A good part of the charm of Joss Whedon’s 42-minute “Internet miniseries event” Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is that its small scale, low-fi stunts, cheap props, and enthusiastic tone capture the aesthetic of something a bunch of teenagers cobbled together and put up on YouTube, hoping their peers would love it. Which is about what happened, except the teenagers were industry professionals, and their peers were anyone they could lure in for an experiment in DIY production and distribution. Written and directed during the writers’ strike as a side project for Whedon, his brothers Zack and Jed, and Jed’s fiancée Maurissa Tancharoen, Dr. Horrible launched online as a free three-part serial, starring Neil Patrick Harris as an adorably gawky supervillain who can’t bring himself to confess his feelings to crush object Felicia Day, even when she takes up with his cheesy archnemesis, Nathan Fillion. Whedon’s legion of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly fans spread the word and helped make the mini-movie an online sensation, though Harris’ nuanced performance, Day’s sweetness, Fillion’s glorious swaggering, and the insinuatingly catchy songs certainly didn’t hurt.
But how to sell fans a short film that’s still available free online? With a package of giddily geeky extras that reflect their love of the project back at them. Chief among them is “Commentary: The Musical,” a commentary track that gets off to a rocky start as a stiff audio play, then becomes winningly random as Fillion sings about how he’s better than Harris, Day worries that she’s thinking about trivia instead of art when she acts, minor characters jostle for attention, Joss glumly sings about how commentary tracks pick art to death, and Zack raps about how he hates musicals. The songs aren’t as infectious as the musical’s, but they’re hooky good fun, and a clever meta-commentary on the commentary-track phenomenon.
And like the disc’s other bonuses—an overcrowded but often hilarious “normal” commentary track, a standard making-of featurette, and a series of surprisingly engaging, mostly musical fan-submitted “supervillain auditions”—“Commentary” neatly expands the experience while letting viewers feel like a neat thing has been crafted just for them. Whedon has always embraced his fans and encouraged them to feel like one big family; DIY crafting and selling directly to them is the logical next step. Maybe the networks will treat him better once they see how readily he can cut them out of the profits.
Key features: See above.