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Veronica Mars Blu-ray Review

Veronica Mars (2014) movie poster Veronica Mars

Theatrical Release: March 14, 2014 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Rob Thomas / Writers: Rob Thomas (characters, story & screenplay); Diane Ruggiero (screenplay)

Cast: Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Jason Dohring (Logan Echolls), Enrico Colantoni (Keith Mars), Chris Lowell (Stosh "Piz" Piznarski), Percy Daggs III (Wallace Fennel), Tina Majorino (Cindy "Mac" Mackenzie), Krysten Ritter (Gia Goodman), Martin Starr (Stu "Cobb" Cobbler), Gaby Hoffmann (Ruby Jetson/Della Pugh), Andrea Estella (Bonnie DeVille/Connie Bishop), Jerry O'Connell (Sheriff Dan Lamb), Francis Capra (Eli "Weevil" Navarro), Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas), Brandon Hillock (Deputy Jerry Sacks), Maury Sterling (Deputy Lyles), Sam Huntington (Luke Haldeman), Max Greenfield (Deputy Leo D'Amato), Daran Norris (Cliff McCormack), Amanda Noret (Madison Sinclair), Jonathan Chesner (Corny), Eden Sher (Penny), Christine Lakin (Susan Knight), Lisa Thornhill (Celeste Kane), Charles Latibeaudiere (Himself), Harvey Levin (Himself), Ira Glass (Himself), Alejandro Escovedo (Grungy Busker), Larry Bates (Leonard March), Dave (Gruber) Allen (60-Year-Old Rocker), Eddie Jemison (JC Borden), Jamie Lee Curtis (Gayle Buckley), Dax Shepard (Overconfident Club Boy), Ken Marino (Vinnie Van Lowe), Kevin Sheridan (Sean Friedrich), Duane Daniels (Principal Van Clemmons) / Uncredited: James Franco (Himself), Kyle Bornheimer (Hedge Fund Guy), Justin Long (Drunken Wingman)

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One hardly needs to confess entering Veronica Mars without having seen the TV series on which it was based.
At its most popular, this three-season UPN/CW hour-long drama drew 3.5 million viewers in the United States. That's barely 1% of the nation's population, so even most people drawn to scripted entertainment are likely to have missed out.

Those that did see "Veronica Mars", however, loved it. That much is certain from the show's 8.4 user rating on IMDb, a score only around 70 movies of all time have bested from a qualifying number of votes. Even more concrete evidence of fan appreciation came in March 2013, when series creator Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter project to help fund a feature film extension of the series. The goal was to raise $2 million to convince Warner Bros. there was sufficient interest in such a movie. The project raised $2 million in less than ten hours and an additional $3.7 million over the next 30 days. Not only was a Veronica Mars movie happening, but Hollywood's eyes were opened to the possibilities of crowdfunding, a seemingly golden way to remove uncertainty from the budgeting of iffy, risky projects. With the public paying in advance, box office returns, home video sales, and cable television deals would all be gravy instead of merely recouping production and marketing costs.

While Veronica Mars may have been the poster child for Kickstarter campaigns, its theatrical reception leaves plenty of doubt over whether Internet buzz translates to real-world revenue. There have been other recent instances where online fan community hype fails to translate to real success, like Snakes on a Plane and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Veronica couldn't even qualify as a comparable underperformer, though, because it barely registered on the industry's radar in limited theatrical release. After an impressive 11th place opening in just 291 theaters, the film endured steep declines each subsequent weekend, ultimately finishing with just $3.3 million domestically and barely anything anywhere else. To give that number perspective, 2013 movies with similar grosses included the scarcely-seen Stand Up Guys, Emperor, and The Fifth Estate.

Then again, with $5.7 M of the $6 M production budget covered by donations, Veronica Mars can't be considered a disappointment. Clearly, this is a passion project for Thomas, his cast, and those who supported their little series and tried their hardest to save it from cancellation back in 2007.

Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) returns to narrated private investigation in her hometown Neptune in the 2014 revival film bearing her name.

Acknowledging that its audience could stand to grow, Veronica opens with a sequence bringing you up to speed, using clips from the series and voiceover from the title character (Kristen Bell). We seem to have fast-forwarded a bit, since Veronica was just a college freshman at series' end and is now approaching her ten-year high school reunion. A teenaged private eye notorious for her methods and renowned for her results, Veronica has abandoned that calling, left her small hometown of Neptune, California, attended Stanford, graduated law school, and is now interviewing for positions in New York.

Nine years since she last spoke to her ex-boyfriend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), his name turns up in the news in conjunction with the suspicious death of pop star Bonnie DeVille, known to Veronica as classmate Connie Bishop. Suspected of murder, Logan calls Veronica asking for help. As fast as she can be, she's back in Neptune helping him screen potential attorneys. Veronica is convinced of Logan's innocence, but the public is not, nor are the guys at "TMZ" reporting on the case.

Resorting to her old tricks (and soon slapped with breaking and entering charges), Veronica investigates DeVille's demise, unconvinced that Neptune's corrupt police department, which her father (Enrico Colantoni) left to start his own private eye business long ago, will get to the bottom of it. Veronica believes that DeVille's death may be related to the boating death of another classmate several years ago. Her sleuthing begins with a superfan (Gaby Hoffmann), who is derided for her karaoke takes on DeVille's tunes.

Ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) greets Veronica at the airport in uniform like the Navy pilot he is. Veronica's old friends (Percy Daggs III and Tina Majorino) get her to attend their 10-year high school reunion.

Veronica Mars isn't hard to follow entering blindly, but it's clearly designed and destined to be most appreciated by those familiar with the 64 episodes that precede it.
There are lots of brief appearances made by actors we can only assume either guest starred in some episodes or recurred throughout the run. Peppered with hip dialogue and trendy cultural references, this feels like a TV show but looks as polished as a mainstream theatrical film. There are unmistakable winks and nods throughout (e.g. a Kickstarter reference, an acknowledgement of keeping the language PG-13, a mention of the other famous Rob Thomas). You'll even spot some places where big donors presumably landed walk-on roles.

Thomas, who has worked extensively on television as creator/showrunner of shows like "Party Down" and "Cupid" and developer of the "90210" reboot, has a rare opportunity on this movie to revisit an earlier creation that never quite caught on and give it some sense of honor and closure. He and his co-writer Diane Ruggiero (who wrote 17 episodes and produced nearly all of them) do not take the opportunity lightly. They care greatly about these characters and in pleasing viewers who feel the same. I can only imagine how exhilarating this must be for them by imagining one of the few short-lived modern TV shows I care about ("Freaks and Geeks", "Undeclared") getting passionately resurrected as a film with all personnel onboard.

Unfortunately, that excitement isn't absorbed by a non-viewer. You recognize it and appreciate it, but it doesn't leave you feeling like you've seen anything other than a decent TV movie with solid production values and a somewhat recognizable cast. On its own merits, Veronica Mars is an engaging mystery that may entertain and surprise you, but not enough to go buy the show's DVDs or see if the episodes are available on Netflix. Even so, it's impossible to be disappointed or dismayed by a film whose theatrical release feels like the result of a passionate fan petition.

Small enough for Warner to forgo their usual combo pack (even though it was written into the Kickstarter campaign), Veronica Mars gets separate Blu-ray and DVD editions today, each equipped with UltraViolet in the Flixster format that gave some Kickstarter donors some vocal dissatisfaction, followed by swift, accommodating customer service.

Veronica Mars Blu-ray cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($28.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Here, I will reiterate that although Veronica Mars feels like television, it absolutely looks and sounds like cinema. The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 transfer is nothing short of perfection, while the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is very strong as well (perhaps too strong on occasion for those for whom volume levels are an issue).

Series creator Rob Thomas excitedly refreshes the Kickstarter page he just launched as donations come pouring in. Inevitably, "By the Fans" brings us to fandom ground zero: San Diego Comic-Con for a highly-attended cast panel.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with
"By the Fans: The Making of the Veronica Mars Movie" (55:43), a thorough documentary that gets input from critics, backers/extras, journalists and executives in addition to cast and crew remarks and extensive behind-the-scenes looks from the Kickstarter launch to production to Comic-Con.

While it won't sit well with those opposed to the use of Kickstarter for a major studio film (or those immune to this franchise's charms), it's an enjoyable nearly feature-length love letter to fans who believed in this show and project.

Kristen Bell and Chris Lowell trade barbs with questions and insulting index cards in "Game Show." One gets the sense that Veronica Mars backers like these twin sisters are excited to be a part of the movie.

Six light-hearted shorts fall under the heading Behind the Scenes: More On-Set Fun.

"Welcome to Keith Mars Investigation" (2:54) has Enrico Colantoni take us around his character's office and trade barbs with Kristen Bell. "Game Show with Kristen Bell and Chris Lowell" (4:30) has the two actors question one another condescendingly, followed by some backers voicing their love for "Piz." "On Set with Max Greenfield" (3:10) lets the actor voice his excitement at being part of the movie and tell Bell what he's been up to.

"Veronica Mars' Backers" (4:45) collects further testimonials from those who donated thousands to the film and got to be extras as a result. Needless to say, they gush over their experience and the principal cast and crew's friendliness towards them. "It's Not All About You, Monkey" (2:59) documents a prank, in which Rob Thomas scolds the overacting man in the monkey suit, who is revealed to be... Ryan Hansen. In "Young Veronica" (0:58), Nora Sakal explains how she was cast to play the young version of the protagonist in a bit that appears to have been deleted.

An extended version of Veronica's request to do location scouting for the Clint Eastwood movie "The Silver Fox" is found among the deleted scenes. Enrico Colantoni and Kristen Bell crack up in the gag reel.

Four deleted scenes (4:20) give us more of Veronica and her father, an extended version of Veronica sweet-talking her way into an apartment posing as a Clint Eastwood location scout,
and a slightly longer "TMZ" clip.

Finally, we get a gag reel (4:35) which bleeps out F-bombs but preserves cast goofs and laughs.

While it is surprising not to get an audio commentary on something so fan-friendly, it's worth noting the show has never once gotten a traditional commentary on DVD.

The disc opens with trailers for Blended and Winter's Tale that are not available by menu. Veronica Mars' own trailer is unfortunately not included here at all.

The scored menu subtly animates the cover art, rotating the snapshots. The disc resumes unfinished playback but does not let you set bookmarks.

The only thing besides the disc inside the unslipcovered eco-friendly keepcase is an insert supplying a unique code and "3 easy steps" for redeeming the Digital HD UltraViolet stream of the film that's included with your purchase.

Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) returns to Neptune and her old sleuthing ways in "Veronica Mars."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Veronica Mars is most notable for its origins as a crowdfunded resurrection of a not terribly popular TV series. This mystery entertains much like two well-produced hours of television. It's reasonably engaging and one can't help but marvel at the passion poured into this project from makers and fans alike.

With its excellent picture and sound, highly watchable hour-long documentary and additional half-hour of bonus features, Warner's Blu-ray is sure to delight fans whose unlikely dream of a revival has come true in satisfying fashion. For everyone else, this likely is the best way to dip your toe into the franchise and see whether or not you're entertained enough to want to go back and see all the episodes. I doubt that this movie will win many new fans, but at the same time it is unlikely to lose any who ever enjoyed the show.

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Reviewed May 6, 2014.



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