On Friday night, I was in a Manhattan movie theater watching Veronica Mars. I’d contributed to the Kickstarter campaign that funded the film’s production, so I actually received a download code for the full movie earlier that day. But I didn’t want to watch it at home, on a TV. I wanted to see it in a theater packed with other fans on opening night.
The fact that the movie exists at all is kind of amazing. As I hinted when I wrote about the Kickstarter campaign a year ago, I was a fan of the canceled TV show and its eponymous high school detective, who solved crimes as a way to make sense of the bigger mysteries in her life. More broadly, I’m the kind of nerd who can get obsessed with canceled shows — the only time I’ve been to Comic-Con was for a panel about Serenity, the then-upcoming movie adaptation of the canceled show Firefly (the movie’s terrific, by the way).
So I’ve been pretty excited about the idea that Kickstarter could become a mechanism for fans to help bring deeply-but-not-widely loved properties back to life.
And yet, as I sat in the theater, listening to the rest of the audience laugh and gasp and applaud at what seemed like all the right moments, I felt vaguely dissatisfied. As I left, I was asking myself: Is this really what I wanted?
This post isn’t meant to be a review, not exactly. It’s mostly an attempt to explain my own disappointment. I mean, the movie was … fine, I guess? The actors seemed to slip into their old roles quite comfortably, and the dialogue was, for the most part, as sharp and snappy as I remembered it. A little more disappointing were the movie’s TV-ish look and the central mystery, which fizzled out after an intriguing start. But those shortcomings were understandable given the limited budget and the constraints of a two-hour run time.
What really drove my disappointment was the sense that the filmmakers were looking over my shoulder in every scene, asking, “This is what you wanted, isn’t it? Isn’t it???” Large chunks of the movie felt like little more than excuses to trot out some cast member from the show with minimal explanation, then have them say a few lines, presumably giving fans a warm, fuzzy feeling as they recalled how much they’d enjoyed seeing Character X or Y on the show.
Sure, I did remember most of those characters, and yes, it was nice to see them again. But what I’d wanted (and maybe this was silly of me) was something that stood on its own as a movie and didn’t feel like a two-hour addendum to the TV show. You know, something that might actually make people who’d been skeptical of the Kickstarter campaign say, “Oh, I totally see what you were talking about …”
Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas (who co-wrote and directed the film) has said that since fan dollars brought Veronica Mars back to life, he turned the movie into “a love letter to fans,” putting in all the stuff that he thought they would want, and only then adding “a detective case in the middle.” I do think a movie aimed squarely at fans is exactly what he made, for better and for worse.
And shouldn’t that be enough? Even if, as I believe, Veronica Mars the movie isn’t nearly as good as Veronica Mars the TV show, isn’t that okay? Isn’t it still a good thing that Thomas, along with his cast and crew, got to tell one more story with these characters? Isn’t that what fans wanted, and what they paid for?
It’s a mystery, and I’m not sure it’s the kind that Veronica Mars can solve.
Another mystery: Will the movie make enough money to justify a sequel? Thomas has suggested that if it does, he’ll do something less fan service-y, more in the vein of Chinatown. And so, despite my reservations, I find myself hoping, watching the box office numbers, and waiting for Veronica to come to life again.