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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Veronica Mars Blu-ray Review

If you're an avid Big Picture Big Sound reader, odds are you've at least heard of Veronica Mars and its trendsetting, funded-by-fans Kickstarter campaign. However, judging by the film's modest box office receipts - due largely to a limited release that had it confined to select AMC Theatres - there's a good chance you're unfamiliar with Veronica, Logan, Wallace, and the rest of the gang from Neptune.  If that's you, this review is about to become a homework assignment. So sharpen those #2 pencils, sit up straight, and let's get to work.

For the uninitiated, the film Veronica Mars is a sequel/follow-up/welcome bit of closure to a television series of the same name which ended its three-season run back in 2007. Developed by showrunner Rob Thomas ("Party Down"), "Veronica Mars" (the TV show) was sharp, witty, surprisingly dark at times, and hugely entertaining. The elevator pitch is that Veronica Mars (the adorable Kristen Bell) is a resourceful high school student and number one daughter of a private investigator, and she solves crimes in her spare time - some big, some small, but always in order to serve some evildoer a much-needed cup of steaming hot justice. The hour-long series also featured the best father-and-daughter relationship ever committed to film, thanks to the charming and hilarious work of Enrico Colantoni as Keith Mars.
And now it's time for that homework assignment. If you haven't seen the "Veronica Mars" TV series, watch that first. Do you have absolutely have to watch the show before you watch this movie? No. The film works as a standalone mystery all by itself. However, much like Joss Whedon's TV series "Firefly" and its big-screen sequel, Serenity, you'll get a lot more out of Veronica Mars (the film)  if you're pre-invested in the charming characters and dense backstory - and there's a lot of it. Any attempt to summarize the myriad details here would be futile, but suffice to say that Veronica Mars is finally on the verge of growing up and taking a Real Job when a close-to-home murder case brings her back to Neptune. Just when she thought she was out, they... well, you know.
The Picture

Veronica Mars comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Bros. and the results are surprisingly good - particularly in the video department.  The film version of Veronica Mars looks decidedly more polished and cinematic than its small screen predecessor. On Blu-ray, the film boasts a warm and natural color pallette, spot-on skin tones, and exceptional detail. Black levels are about average, so nighttime scenes don't fare quite as well as the striking daytime exteriors, but overall this is a highly respectable high definition presentation.

The Sound

Like the TV show, Veronica Mars is a largely dialogue-driven affair. That fact, coupled with the film's small budget and mystery/noir genre, make for a fairly modest DTS-HD soundtrack.  The surround channels come to life here and there creating a decent sense of immersion and dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout, but nothing about the film's sound design is particularly noteworthy. I should add that I was disappointed when the Dandy Warhols' infectious "We Used To Be Friends" didn't play over the opening credits, but I had to chuckle (and cringe) when they eventually found a way to work the song into the film.
The Extras

From its Blu-ray only packaging (a bonus DVD is not included) to its sparse menu design, Veronica Mars has received little in the way of special treatment on Blu-ray. However, considering the unique genesis of this project and its groundbreaking Kickstarter campaign, it would be a huge disappointment if that story wasn't told in a lengthy and satisfying way. Thankfully, fans won't be disappointed. "By the Fans: The Making of Veronica Mars" does precisely that and this fan service featurette does a great job of making the fans feel special and appreciated. A few other smaller featurettes are also on disc, but "By the Fans" is the place to start.

Final Thoughts

With more than 90,000 Kickstarter backers, it's safe to say there were many differing opinions about what a satisfying Veronica Mars movie would look like.  Personally, I loved being back in Neptune and seeing the gang together again - even if some of them had all-too-brief appearances. As for the central whodunit, it served its purpose well enough but the TV series had more compelling mysteries over the course of its run.

Speaking as a pre-existing Veronica Mars fan, the film is a welcome trip home after a too-long vacation. As a Blu-ray critic, this disc from Warner Bros. isn't going to win any awards, but its solid technical presentation and lengthy making-of makes it a no-brainer for fans. And what about non-fans? Watch the show first, become a fan, and then re-read my previous statement for fans. And last but not least, speaking as a Kickstarter backer of this film, do I feel as though I got my money's worth?  Absolutely. When can I chip in for a sequel?

 All of the film's Kickstarter backers are listed on the film's official website:

Product Details
Actors: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Chris Lowell, Enrico Colantoni, Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino, Francis Capra, and Ryan HansenDirector: Rob ThomasAudio/Languages: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French)Subtitles: English SDH, French, SpanishAspect Ratio: 2.40:1Number of Discs: 1Rating: PG-13Studio: WarnerBlu-ray Disc Release Date: May 6, 2014Run Time: 108 minutesList Price: $29.98Extras: Blu-ray  DiscMaking-of featurette (HD)Behind-the-scenes featurettes (HD)Ultraviolet Digital Copy
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