I still love the music and the acting. It as fantastic!

    Well, look at my wrist… gotta go.

  5. tkangaroo on July 21, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    It took a few viewings for me to appreciate part 3. But I also took a break of a day in between those viewings. . . Having seen his Buffy musical, I expected it to be a little more light and fluffy at the end. I still love the music and the acting. It was fantastic!

    Well, look at my wrist… gotta go.

  6. tkangaroo on July 21, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    um, sorry. Not sure how the double post happened.

  7. Agellius on July 21, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    “the collapse of sexual mores, the ever increasing power of technology, and the sheer vacuity of our contemporary culture (reflected in our enjoyment in the first part of the film) means the end of civilization.”

    I tend to agree. Although I did read recently that back in Roman times, when everyone was predicting the end of the Empire (in writing), it was still far off. Whereas when people were writing about how wonderful things were, the end was near. The reason being that the emperors towards the end would not tolerate people writing about how bad things were, because it was dangerous, because things really were bad. Reminds me of the Soviet Union. So hopefully, the fact that people in our society are still free to fret and complain about how bad things are, means that things are still not that bad.

    What do you guys think of the idea that the collapse of morality and authority are the direct result of the principles upon which our country was founded? In other words, it seems to me that it was founded upon the notion that everyone’s opinion is worthwhile, even if they contradict each other; that since we can’t judge objectively what truth is, we’ve got to let the people decide it for themselves rather than “imposing” it on them, etc., and that this has led to modern nihilism (if I understand that word correctly).

  8. Danno Ferrin on July 21, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    I loved the ending, and I fail to see where the critical analysis of it portends the doom of our society. Of course I am a CS major so a lot of critical analysis is above my head.

    What I saw was the story of the existential anti-hero. Instead of the existential hero who apparently loses in the end but really win on a deeper level (think Jesus Christ and the Crucifixion) The story is of someone who apparently wins (a villain admitted to the Evil League of Evil, a crowning achievement) but on a deeper level loses in the worst way possible, left as a hollow evil shell because of the death of the girl he had a crush on that he basically caused. Using evil means to achieve a perceived good end is still in the end evil. Evil plus anything is evil.

    I especially loved the last camera shot, contrasting the height of his achievement with the sheer depravity of his loss.

  9. Adam Greenwood on July 22, 2008 at 6:58 am

    I endorse William Morris’ ruminations (naturally). Danno Ferrin’s, too, actually; the message he’s seeing is definitely in there.

    Two thoughts, Agellius:
    1. Excellent point about the desperate false confidence of Dominate Rome. Still, Augustine had to write City of God for a reason–because after Rome got sacked the Romans realized they were in a bad way. The tendency to lie bravely is a feature of the decline of civilization, you’re right about that, but just as symptomatic is a sort of generic Buddhist/monastic tendency to admit how awful everything is but deny that the affairs of the world matter. Anyway, I tend to think that in Roman terms we’re in a late Republican period, not a late Empire period.
    2. I think you’re confusing a modern gloss on what the founding of America was about with what the founding of America actually was about. I’m thinking the number of colonial Americans who thought we couldn’t establish objectively what truth is was pretty close to zero. On the other hand, maybe you could be a Tocqueville and argue that the founding ideas would tend to *develop* into the modern gloss and maybe you’d be right, I dunno.

  10. ZionsSuburb on July 22, 2008 at 11:36 am

    wow, a Brisco County reference, I loved that show!

  11. Agellius on July 22, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Adam, re #9: I understand why it sounded like I was projecting a modern gloss onto the Founders. I agree with you that they are probably turning over in their graves at what has resulted from their work. I don’t know from Toqueville (I think he was a French visitor to America who wrote a book about it?), but yes, that’s what I meant: That the founding ideas developed into the modern gloss. Also that it was inevitable (in hindsight anyway) that they would.

    I think (from what I’ve read) that the Founders assumed that common sense would always win out, but didn’t realize they were living off borrowed capital from when Catholicism was the dominant philosophy in Europe. In other words, they were laying the foundations of the relativism and subjectivism which are dominant in today’s society, by leaving all decision-making and value-setting in the hands of the majority. They wrote about how religion and morality are essential to a democracy, but put nothing in the Constitution to guarantee that those things would always be taken into account in the making of laws.

    I suspect they assumed that the majority would always be religious and moral, but (in hindsight) it should have been obvious that being a fallen race, when left to ourselves we would degenerate over time.

  12. MCQ on July 22, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Loved it. I hope we will eventually see more episodes of this. I think you’re overstating the message though. Where is “the end of civilization” part?

  13. Adam Greenwood on July 22, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    In other words, they were laying the foundations of the relativism and subjectivism which are dominant in today’s society, by leaving all decision-making and value-setting in the hands of the majority.

    Decisions must be made and decisions must be left in the hands of somebody. The Founders notion was not that majorities were right, or even necessarily more likely to be right, but that ultimately majorities had the right and the obligation to make the decision. The people were sovereign, in other words. This is an idea with a fair amount of Catholic roots in Aquinas and so on, and the Catholic defense of despotism tended to be a late, Jacobite flower.

  14. MCQ on July 23, 2008 at 2:33 am

    You really know how to suck all the fun out of a great musical. Attend broadway much? I can’t wait to read your review of Spamalot. I’m guessing it’s actually a comment on the decline of the British empire, right?

  15. Adam Greenwood on July 23, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Not so much a comment as a symptom.

  16. Agellius on July 23, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Adam, re 13: You write, “The people were sovereign, in other words. This is an idea with a fair amount of Catholic roots in Aquinas and so on . . .”

    I would be interested to read what Aquinas said on this topic. Can you give me a citation? Time permitting of course, I know you’ve got other stuff on your plate.

  17. Agellius on July 23, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    By the way, Pope Leo XIII in “Libertas” (http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13liber.htm)
    condemns the notion that the people are or ought to be sovereign.

  18. Adam Greenwood on July 23, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Agellius, read John Murray and Orestes Browning and then critiques of them. That would give you a much better understanding of something of which I only have the vaguest notion.

  19. Agellius on July 23, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Correction to my post 17: Leo didn’t condemn the proposition that the people ought to be sovereign, rather the proposition that the authority to govern comes from the people. Sounds similar but not quite the same.

  20. a random John on August 7, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    Two parts had me laughing non-stop:

    1. “These are not the hammer.”
    2. Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin, is in fact, a horse.

  21. Eric Boysen on August 7, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    #9 Adam-I think the decline of Rome was the story of the empire. The late Republic period was facing the monstosity of a dictatorship and did not have the energy to turn back on its moral decay and heal itself. I don’t get much hope from your comparison, which I am forced to agree with.

    “It is a republic, if you can keep it.”

    Are Franklin’s words a test we are bound to fail? King Benjamin tells us that majorities usually want what is right, but woe if they do not. They are worse than the wicked kings he speaks of elsewhere in the chapter as hard to put down. At least when the people choose they are somewhat responsible for their doom, but that doesn’t comfort me much either

  22. Adam Greenwood on August 8, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Eric B.,
    I didn’t mean my comparison to be hopeful.

  23. John David Payne on August 9, 2008 at 2:52 am

    Re: #10

    >>wow, a Brisco County reference, I loved that show!
    Comment by ZionsSuburb — 7/22/2008 @ 11:36 am
    >>

    They’re using the Brisco County theme song to promote Olympic TV coverage. I just heard it on an ad tonight.

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