In a small bout of irony, the CW television series Veronica Mars made history because it was cancelled.
Several years ago, to the great chagrin of fans everywhere, the CW pulled the plug on the Veronica Mars television show. It followed the fate of many a beloved series, and fans thought they’d never see it grace their screens again. However, undaunted by this cancellation and inspired by the cliffhangers he’d left at the season finale, producer Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign, hoping that the fans would help him raise the funds to wrap up his story.
That campaign made history: it met its goal of two million dollars in just ten hours, and ended up raising an impressive 5.7 million dollars overall. It beat a handful of records in the process, and revived a story many had thought dead – all through the passion and generosity of the fans. Thus, Veronica Mars, the movie, was born.
That’s both impressive and unprecedented: never before has a feature film like this been funded through crowdsourcing, nor has a television show risen from the ashes like a phoenix solely through the passion of fans. Who knows what it may herald for the future?
It may very well be a landmark event in the future of film and television production. That pesky producer/consumer divide that’s been slowly eroding as the internet and other technologies have come into being? In this particular case, and in one fell swoop, it went poof. Normally, it is the industry that dictates how a film or show is made, as number-crunching executives attempt to cash in on the perceived preferences of viewers. It’s very often those very same executives that affect where the story is going (for example, that’s why Star Trek had to scrap its female First Officer idea in the 60s, and probably why Supernatural’s Dean and Castiel are still in the hazy purgatory between friendship and romance). With the internet, much more communication between consumers and producers has been made possible, with fans tweeting, writers responding, and shows themselves having callbacks to their fandoms in their episodes – but that’s all rather minor.
But in the case of Veronica Mars, the state of affairs is radically different: it’s the very people most interested in consuming the story who are the ones making it possible. While it’s difficult to attempt to uncover just how much influence fans had on what the final product looked like, one thing’s for sure: it’s not network rules that producer Rob Thomas felt he had to answer to, it’s the fans. Instead of expectations about “what sells” and what’s risky to show on-screen, there’s a different set of expectations: about remaining faithful to the content and the characters. For once, money-making potential got to take a backseat to storytelling.
Does that herald a new age, where a cancelled TV series could be revived just through the love of the fans? I know there are a handful of shows I’d love to see continue (Stargate chief among them), and if my dollars could help make it, I’d pitch in. Then again, maybe this landmark event is as unrepeatable as it is unprecedented. While Veronica Mars was a success, and while there’s indisputably dozens of fandoms out there passionate enough to raise millions of dollars, there are still the iffy issues of copyrights, actor availability, and producer willingness. Veronica Mars seems to have gotten incredibly lucky that all the people involved in the original production wanted to return, a possibility that the hectic schedules of Hollywood make unlikely.
In short, all this may be the dawn of a new age and a different kind of voting with dollars – or it might not. Time will tell, and in the meantime, speculating about the possibilities remains an interesting endeavor.
With that being said, Veronica Mars is a fascinating movie – at once great story and cultural artifact. It can be viewed as both entertainment, and as a piece of archeological evidence about the possibilities of crowdfunding and today’s media industry. For me in particular, with my academic predilections (and also, I have to admit, my lack of familiarity with the original show, which I’ve never seen), my main interest in this movie was grounded in a fascination with what a collaboration between fans and producers would look like.
The answer? It’s pretty damn impressive. From the actors of the original series, who brought all their talent and professionalism, to all the action, suspense, wit, and humor, it was a joyful, satisfying ride – and if I hadn’t know the show was made on a fan-donated budget of 5.7 million dollars, I wouldn’t have been able to tell.
As far as loyalty to the original series goes, I must admit that, not having seen said series, I’m limited in my ability to judge. I cannot vouch for the film’s fidelity to the original characters or to its resolution of cliffhangers. I can admit, though, that as a complete newbie to this world, I was impressed and entertained. I laughed, I felt, I hung on to the twists and turns- – which, really, is all you can ask.
The film begins with a quick voiceover by protagonist Veronica Mars, summarizing the events of the television series and making the storyline accessible to new viewers. Following that, the plot is a simple one: former teenage private eye Veronica has left her hometown and reformed her ways, attended college, and graduated law school. She’s interviewing for prestigious jobs when she gets a call from back home and a former boyfriend, who’s been framed for a murder and needs her help. And from there, things unravel predictably – Veronica journeys back home, where she quickly goes from finding friend and ex-boyfriend Logan a lawyer to investigating the case herself, reliving her private-investigator past, rekindling an old flame, and doing some much-needed introspection in the process.
Plot-wise, this story is neither lackluster nor overly impressive. It’s a simple mystery story, with all the usual suspects and investigating, but that’s not where the fun lies. There’s a deeper layer to this movie, involving Veronica and her journey, as she seeks her place in the world by returning to her hometown of Neptune and deciding what she wants to do with her life: hotshot lawyer or small-town private eye? The answer, I’ll leave to you to discover.
In the process, I got to meet some pretty amazing characters. As a complete newcomer to this world and these characters, I was a little floored – especially by Veronica. This may be old news to longtime fans of the series, but I’m still at the point where I get excited about actually multifaceted female characters, and this one’s not only multifaceted but amazing. Kristen Bell is stunning as the savvy, snarky, hip young sleuth, with brains, looks, sass, spunk, and sarcasm. She’s a pleasure to watch – not just another cardboard cutout detective, but a distinctive and standout personality, complete with a flair for disguises and fake accents, bucketloads of inventiveness, and a whole arsenal of witty, sarcastic comebacks for every flavor of judgmental idiot.
Another fact to recommend this film and set it just a little apart from a run-of-the-mill mystery story is its particular, almost indescribable flavor – a sort of distinctive authenticity in the way that it captures the “now” as a moment in time, and the life of the millennial generation that’s defined by it. In this sense, there’s a certain similarity to the BBC’s Sherlock – for example, all the texts and calls the characters make show up on screen, giving not just a glimpse but a feel of today’s technology and our reliance on it. Kind of like Sherlock, Veronica’s a sleuth for the new millennium, constantly using gadgets and technology, but she represents a different demographic, a younger generation. The film’s also peppered with references to things like Etsy, the popular vintage/handmade online marketplace, giving the film a vibe of being as modern, snazzy, and hip as its protagonist. Put together, all of that adds up to a very real feeling of authenticity about a certain generation at a certain moment in time.
In addition to the excellent film, the Blu-Ray also contains handfuls of features, making it a worthwhile investment. The first is a lengthy piece titled “By the Fans: The Making of the Veronica Mars Movie.” At almost an hour long, it’s a documentary-style feature on the Veronica Mars fandom, the story of raising the money for this movie, and the experience of making a partially fan-made film. The piece is almost as interesting as the movie itself, and, if extended, could very well make a feature film of its own, one that delves into an exploration of the aforementioned blurring of the lines between consumer and producer.
Also included are several behind-the-scenes features: “Game Show with Kristen Bell and Chris Lowell,” “On Set with Max Greenfield,” and “Welcome to Keith Mars Investigations,” which show actors hanging out on set and getting up to various shenanigans. There’s an extremely short featurette on “young Veronica” – a girl in the background in one scene, who’s apparently supposed to reflect Veronica (a fact I utterly missed), as well as a feature titled “Veronica Mars’ Backers,” which unfortunately does little but rehash the content of the excellent documentary and re-use its footage. And, of course, what DVD would be complete without deleted scenes and a gag reel? My only complaint in this otherwise excellent item is the menu, which is inconvenient and difficult to navigate, making it almost impossible to tell which feature is selected due to an uncomfortable color scheme. Otherwise, it’s an extremely satisfying experience.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00HEQOAIQ,B00IFORVEQ,B00A8KJN8M]