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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The Kickstarted Veronica Mars film hit theaters/VOD last month. I suppose there was some anticipation for it by fans who contributed to its fundraising campaign, and the film did comparatively well considering its low theatrical distribution. But how was the actual film? Was it worth all the effort especially with the original show being off the air for several years?
Honestly, the movie was okay, but nothing special. It is total fan service which makes sense given that the fan base largely paid for it. It has been 9 years since the end of the show and Veronica (Kristen Bell) has moved on with her life. She’s about to get a big lawyer gig and is in a long-term relationship with Piz (an under-appreciated Chris Lowell). However, her past in Neptune comes calling back when her ex-boyfriend, Logan (a bored Jason Dohring), is accused of murder and calls her to help prove his innocence.
Because it is fan service, I don’t think anyone who hadn’t seen the show would really understand what is going on with the movie. Much of what happens banks on the fact that you know these characters as, outside of Veronica, no one is really given any depth or reason for us to care for them. If you’ve seen the show, you get it. If not, then you’d be lost.
That really is the tricky part of doing a movie continuation of a TV show. Sometimes you can be successful such as the Star Trek films as the original show didn’t feature ongoing storylines. With Veronica Mars accessibility can be a problem. Fans of the show will like this, and that might be all that really matters.
As a movie, however, there are some basic problems. As I mentioned above, many of the characters are not given much to do other than stand there and say “Hey! Remember me from the show!” Specifically Veronica’s friends in Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino). They are just forced into a story that doesn’t need them. Another issue this movie has is that it introduces plot lines really late into the game and never really resolves them. I don’t know if this was to set-up a potential sequel, but it just seems sloppy.
Warning: Minor Spoilers
I also had a problem with Veronica’s arc in this movie. None of it ringed true. She’s lived for nearly a decade away from Neptune, but is willing to throw it all away and return to Neptune after a weekend of nostalgia. I don’t quite buy it. Nine years can change a person. A lot. I realize they had to find a way to return to the status quo by the end of the movie, but it just seemed forced and difficult to swallow.
It was fun jumping back into this world again, but it is a world that is just too large for a film to really service and do it justice. While it has several narrative and moviemaking faults, the Veronica Mars fans should be satisfied at the end of the day. And, as I mentioned earlier, that is really all that matters in this case.
A few months back, Kristin Bell and Rob Thomas (the main actress and the creator behind the long-cancelled Veronica Mars television show) set up a Kickstarter project to fund a possible Veronica Mars movie (I say possible, because as Nick explained here, the movie could potentially fall through despite reaching and exceeding funding goals). Just recently, apparent Hollywood whipping boy Zach Braff also took to Kickstarter to help fund his directorial follow-up to 2004’s break-out hit Garden State. Unlike Bell and Thomas’ overwhelmingly positive reaction, however, Braff faced enormous criticism, not only from the general pop culture media, but from fans as well. All of this has left me wondering, how can Bell and Thomas get such great support and praise while Braff gets nothing but scorn and criticism for essentially doing the exact same thing?
Veronica Mars was a television show that debuted in 2004 and lasted for three seasons until it was canceled by the CW in spring 2007. I have since watched every episode of the show on DVD. The first two seasons take place in Veronica’s high school, where she and a quirky group of friends solve local mysteries. She also attempts to track down her long gone mother and solve the murder of her best friend. The first two seasons were highly critically acclaimed, and Bell became something of an it-girl in Hollywood (which she subsequently squandered by having awful taste in choosing film roles). The final season put Veronica in college, changing the familiar setting and letting loose a whole variety of new issues to deal with for our now college-aged heroes. From what I remember at the time, fan reaction to the changes in the show during season three were fairly negative, and the ratings dipped to their lowest ever. Watching season three on DVD, it is very easy to see why. The last season of Veronica Mars, while not a train wreck, is nowhere near as good as the first two. I think most people, generally speaking, forget this.
Zach Braff burst onto the scene in 2001 with a starring role in the hit television ensemble comedy Scrubs, which lasted some odd nine seasons on NBC and then later ABC. Braff’s character, Dr. John Dorian, was met with critical acclaim when the show first debuted. Braff was riding a wave of praise when his film Garden State was released during the summer of 2004. Garden State was met with considerable critical acclaim, and Braff seemed to be on the cusp of stardom. Like Bell, Braff’s choice in film roles over the next few years were beyond questionable. His television show continued to chug along, eventually becoming a target of online criticism and mockery. Honestly though, those last few seasons of Scrubs were pretty good. From the musical episode circa 2007 to the finale, Scrubs remained a watchable, funny, brightly lit comedy. It didn’t have the wit and charm of the first few seasons, but it was a more than respectable television half-hour. I would argue that the finale was actually seriously good TV as well, and being that the show is on Netflix, I highly encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to seek it out.
Now, it must be pointed out that Braff has essentially admitted that he could fund the film himself (and that he does have a financier, though this came along after the initial uproar), and that he would potentially have the support of a movie studio behind him. Some online writers and commenters have also come out and criticized him (not unfairly) for potentially using fan money when he could just be using his own money. But to entirely fund a movie on his own would be a completely insane fool’s errand, and possibly bankrupt him (this is what allegedly happened to Casey Affleck in the aftermath of the disastrous mockumentary I’m Still Here). And in fairness to Braff, the Kickstarter fund will not be able to completely cover the cost of Bell and Thomas’ proposed Veronica Mars movie either. Warner Bros., who own the rights to the show, will still have to kick in for marketing/advertising and print costs, which could be anywhere from four to ten million dollars. Additionally, Warner Bros. would probably have to throw in cash to cover the costs of the gifts that Kickstarter donors receive for their pledging efforts. I’m not saying that Braff is right or wrong to turn to Kickstarter, but aren’t we being a little unfair to him based solely on his arguably undeserved reputation?
That is the real question. The truth of this matter remains that Braff is perceived as some kind of douche bag a-hole who no one likes (or will admit to liking) and that Bell and Thomas are unassailable Hollywood geniuses, above and beyond all levels of criticism (so they are essentially Joss Whedon or something, I guess). That, to me, is both unfortunate and unfair. Bell and Braff have very similar career paths (with the notable exception being that Bell has never starred in a hit movie and probably never will – Braff will at least be able to lay claim to Garden State, which was a hit movie no matter what people will tell you in 2013). The internet hate machine has spoken out, however, and it seems that while Bell and Thomas (and seriously, is there anyone in Hollywood who has had more chances than Rob Thomas?) can get away with planning a movie production via Kickstarter, apparently Braff cannot.
To complicate matters, filmmaker/raconteur/comic book auteur Kevin Smith (he of Mallrats fame) has recently come out to announce he would not be turning to Kickstarter to help fund a proposed Clerks 3. He will instead fund and distribute the second sequel to Clerks (which apparently has a script now) much like his previous film, Red State. Smith’s reasoning for not turning to Kickstarter largely revolves around how he feels the crowd-sourcing website should work. Smith believes that up-and-coming independent filmmakers should use Kickstarter, but established Hollywood veterans like himself should not. Smith’s intentions and statements exude the utmost of Hollywood nobility and humility. In a time when creators could just put everything onto the table and have average Joe’s like you and I fund their projects, Smith has flatly rejected this notion. The internet has praised him for this, while at the same time continuing to chide Zach Braff for his actions a few weeks back. I’ve even heard people theorize that Smith came out and made this proclamation solely to shame Braff, which seems like an insane thing to think. Why would Smith care what Braff does? Smith has made a very nice career for himself out of basically being one of us – a pop culture obsessive. The guy is living the dream, lording over his empire of comic books, television, film, appearances/speeches, and podcasts.
The idea that Kevin Smith would come out and publicly shame Zach Braff is not only probably untrue, it is also ludicrous. Smith very famously walked away from Hollywood a few years back after the debacle that was Cop Out disillusioned him from film making. His credibility took a dip for a year or so, but Smith is revered by his fans and is considered to be almost an elder statesmen of pop culture — I knew the guy would bounce back. He has no reason to foster some kind of feud between himself and a perceived out-of-touch ex-sitcom actor. Additionally, if Smith’s words have been interpreted by “fans” to be a slight against Braff, how are they also not a slight against Kristin Bell and Rob Thomas? Why do Bell and Thomas keep getting off light here? Do the words that Smith has about Kickstarter (that it should be used for up-and-coming filmmakers) not also apply to Bell and Thomas, who should also be rich several times over and have also had fairly sustained success in Hollywood? There seems to me to be some kind of double standard when it comes to Kickstarter, and that is wrong to me. Either it’s all ok, and Kristin Bell and Zach Braff can both have their movies crowd-funded, or none of it is ok and these projects should just be for the indie filmmakers. Let’s not praise one and condemn the other. Who really cares if Zach Braff makes use of Kickstarter? How is it, in any universe whatsoever, bothersome to you? I hope Braff does get to make his next pet project, and I hope it is a huge success.
Making news all across the internet the past few days is that cancelled cult TV show Veronica Mars is getting a movie after creator Rob Thomas created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project. Within one day, the campaign reached its two million dollar goal, and as of this writing, over three million dollars have been pledged from over fifty thousand backers. Twenty-eight days remain in the campaign.
Something like this has never been done before and some theorize this might just be a one-hit wonder. However, that has not stopped bloggers from annoyingly wondering what other cult favorite shows will be resurrected though Kickstarter.
I have a couple issues with this whole thing. Clearly, this is a passion project for Thomas and star Kristen Bell (who, let’s face it, has not done anything all that worthwhile since Veronica Mars), and I get why they want to return to the property. But the show was cancelled. Rating were awful. How big of a need is there? The show ended with a thematic conclusion. Do we need more?
I suppose my questionable attitude towards this is that so much time has passed since the show, so what would be the point? I feel that the film might come off as one of those reunion specials that once-popular TV shows occasionally have. It never feels natural, is rarely enough like the show people remembered, and usually is missing half the original cast to begin with.
I do not want to come off as an arrogant d-bag, but I just do not see how this can be pulled off narratively and still retain the “magic” of the original show. Sometimes it is better to just to let it go. I was a fan of Veronica Mars and would love to be proven wrong.
While I will have to wait until declaring judgment on the movie’s story, I am wondering how Thomas is going to pull off the production. Judging by how things are stated in the Kickstarter, it does not add up. The projected release date is February/March 2014. That is roughly a year away. In most cases, that is plenty of time to get it done. That is, if they start right now. I am going to assume that they have a script (which, from the Kickstarter description, is unlikely), but the film still needs a director, actors (beyond the leads), a whole production team, sets, location securement, etc. I would say that in most cases, a producer cannot just call up and get all these things on the spot. Now, this is not impossible to do this, but it is going to be extremely tight to get this released by the projected date.
Another complication which, to my knowledge, has not been brought up yet is the fact that Kristin Bell is pregnant. According to gossip rag rumors, she is due in late spring. How will this affect filming? I assume they will delay filming until after Bell gives birth. Does that mean a summer filming start? If so, that still gives this movie an incredibly tight schedule. My point here is I am just surprised that Thomas did not give a later target date (October 2014 for example) to give himself more of a window.
After doing some loose research, I discovered that the average cost of an episode of Veronica Mars was about two million dollars – the same price of the Kickstarter goal. Granted, they have surpassed that goal and will likely raise a whole lot more before this campaign is over, but I do wonder what kind of movie Thomas was hoping to make?
Keep in mind this is intended to be a theatrical release. You cannot just throw something with the production values of a TV episode on the big screen and expect that to fly. It will look cheap, and the film will suffer for it. I almost wonder if a Veronica Mars movie would be better if it was a direct-to-DVD release instead of theatrical.
I also really question the logic of making a movie based on the desires of a vocal cult following. Regardless of quality, those types of projects rarely turn any sort of profit (see Serenity). However, this proposed Veronica Mars film different. Since the movie’s budget will likely be completely funded by donations, Warner Bros. will not have to spend a dollar on it (besides marketing, maybe). If that ends up being the case, the film will be mostly profit from WB’s point of view. They are not really taking any risk because it is not their money being gambled. They have nothing to lose in a Veronica Mars movie. This is a mindboggling scenario, and I can only imagine movie producers number crunching right now so they can replicate this down the line for bigger projects.
There is also the issue of the “rewards” that Thomas promises to backers which has all sorts of potential problems attached to it. This article here really goes into it better than I ever could.
Finally, and this is the biggest sticking point for me, the film has earned over three million dollars. 271 of the backers agreed to pledge over $1000 (with one pledging ten thousand). I really hope these people donate large sums to charity each year. In a world where we have large issues with hunger, disease, and poverty, would not money donated to those causes do more good than the selfish need for a continuation movie of some old TV show? Especially when large amounts of money are plunked down in one sitting? I do not want to sound holier-than-thou, but this is something I cannot help, but consider.
Maybe I am completely wrong about all of this. This just seems like such a terrible precedent to set. I am very curious to see how this will ultimately play out. If Veronica Mars: The Movie somehow turns into a massive success, what will that mean for future movie projects? Will studios turn to donations for smaller projects such as this? Doubtful, but who knows?