This week I did something amazing. I sat in a movie theater and watched a film that should not exist.
I’ve done this once before, when Joss Whedon’s Serenity hit theaters in 2005. Serenity, you may recall, is the big-screen continuation of Firefly, one of the best single-season wonders to ever hit television. As far as I know, this had never happened before – Firefly had been canceled for low ratings, meaning no one aside from a core group of faithful had watched it. And yet the response of that core group to the DVD set was enough to see a major motion picture greenlit and shot.
I remember sitting in the theater before Serenity began unspooling, certain that Fox executives would come barreling in and cancel it before it could get started. Until the end credits rolled, I pretty much refused to believe that the film truly existed. This isn’t the world I live in. In the real world, beloved but canceled television shows do not get a second chance at life on the big screen, especially not with their original creator and cast of relative unknowns. Serenity was impossible. And as Mal Reynolds once said, we have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.
Sadly, Serenity was not a hit. Its box office numbers were charitably described as “underperforming.” This was bad news not only for fans of Firefly, but also for fans of other brilliant yet canceled TV shows whose creators might have hoped for a marquee revival. Serenity was impossible, and it looked like it would never happen again.
But then along came Kickstarter, and a teenage private eye named Veronica Mars.
I will admit to not watching Veronica Mars when its three seasons aired, between 2004 and 2007. It was never a massive hit, but critics loved it, and I promised I’d catch up with it one day. It actually took Whedon’s recommendation – it’s his favorite television show – to get me to watch, but once I did, I fell in love with Veronica and her world. The show was smart as a whip, dark as any noir you could name, and filled with fascinating, flawed characters. It could succinctly be described as “Nancy Drew as a complete badass,” but it’s so much more than that.
Creator Rob Thomas (no, not that one) had been talking about a Veronica Mars film ever since the show’s untimely cancellation. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. owns the property, and they refused to fund one. (I’m sure they had Serenity’s paltry box office numbers jotted down somewhere.) So Thomas and star Kristen Bell turned to Kickstarter, the revolutionary crowd-funding site, to gauge interest in a movie. Warner Bros. would make the film if no risk was involved – if the whole thing was paid for in advance. And so that’s what we fans did.
Thomas asked for $2 million to make the film. He raised $5.7 million, in the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever undertaken.
This caused a bit of controversy, as you may recall. There’s a school of thought that suggests that crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter should only be used by people who have no money, and that neither Thomas nor Warner Bros. have any business asking fans to front the funds for a project. I can see that point of view, but in this case, I feel perfectly fine with my $50 contribution. First, it’s not a donation – I received a digital copy of the movie on the release date, a copy of the shooting script and a t-shirt, and I will soon get a copy of the film on DVD. I would have bought this anyway, so my contribution was essentially just buying it all a year in advance.
But second, this movie would not have been made any other way. Without this show of fan support, Warner Bros. would have simply continued to say no. I’m happy to pay for art I would like to see born into the world. The Veronica Mars movie exists, and that’s only because I and 91,584 other people plunked down our cash. I honestly don’t know why I should feel bad about that.
Because of our support, Warner Bros. was able to take a no-risk approach to the Veronica Mars movie, which means they basically let Thomas do whatever he wanted. That has led to a remarkable release strategy – the movie is in select theaters, but is also available now on iTunes and virtually every video on demand service. It’s the first film to get a simultaneous digital release, and I think we’ll see a lot more of that in the future.
So how is it? In a word, awesome. In retrospect, I probably should not have been surprised by this, but it is exactly like watching the television show. This film caters solely to fans, because of course it does – we paid for it, and Thomas doesn’t need to draw in new viewers the way Whedon did. If you haven’t seen the three seasons of Veronica Mars, you’ll be lost, and most of the best lines will go right over your head. That’s fine, though. This is intended to be a continuation of the series, not a reboot of it, and it accomplishes that goal marvelously.
And yes, it’s great to see all the old faces again. Some have changed – Jason Dohring, who plays bad boy Logan Echolls, looks older and more seasoned now, and Tina Majorino sports a wild new hairdo as nerd-made-good Mac. But others, like Percy Daggs’ lovable Wallace, look just as we left them seven years ago. In the world of the film, it’s been nine years since the third season of the show, and the cast attends their 10-year high school reunion. (Because of course they do.) But because this is Veronica Mars, that’s just a sideline – she’s in town to solve a murder, one in which Echolls is implicated.
The show always did a tremendous job of showing Veronica as a flawed character, and the movie certainly follows suit. It dispenses with nice-guy boyfriend Stosh “Piz” Piznarski in favor of the more dangerous Logan, and explores Veronica’s addiction to crime-solving. Neither of these themes are taken lightly, and we end the film with Veronica feeling certain about choices we, the audience, know are wrong for her. And yet, we’re sold – I want to see where this goes, and just how far Thomas can probe these ideas.
Along the way, there are a few shocking deaths, and a cracking good mystery story. Veronica Mars is exactly as good as I’d hoped when I handed over my money a year ago. I’m proud to have been a part of this extraordinary campaign, and to have helped fund this enjoyable little film. After this, I think, the world has truly changed. Stories don’t have to end if we don’t want them to. Even if only a few thousand people care about those stories, they can go on. Once again, we’ve made the impossible real. That’s pretty damn cool.
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I’m feeling under the weather this week, so I’ll wrap up here. Next week, Foster the People, Sufjan Stevens’ rap album, and the First Quarter Report.
See you in line Tuesday morning.