Veronica Mars – Film Review

VERONICA MARS

I’ve talked to you a lot over the years about Veronica Mars, even more so over the past few weeks. Starting as a teen noir TV series in 2004 Veronica Mars followed High School detective Veronica (Kristen Bell) as she tried to solve her best friend’s murder, figure out who raped her, and help out at her dad’s private detective agency. It was a surprisingly dark teen drama with clever dialogue and believable characters. The show was beloved by too few people and finished in 2007. Rumours of a film continuing the story were rife as usual and I was not convinced. Cue 2013 and the film has a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign which spawned a dozen imitators and more importantly raised funds for the Veronica Mars film to be a reality.

In the opening two minutes of the film a quick montage is shown summarising the traumatic teenage years of Veronica and serves as a chance for any non-fans to catch up on what they have missed. From there we see Veronica in her new life in New York City, trying to put the past behind her as she embarks on a career as a lawyer and rekindles her romance with the ever reliable Piz (Chris Lowell). Back in her childhood town of Neptune, California the world has not changed so much and soon enough her ex-lover Logan (Jason Dohring), with whom she shares an epic love story, has been accused of murder and needs the assistance of the best former teen detective he knows. Not one to deny the call of the man who has smouldered at her so often Veronica drops everything and hot tails it back to Neptune.

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Neptune brings with it seediness, drama, and pretty much every character from the TV series you could have hoped for. In the naive belief that the film still has a few surprises you haven’t read about yet I won’t go into too much detail but suffice it to say that Veronica is staying with her dad Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) and her old school friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino) are back by her side all grown up but still willing to get their hands dirty. When the film returns to Neptune, and in particular when Veronica finds herself at the school reunion, the film suddenly felt like a return home for the fan in me. All the characters are so familiar and throughout there are subtle nods to events that have taken place that cement the film firmly in the Veronica Mars canon.

Series creator Rob Thomas has both written and directed the film and in doing so has had to adapt both his shooting style and the way in which he stretches out the central mystery across the script. In the TV series there would often be a mystery per episode alongside a series-long arc, often involving the death of at least one person. Here in the film a murder is again at the centre and the mystery struggles a little to fill the feature-length running time. As for the shooting style it is clear that a conscious effort has been made to ensure that this film will look impressive on the cinema screen and not just when streamed online. Thomas has pulled the camera back giving every shot a little more scope and letting Neptune fill the screen alongside its inhabitants. The film may only have had a small budget but this does not harm the aesthetic as it showcases production values of a much wealthier shoot and while dialogue heavy scenes do dominate there’s a stunt or two thrown in and nothing ever feels limited or compromised.

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Dealing with themes including murder, betrayal, blackmail, and corruption Veronica Mars has lost none of the dark edge that made the series such a cult success. This alongside the carefully honed dialogue and characters with whom you share three years of history Veronica Mars is every bit the film that the fans deserve. I laughed, I gasped, I got the warm fuzzies, and I noted a dozen times when the film would subtly nod to its parent series and let the fans know that they were in safe hands and that nothing had been forgotten.

I don’t know what the film’s appeal will be to those new to Veronica and the town of Neptune. This film is such a labour of love and was funded by, and made for, those who obsessed over the original three series. There is an introduction to catch you up on the basic back story but with 64 episodes condensed to two minutes there’s no way you can care about the characters to the same degree. Perhaps take this as motivation to finally watch the TV series your friends have been harassing you about so you’re all set to properly enjoy the film. I’d love to hear how well the film plays to a non-fan; hopefully it will work on its own and drive viewers back to the series.

As a fan of the series and Kickstarter backer I am biased as anything but I really enjoyed the film and look forward to seeing it again this Friday on the big screen. It could have all gone horribly wrong but thankfully instead we have a solid film that will please rather than horrify the fans and hopefully act as a calling card for a series that needs a little more love.

Veronica Mars is on very limited release from 14th March 2014. Full list of cinemas below:

Empire Cinemas
Leicester Square (London)
Birmingham
Newcastle

Showcase Cinemas
Dartford (London)
Bristol
Cardiff
Nottingham
Leicester
Manchester
Glasgow

Movies@Dundrum
Dublin

Veronica Mars What Have You Kickstarted?

Darci's Walk of Shame

Me and Kickstarter have been on an emotional rollercoaster of late and my poor friends have been subjected to a rant or two. Let’s see if I can get all of the rant out of me now so I can move on with my life and stop fretting.

My emotions started high when Veronica Mars achieved more than double its goal of $2-million. This was a show that I loved which wasn’t going to get a film made any other way. The film was largely being made for the sheer love of it all and us fans were happy to lend a financial hand. I did have some reservations about what this would mean for the future of funding for smaller films but all in all was pleased that Rob Thomas would finally be making a film follow-up to one of my all time favourite shows.

Veronica Mars

Then over a week ago I received an email/tweet/telegram from a friend telling me to have a look at Melissa Joan Hart’s Kickstarter as she was trying to emulate the success of Veronica Mars in a way we found ridiculous. The film Hart is trying to get made is called Darci’s Walk of Shame and is to be written and directed by Tibor Takács. Don’t remember Tibor? He directed the visually uninspired TV film Sabrina Goes to Rome. It’s not exactly the pedigree that inspires this particular Kickstarter user and their rewards were near carbon copies of the Mars project. This seemed less of a passion project and more a half-hearted attempt to get Hart a film to work on.

Darci's Walk of Shame

At this point I was all ready to write a slightly mean piece entitled Melissa Joan Hart, Veronica Mars is Smarter than You which would have been amusing and smug and make me feel like a happy little blogger. Then Zach Braff entered the fray.

Zach Braff is a bit of a special case where I am concerned. His debut, and so far solo, film as writer/director Garden State was the first film that made me realise there were other cinematic options outside the mainstream. The film is far from perfect but it is special to me and I have been waiting for a second feature from the Scrubs star for quite some time now. Braff last week launched his own Kickstarter for a second film, Wish I Was Here, with his eyes set on the now standard target of $2-million. I was elated. How much would I give? How much could I afford to give? This was all very exciting and gave my article a happy ending rather than a simple rant. And then…

And then…

Wish I Was Here

And then I read his Kickstarter in full and had a think. Never a wise proposition. It turned out that Zach Braff had already successfully raised the money for this second film but had turned down the deal when Veronica Mars opened his eyes to an alternative funding route. Braff cites creative freedom as his motivation for taking the Kickstarter route and while this may well be true a large financial incentive should also be taken into account. With his original funding deal Braff would presumably have had to relinquish some of the film’s profit to his investors one it had been released. With the Kickstarter model Braff receives all his money from fan donors, and let’s be clear these are donors and not investors, and so takes on no financial risk for himself or anyone else.

Zach Braff, a man who at one point was earning $350,000 per episode on Scrubs, is asking his fans to pay for his next film. Yes, I realise that is totally at the fans discretion (and I hypocritically have yet to decide if I will join them) and they receive various rewards, but I can’t help but fixate on the fact that the film would have gone ahead with or without Kickstarter. Braff is not even offering a copy of the film as part of any reward tier; you can donate as much as $10,000 but you’ll still have to pay when the film itself comes out.

I like Zach Braff and I don’t think he is being particularly conniving or deceitful in his Kickstarter campaign but this was not his only option. If his Kickstarter had somehow failed to reach its target I imagine we would have still been able to see a relatively unchanged Wish I Was Here in a year’s time. In the meantime there are various projects that genuinely need Kickstarter to get them the funding they need for production. To pick one at random the feature film Bonobo is looking for just £7,500 to fund filming this summer but is struggling with no big names attached and no existing fan base.

Bonobo

When alternative funding sources are available, and have been offered, it seems almost insulting to instead ask for handouts from admittedly willing fans. I don’t think I will be able to afford it if every film I want to see requires a donation from me before it can enter production. When a film’s budget enters into the millions then they are likely to be expecting the profits to reflect this. Hollywood is a lucrative industry built on large investments and larger rewards. Relying on us to fund their projects means they remove the risk but keep the potential profits for themselves.

As I said I am a hypocrite and a fan and can’t promise that I will boycott all future larger Kickstarter project but I hope that anyone willing to give a millionaire $30 to make their next feature will consider throwing a few pounds at a smaller film like Bonobo. I can’t promise that Bonobo will be any good but after All New People I can’t promise that Wish I Was Here will be either.

A Long Time Ago We Used to Be Fans

Veronica Mars The Movie

For anyone with their finger on the pulsating veins of television and films, as grim an image as that may be, should by now have become aware of the Veronica Mars Movie Project Kickstarter campaign. If not all you need to know is that fan favourite TV show Veronica Mars was cancelled after three seasons back in 2007 and is now raising money for a movie on Kickstarter.

One the one hand this is pretty incredible. A show I love is now going to have a follow-up film, the likes of which I haven’t seen since 2005 with the Firefly film follow-up Serenity. Warner Bros told series creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell that if they could raise $2-million Warner Bros would distribute the film, and presumably take a healthy cut of the profits. For the studio this is a no-brainer as they don’t have to gamble nearly as much money as they would if they had to stump up production costs. Instead the film is funded by fans, to the tune of almost $5-million at the time of writing, in return for DVDs, T-shirts, and other fan-baiting fare.

The campaign has broken many records on Kickstarter and only needs a few more backers before it breaks them all (I think). But is this a good thing? I do want a Veronica Mars movie but also have hesitations when it comes to the general public essentially donating money to a large company without getting the opportunity to properly invest with no chance of proportional monetary reward. Let’s face it, Warner Bros could easily fund the film themselves; $2-million is nothing to them but they simply don’t think the film is worth the risk.

Naturally with the success of one franchise getting a movie funded the fanboys and girls start to hope for their own favourite cancelled series getting a big screen reprise. The idea of a sequel to Serenity was quickly bandied around the internet but Joss Whedon himself was quick to put that to bed:

Right now, it’s a complete non-Kickstarter for me.

At the end of the day Kickstarter is a marvellous tool for giving funding to projects that can’t find it elsewhere and this is the only way a movie of Veronica Mars was ever going to be made. Is it ideal for fans to fully fund the film? No, but they/we are happy to do it so who am I to complain? My Kickstarter philosophy is that I will only give money to projects that need it, that I am passionate about, and that give me something I actually want in return (no thanks to anyone offering me a mention on Twitter). Veronica Mars meets my criteria so has received a small amount of money from me; nothing too extravagant though; I already have too many T-shirts I don’t wear.

As for whether this will change the face of film-making is yet to be seen. Kickstarter already helps fund thousands of independent films with no studio link and I believe that it should continue to do so for the most part. The Veronica Mars projects are a rare find; a project which has a franchise attached, active fans, and creative talent that still want to make more and have the time to do so.

You still have until the end of the week to donate, why not throw a few coins into the jar?

Veronica Mars Movie? I Doubt It

Since its finish three years ago, as with most cancelled TV shows, talk of a movie spin-off from Veronica Mars was rife before the idea was pretty much given up on last year. Out of nowhere yesterday the show’s creator Rob Thomas said, “It’s not dead,” before continuing to explain that while the film is far from being green-lit, or even written, he still wants to make it.

I’ve no idea how it came up in conversation as the film seemed little more than a Serenity fuelled fan fantasy and not something that is actually feasible. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Veronica Mars and was sad to see it go but there isn’t really an audience for one; even in the US few people watched the show which is why it was cancelled. In order to make a film version you need a big fan base in place to ensure a healthy profit.

Of course even if you can guarantee an audience the film itself could well be terrible. Yes Serenity was a great follow up to Firefly but Dead Like Me: Life After Death was a pretty good example of when a TV series should be left to rest in peace rather than dragged back for one last woeful story.

At the end of the day I’d kill for a bit more Veronica Mars, but I’d rather they got on with it than kept dithering about with it in development hell. Shiv or get off the pot you might say, if you were illiterate.