Thursday, December 10, 2009

Horribly Torn

Before I start, I haven't updated my smoking part of this journal in some time. I still ain't smoking. I still want to. People are always smoking at bus stops and train stations and I love the smell this time of year, cuz it's cold and chilly weather's always the best time to smoke cigarettes. Probably not from a medical standpoint but from aesthetics it's awesome, but I don't. That could change any day cuz the urge is growing. It's the perfect time of year to start up again. However, I get winded walking from my house to the bus stop, so I've probably done enough damage to my lungs during the twenty years of my life I was a smoker. Anyway, haven't smoked a cig since the last time I mentioned this in my blog. Feel free to go look up when that is cuz I'm too lazy to link back to it myself. Okay. Enough of that.

Also, before I begin let me say for the record that I enjoyed Horrible Turn immensely and I think you will too if you haven't already. If you are a fan of Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, you are only cheating yourself out of a fun time if you don't also see Horrible Turn.

1) it's fun.
2) it's silly.
3) it's silly fun.

If you are not a fan of Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible and have never seen it before, I urge you to watch Horrible Turn before reading past this paragraph. Then, after you have seen Horrible Turn, please come back here and leave a comment. Tell me whether or not it actually is objectively good, because I can't tell. Then you can watch Joss Whedon's work upon which Horrible Turn is loosely connected, and maybe it'll make more sense to you. I of course saw Dr. Horrible before seeing Horrible Turn, which may why I'm having so much trouble figuring out whether or not I really objectively enjoyed.. well either of them at this point. You wouldn't be so conflicted. So go watch them both in the wrong order and come back and help me figure this out. Now please stop reading because the rest of this is only for people who have seen both.

...go on. Scoot. Go watch this, and come back and tell me what you think, then watch this, (pay for it if you can afford to so Joss can one day afford to make the sequel) and tell yourself how wonderful life is and that Joss Whedon's pretty fucking cool. And so are those crazy kids from Houston. And so is Australia. ...Okay I'm gonna assume from here on out that if you're reading these words you've seen both. Please don't make a liar out of me.


I'm horribly torn by Horrible Turn.

There. I said it. Why? Well. It's complicated. Perhaps if Joss Whedon himself would only come forward publicly and say that it's okay for me to like it, then I wouldn't be so torn. Perhaps he doesn't do that because he knows that if nothing we do matters than the only thing that matters is what we do and therefore he doesn't want to do anything that might adversely jeopardize a fan of his work from appreciating the work of others inspired by him. Or maybe I'm reading too much into his silence. He could also have a gag order by lawyers or something. I dunno. Maybe he's just too busy saying goodbye to Dollhouse to have noticed Horrible Turn. He's a busy guy.

I had been looking forward to seeing it for weeks. Ever since I found out it existed, which was a couple few weeks or maybe a month before it was made publicly available online. I was looking forward to it cuz I was expecting it to suck and I look forward to nitpicking shit like this. It's a form of masochistic entertainment that I allow myself. Sometimes I prefer to see soemthing that sucks cuz it's fun to rip it a new asshole. It's like pulling the wings off frogs or something.

So I must admit when I started watching Horrible Turn, I set the bar very very low. I expected the music to be off key, or make my ears bleed, or not exist at all. I expected the humor to be juvenile and pedantic (I just used that word cuz it felt good typing it). I fully expected it to be another Mary Sue fanfic wank like the many I've seen over the years (and I'm guilty of writing a couple few myself). I expected to watch a handful of fans attempt to recreate the ambiance of their favorite work of Whedon's, without having anything relevant themselves to say. I expected Horrible Turn to be empty and devoid of meaning for anyone beyond those who made it. YouTube has tons of that kinda stuff for every show from Star Trek to Lost. Some I enjoyed despite it being crap. Some I enjoyed because it was crap. On rare occasion one finds a gem in the rough, but those are few and far between. Even then, when I see something that's well performed or well written, I still wince cuz the creativity was too much for their pocketbook and the construction of the work fails to capture the essence of whatever it was imitating. A green screen and a single cheap camera from Best Buy can only do so much. It does help if it's done in Lego, but not by much.

Horrible Turn raises the bar. Parts of it were literally filmed inside someone's garage. You can tell that if you pay attention, but it doesn't matter, cuz parts of Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog were either literally or practically filmed inside someone's garage -- probably Joss's.

On a technical level, while Horrible Turn doesn't quite match Whedon's original work, it far surpasses most other similar fan-based projects, and proves why TV is currently running scared. The very idea that something as good as this can be made outside Television City has Television City very worried. Frankly I wouldn't be surprised if it'll soon fall and can't get up, with screaming sirens and a crash cart in its near future.

So Horrible Turn doesn't qualify for my Piece Of Crap treatment. It actually was worth watching for its own merit, as well as being a respectable tribute to Whedon's gang of misfit toys. It made me laugh. It gave me goosebumps. It entertained. I was so disappointed. I was all dressed up to lampoon it and had nowhere to go.

So how do I compare it to stuff I actually like? That's where it gets even more complicated. I can't literally dissect it with the same proverbial toolkit I pull out for network television. Shows like Dollhouse and Castle and LOST can withstand my throwing spaghetti at them cuz it actually sticks. Shows like Flash Forward and Defying Gravity fail under my wrath, but it's so fun to watch them BURN.

While Horrible Turn is better than I expected, it's not network television. Millions of dollars per episode weren't riding on it. We're talking a budget akin to that used to make The Blair Witch Project (which I also loved passionately by the way). In many places the editing of Horrible Turn is downright cringeworthy. It's much longer than it should have been. The pacing is not addressed. There's points where as an audience member I wish they'd linger longer, and there's other moments where I'm like okay I get the point lets move on.

Although it wants to aspire to Whedonness, it pales. The humor is not rapid fire and occasionally just the bombs don't go off at all. Many jokes are more intellectually curious than laughter illiciting. In some moments the acting is inspiring and in others it feels like the millionth take (whether it actually was or not) or they didn't have time for millions of takes and had to suffer with the one they actually had w/the fewest errors. Then there's the writing. The plot, while fun, is telegraphed way ahead making the climax of the piece falling action. This is partly The Curse of the Prequel.

We know Anakin becomes Darth Vader. We already saw eps 4-6 so when we watch eps 1-3 it's anticlimactic before the opening fanfare music. The fact it takes three movies for Lucas to dip Anakin in a volcano and encase him in the suit is just downright excrutiating. We finally get there, and the story's already over! So the twenty years of Darth Vader actually being neato evil and pissing off entire solar systems? It all happens between eps 3 & 4 with a dramatic gravitas that equals the messenger telling Hamlet that Rosencrantz & Gildenstern are dead.

With Horrible Turn, we know Billy goes from sweet innocent youth to super-villain wannabe. That's the intrinsic DNA of the piece. Like James Bond not dying, the question is not IF but HOW. Sticking around after the HOW is explained, becomes an exercise in patience for the audience.

We figure it out when we learn that young Billy has named the potion "Love Potion Number Ten." You might as well have dubbed it "McGuffin Potion." We know it's not gonna work cuz we know Billy. We know who's gonna ruin it cuz we know Hammer. Watching it all unfold after the writer has inadvertently told us how it will unfold is fun in much the same way Jay & Silent Bob swinging from the rafters at the end of Mallrats was fun, but Silent Bob's the freaking DIRECTOR! He's not gonna kill himself off in his own film by having his character fall from that great height meaninglessly. The suspense is not only gone - it never shows up.

I can continue to dissect Horrible Turn thusly, but it's no fun. It's totally unfair of me to use the same measuring system on Horrible Turn that I'd use to explain why the last three seasons of Heroes are not worth dog poop (except for some of the acting - I mostly hate the writing and the cheap special effects tricks since they can't actually afford to be a show about super heroes). Horrible Turn is not trying to be better than its predecessor. It's a labor of love by those making it. It was a training ground for people studying the art of filmmaking. It's a college level project. So expecting the Sistine Chapel from people just learning how to paint would be foolhardy. Horrible Turn doesn't have millions riding on it. It may have thousands riding on it, but so far as I know there's no legal way to market it, so whoever invested in it either didn't want that money back or they don't understand copyright law. Either way, that's a dead issue, and I don't understand copyright law either so I could be completely wrong. Something that takes millions to make should hold up under critical review and if it doesn't, it deserves to get wrung up and hung out to dry. Horrible Turn doesn't deserve such heartless treatment, because it really comes from the heart. Still, if I just stopped there I'd lose my reputation as a heartless bastard. Okay. So I don't have any reputation at all, but I'm working on being a heartless bastard. I'm trying here.

While it's not trying to surpass its predecessor, it IS trying to hold a candle to it, and perhaps that's where I'm having trouble. Does it? Really? Is it Whedony enough? Is that how I should measure it? Is that even what the makers of Horrible Turn were going for? I guess any great critic should measure a movie or tv show or web-based viral whatchamacallit not by how it compares to other works but by what it was trying to accomplish and whether or not it truly succeeded.

When I first saw the actors in Horrible Turn playing "Muppet Babies" equivalents of characters in Dr. Horrible, it took me a moment to adjust. I think I was originally expecting them to just mimic and impersonate the actors that portrayed the characters originally. What impressed me was that they didn't. Or IF they did, they did such a bad job at impersonating that it doesn't look like impersonating which is serendipitous.

If you hired Tom Hanks to reprise the role that Jimmy Stewart made famous in Rear Window, you wouldn't get Tom Hanks impersonating Jimmy Stewart playing Jeff Jeffries. You'd get Tom Hanks' take on Jeff Jeffries, and he'd go out of his way to make you forget Jimmy Stewart ever existed.

Rather than try to be Nathan Fillion or Neil Patrick Harris, the leading actors of Horrible Turn inhabited the characters themselves as themselves. Not having Fillion or Harris' years of experience and natural talents, these young gents brought their own toolkits to bare on the roles. They focused on their own strengths and approached the role as best they could. In some areas they seem to be influenced heavily by their predecessors, but only in as much as Moore or Brosnan were influenced by Connery.

This kinda haunts the entire project. Those behind Horrible Turn wanted to tell this story that's touched on in the original work and some of the accompanying canonical side works like the comics. However, they knew they couldn't actually outdo Whedon so rather than try to be something they're not they just did the best they could with what they had. And what they had was some kind of awesome in its own right.

This is a good thing! However, it's also a bad thing.

Is Horrible Turn trying to be a prequel to Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog? Yes.

Is Horrible Turn trying to be Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog itself? No.

Is Horrible Turn trying to BE Whedonishy? I hope not, cuz if that's what it was trying to do, it's an epic fail. The dialogue alone is so not Whedonishy at all, or maybe it's like a good guitarist trying to match Van Halen's guitar solos on a poorly strung stratocaster knockoff.

I guess seeing these talented guys and gals from Houston put so much effort into emulating one of my favorite writer/directors of all time just leaves me frustrated. I'm left not wanting more of them singing Whedon's tune. I'm left wanting to hear what they'd sound like if they sang their own tune. Invented their own characters in their own world and ran rampant over wherever that took them, hopefully far away from Whedon's voice until they really understood that they had their own voice this whole time.

Of course, this is my bane and my curse. I feel like this about local cover bands too. I'll take a pretty lady singer/songwriter alone over a four piece Beatles Tribute band any day. However, guess which one gets more gigs. People already know The Beatles. They don't know if they are gonna like the genius of the lady songwriter.

Same problem here. The talent behind Horrible Turn wouldn't have turned any heads if they announced to the world that they had made their own sing along blog about Turnip Moustache and Eunich Squalid from Porter Junction. I doubt they woulda turned my head. Still, after riding Whedon's coat tails a short distance, maybe in the fantasy world of tomorrow they might..?

Guess we'll just have to tune in Tomorrow and find out.

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