Friday, August 12, 2011

Glee: The 3D Concert Movie — Grand, giddy and plenty Gleeful

Glee: The 3D Concert Movie (2011) • View trailer for Glee: The 3D Concert Movie
Four stars. Rating: PG, for thematic elements, mild profanity and some sensuality
By Derrick Bang

Yes, I'm a Gleek. Proudly. Passionately.

But not always indiscriminately. I'll freely acknowledge that some of the recently completed second season episodes were quite weak: bereft of plot and little more than excuses to place more songs on iTunes. At times, this show's commercial tail definitely wags the artistic dog.
Kurt (Chris Colfer), Mercedes (Amber Riley, center) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz)
belt their way through one of many show-stopping numbers, en route to a
glorious, slushy-filled finale.

But when it's on fire ... goodness, it blazes.

As is the case with Glee: The 3D Concert Movie.

This experience couldn't possibly be better at what it set out to be. Glee fans will love it, embrace it, return for multiple viewings and then buy it the millisecond a DVD becomes available. But they'll have only a fraction of the heart-pounding, fist-pumping, dancing-in-the-aisles joy granted by this big-screen sensation.

You want — nay, need — to see this puppy on as large a screen as possible, to take full advantage of the excellent 3D cinematography. And be sure the theater has big-big-big speakers, capable of pumping out enough sound to sterilize frogs in the next county.

This was a planned 3D shoot from the onset. Cinematographer Glen MacPherson and director Kevin Tancharoen made damn sure to avoid the often blurry, always darkened look of retrofitted 3D. The colors literally pop off the screen, and the many costumes are by turns dazzling, cheeky, affectionately retro and audaciously sexy. Naughty schoolgirls never have been this hot.

I'll assume TV show costume designer Lou Eyrich also handled this chore for the "Glee" summer concert tour that became this film; that credit, maddeningly, is nowhere to be found in the press notes. In which case, she deserves to take another bow.

Mostly, though, this film blazes with energy. These kids truly give their all during every one of the 23 songs comprising this high-octane show. One could wish that the mix included a few more quiet tunes, such as Kurt's (Chris Colfer) gentle rendition of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" ... but let's face it; the stand-out moments in "Glee" always revolve around power — and empowerment — anthems.

And yes, calling them "kids" is a bit of a wink-wink-nudge-nudge. Lea Michele (Rachel) is just this side of 25; Dianna Agron (Quinn) IS 25; Naya Rivera (Santana) is 24; and Cory Monteith (Finn) and Mark Salling (Puck) are 29. At 21, Colfer is one of the youngest. Indeed, they've long pushed the envelope by playing high school seniors ... but hey, that's nothing new.

Tancharoen and show runner Ryan Murphy deserve considerable credit for reproducing — to the best degree possible — the fan-generated excitement of the summer concert tour. This film couldn't be fresher; the footage was shot during the cast's two-day stop, June 16-17, at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J.

Performances from those shows are intercut with brief comments from wide-eyed fans outside the theater, waiting to join the fun; longer segments spend considerable time — in snippets, as the film continues — with a trio of "misfit" kids who've built up their personal pride by identifying with the characters in this series. My favorite: the high school cheerleader hoping to become prom queen ... an ambition she fears is unlikely for reasons I'll not reveal here.

No, I'm sure these segments aren't as "spontaneous" as the filmmakers would have us believe. And yes, they easily could slide into exploitation or sloppy sentimentality, but don't; time and again, we're reminded that "Glee" has turned yesterday's nerds and geeks into today's chin-forward, walking-tall standard-bearers of self-satisfaction. You need only clock the number of kids willing to bare their "flaws" with bold black letters on white T-shirts, imitating the show-stopping "Loser Like Me" number.

It's cute, as well, that the cast members remain in character both on and off stage, notably during a few behind-the-scenes shots in the make-up room, where Heather Morris (Brittany) displays her comedic talents well enough to send Amber Riley (Mercedes) into spontaneous laughter.

"Glee" always has indulged in another bit of forgivable artifice: the notion that a high school choir would be blessed by the back-up band and stagecraft — and costumes — that lend so much additional oomph to so many songs. But that, too, is part of the magic, which translates superbly to this big-screen experience. This larger-than-life concert film can be regarded as a greatest-hits collection: the best of the best.

So yes, of course we open with the cast's high-octane cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " ... but they get it out of the way at the top, because it's expected, and in order to clear the decks for almost two dozen more great numbers.

Morris sheds most of her clothes and rips her way through "I'm a Slave 4 U," echoing her character's blistering TV rendition of this Britney Spears hit. This number's impact is almost paralyzing, in no small part because of Morris' phenomenal dancing ... although, credit where due, her back-up dancers also are quite talented.

Those back-up dancers also are in evidence when Rivera and Riley blast their way through "River Deep, Mountain High," most famously delivered by Ike & Tina Turner all the way back in 1966. We're reminded anew that while Michele's Rachel gets far more TV screen time and solos, Riley has an equally fine voice, which she exploits here for maximum impact. She proves this again with a second rattle-the-house solo, on Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way."

Darren Criss (Blaine) leads the show's rival all-male chorus, The Warblers, in a deftly choreographed trio of songs, starting with Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" and concluding with Pink's "Raise Your Glasses." Criss also displays some pretty smooth footwork; watch the way he handles stairs without even glancing down or missing a note.

"Raise Your Glasses" also leads to the film's most hilarious bit of fan adulation ... although it might be an unhealthy parental fixation; I'm not sure which. Tancharoen includes some hysterical footage of a 4-year-old boy, decked out in a mini-Warbler suit, singing and mimicking all the dance moves from this song. The film offers only brief clips, but we get the whole "America's Funniest Home Videos" effect during the closing credits.

Michele has fun with her character's Barbra Streisand fixation, which leads to her knock-'em-dead rendition of "Don't Rain on My Parade." For my money, though, she's much more compelling during her quieter duet with Colfer in the mash-up of "Come On, Get Happy" and "Happy Days Are Here Again," which deliberately echoes — down to their costumes — the 1963 performance by Judy Garland and a young Streisand, on the former's short-lived TV series.

On the other hand, that number — and several others — illustrate one of this film's mildly irritating flaws: an occasional tendency to join a song midway through, rather than granting us the entire experience. That happens with the Michele/Colfer duet; it also happens with Agron and Chord Overstreet (Sam), when they sing "Lucky." Actually, the latter two get very short shrift here; both are all but missing in action. The film only runs 100 minutes; couldn't Tancharoen have included another 10 to 15 minutes, to feature all of the truncated songs, and give a bit more time to some of the neglected performers?

It's certainly not as if a bit more length would have been a problem.

And while there's much to admire in the work by editors Myron I. Kerstein, Jane Moran and Tatiana S. Riegel, I wish they had used fewer smash cuts during the dance numbers, particularly those showcasing Morris and Harry Shum Jr. (Mike). These two can dance, dammit; they don't need camera cutaways to look more impressive.

Finally, while the 3D cinematography genuinely adds to the excitement, I got quite tired of having the butt end of so many microphones shoved into my face. It would have been nice if more cast members had held their mics down, rather than out.

But that's small stuff. Glee: The 3D Concert Movie is an impressive show, both in its breakneck stage pacing and song selection, and in this remarkably effective big-screen attempt to reproduce the excitement of the live experience. Yes, the underlying "we all deserve respect" message gets hammered a bit much at times, but goodness; given all the negativity swirling about in the world these days, it's refreshing — nay, uplifting and inspirational — to spend some time with such a talented cast, armed with such positive attitudes.

We need more of the same.

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