Comedy Crime

Super-Sleuthing DVD Review: Veronica Mars

May 15, 2014Ben MK

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A classy reunion

By Ben Mk

It's a rare thing for a television show to engender as much passion and devotion in its fans as Veronica Mars has, but as series creator Rob Thomas (or anyone else involved with the show, for that matter) will tell you, its fans — affectionately known as "marshmallows" — are a special breed. But not even Thomas himself could have predicted the overwhelming response he would receive when, in the Spring of 2013, he began a Kickstarter campaign to revive the defunct series. $5.7 million later — and with a little help from over 91,000 fans — Veronica Mars, the movie, was born, six years after the CW closed the final chapter on the show's three-year television run.

Contrary to Thomas' pitch for season four of the show — which would have seen Veronica holding her own as a green-behind-the-ears FBI agent — the movie picks up ten years after her graduation from Neptune High, and it wastes little time introducing audiences to a radically reinvented Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell). Armed with a psychology degree from Stanford University and top marks from Columbia Law School, she's shed her sleuthing ways in favor of pursuing a career as a New York City lawyer. All of her hard work and dedication has certainly paid off too, landing her an interview at one of the country's most prestigious law firms, Truman-Mann. Yet it isn't long before she finds herself beckoned by — as her father (Enrico Colantoni) puts it — the magnetic pull of Neptune, California once again.

However, it isn't her ten-year high school reunion that compels her to return to her hometown, but a familiar plea: "I need your help, Veronica." Only this time, the person asking is none other than ex-flame Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who finds himself incriminated in the suspicious death of his girlfriend, pop star Bonnie DeVille (a former classmate of theirs, back when she was known as Carrie Bishop). Whether it's the compulsion she feels to help an old friend, an attraction she still harbors for Logan, or a longing for her old life, the appeal awakens something in Veronica, who puts both her relationship with her boyfriend, Stosh "Piz" Piznarski (Chris Lowell), and her potential new job at Truman-Mann on the line to investigate the troubling murder mystery.

Of course, setting foot on home turf means crossing paths with old friends, old enemies and even old frenemies; and it doesn't take Veronica long to lapse back into her old habits. Likewise, Bell embodies the role of the whip-smart title character like she never left it. But as if her irresistible charm wasn't enough, Thomas and co-writer Diane Ruggiero (who also helped pen 17 of the show's 64 episodes) give fans plenty of reasons to fall in love with Veronica all over again, starting with the story: a noirish whodunnit that only she — with her inborn detective skills, stick-to-itiveness and quick-thinking abilities — can solve. Along the way, they also make room for the return of some fan-favorite characters — played by the likes of Ryan Hansen, Ken Marino, Krysten Ritter and more — while adding a few new faces to the line-up — by way of Jamie Lee Curtis, Gaby Hoffman and Martin Starr. But perhaps most importantly, they provide an answer to the age-old question: Are you on Team Logan or Team Piz? It all amounts to a much more satisfying conclusion to the series than its unceremonious final episode, which is about as much as any fan could ask for.

For a movie made on a shoestring budget (all things considered), Veronica Mars looks and sounds pretty damn good on DVD. Filmed on-location in and around Los Angeles during a marathon 23-day shoot, cinematographer Ben Kutchins has plenty to work with in terms of both sun-drenched and moonlit Southern California locales (which stand in for familiar haunts such as Neptune High, Mars Investigations and the 09ER nightclub). And he uses it to conjure up a very filmic look to this hard-boiled reunion, evoking the style of the original series while paying homage to its film noir roots. As far as standard definition releases go, Warner's DVD presentation is top-notch, delivering a nicely saturated image, free of any visible artifacts or glaring visual incongruities. The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack impresses as well, channeling everything in series composer Josh Kramon's sonic arsenal with aplomb, as well as the film's mix of dialog (especially Veronica's gumshoe narration), songs (a key component of anything Veronica Mars) and action-oriented effects (including one car-crumpling collision and a one-sided gun battle).

As is typical for Warner releases, the DVD includes an UltraViolet digital copy of the film. But otherwise, the sole special feature on the disc is the 56-minute making-of documentary, By the Fans: The Making of the Veronica Mars Movie. If it's any consolation, however, it is a uniformly excellent look into the heart of the series' popularity, chronicling Thomas and company's whirlwind journey to make the film, from beginning to end — and then some — via candid footage and interviews with the cast, crew and fans. From the humble beginnings of Thomas' Kickstarter campaign (as he watches the very first contribution roll in) to the ultra-hyped panel discussion held at San Diego Comic-Con 2013, in storied Hall H (SDCC's largest venue), the doc underscores a point that's driven home time and time again: for Veronica Mars, the fans come first and foremost.

Scrappy and fierce — those words don't just describe Veronica Mars, the character, they sum up Rob Thomas' approach to getting Veronica Mars, the movie, made. There's no denying that he's set a new precedent for filmmakers, in many ways circumventing the traditional studio model. But it would all be for naught if the film itself didn't also succeed in delivering that winning combination of mystery, nostalgia and just plain old fun that's sure to appease the show's legions of "marshmallows", while winning over new ones. And the fan service continues with Warner's DVD release, which features an A/V presentation that holds up to scrutiny, topped off with an entertaining making-of documentary. So consider the mystery solved — Veronica Mars on DVD is worth investigating.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★
Special Features  —  ★★★

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