Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not The Best Seats In The House: Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie Is Glee Without The Character!

The Good: Moments of 3-D, Moments of fun
The Bad: Direction, Sound quality, Much of the use of 3-D, Interspersed glee-fan stories are chopped awkwardly, Out-of-context elements.
The Basics: Fox rolled the dice and loses big with Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie, a mostly charmless exploitation of the latest big trend on the network.

Fox might be the king of killing things before their time, but the television network also appears to have learned from its mistakes. Sure The Simpsons Movie was fun, but if it had been released about a decade sooner, it would have probably done far, far better. Similarly, when The X-Files feature film (reviewed here!) hit theaters, it caused a delay in the subsequent season, arguably killing the momentum the series had. So, with Glee being the current phenomenon for the network, it is in some ways unsurprising that the network would try to buck the trend and release Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie, a movie I bet would dominate the box office its first weekend out. It didn't even make the top 10. Having seen it now, I can honestly say I am not at all surprised.

Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie is exactly as its name implies, a concert film shot in 3-D of the cast of Glee in character performing at various stadiums the songs they made popular through the television show. Interspersed between the songs - there is a break about one every three songs - are documentary-style conversations with people who have been affected by Glee. The result is part concert, part behind-the-scenes, part fandom epic and it does not do justice to any of the three styles.

The Glee concert film lures viewers in on the promise of being Glee, but it is not. It is a self-referential work tangent to the Glee universe. Thus, there is no struggle, no defining character moments, only commentary from the characters (the actors, to their credit, stay in character for the documentary-style moments behind the scenes) on what the phenomenon has been like. Viewers are jerked around in this context by bits where Rachel is told Barbra Streisand is in the audience, but we never see her (nor is there a duet).

But where this becomes a letdown is in the lack of context. First, Glee succeeds because it is charming as all hell and frequently funny, turning a moment from laughter into significance or breaking a dramatic moment with a quick turn of phrase. Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie does not have a plot, it is not set at McKinley High, it's a concert. The lack of context hurts the concert because it is, again, too self-referential. Artie singing "Safety Dance," for example, was a profound dream sequence on the television show because the young man confined to a wheelchair - pining for the love he desperately wants to impress - gets out of it and dances. It's just a dance; this is just a concert. In Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie, Artie performs it as just another dance number and it lacks any resonance. It's just a dance; this is just a concert.

Moreover, some of the characterization during the concert happens contrary to the characters from the show. Puck sang "Fat Bottomed Girls" to Lauren in season two of Glee (reviewed here!) in a misguided attempt to show her he is okay with her body shape and she puts him in his place, telling him how offensive the action was. In the concert movie, Lauren is grooving out to it as Puck makes a spectacle of the song. It's not what Glee is at it's best; but then, this is just a concert.

So, then, the movie has to simply live up to its name and be judged on its merits as a concert. Alas, there Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie undoes itself with a weird mix of underusing the spectacle and failing to capture the moment . . . instead capturing fan reaction to the moments. What I mean is this: the movie has a crappy sense of direction. Kevin Tancharoen will, no doubt, get a nomination for a Razzie for his direction of Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie and for my money, he deserves the win. Why? First, there are a plethora of times when he simply does not frame or capture the movement on screen in a notable way . . . or at all. During big dance numbers, just as the characters are delivering exciting lines or impressive dance moves, Tancharoen cuts to fans' reactions. It's the concert equivalent of watching a horror movie, but everytime someone gets slashed instead of seeing it, we get a film clip of the audiences reaction to it. That happens frequently and robs the movie of many of the most (potentially) emotional moments. And keeping the camera so very far away from Kurt during his sad, sweet rendition (another one that loses something out of context) of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" robs the song of its intimacy or emotional torment.

Then there is the 3-D. The 3-D is noticeable (but seldom noteworthy) in two places: close-ups (usually of Rachel, as she turns facing the camera with her microphone and the viewer feels like their eyes will be impaled) and long distance shots. The distance shots capture the depth of the stadium experience and that is neat, though the subjects on stage are so small as to be almost unmentionable. The problem with the 3-D in this film is that far and away most of the shots are done in the middle distances and the 3-D does not significantly enhance the experience. In other words, for large portions of the film there are two rows of people dancing, but they are dancing fairly close to one another; our brains process that as 3-D anyway, so the effect is so unpronounced as to almost be nonexistent. It's like before the movie began and my local theater had a commercial for J.C. Penney's and my wife asked me "is it in 3-D?" as she was getting stuff together. I watched it and I couldn't tell and I said as much and it didn't matter because the commercial features kids writing on the air, so it is inherently three dimensional and the brain processes it that way, regardless of it being filmed that way. In a similar fashion, much of the Glee movie falls flat because the 3-D effect would have been processed that way so it is almost invisible for the many, many middle distance shots.

Then there are the documentary bits. I like the concept of them. Three different fans of Glee are given the chance to speak about what they love about the show and they tell conceptually wonderful stories. A young woman, who happens to be a dwarf, talks about being a cheerleader and getting voted prom queen, a young man talks about how he was outed and a young woman with Asberger's Syndrome discusses her obsession with the character Brittany. Unfortunately, here director Tancharoen again makes some devastating cuts. The young homosexual's story is cut the first time at a horrible point, making it seem worthy of despair before cutting to a cheery number. And Tancharoen uses footage from the young woman with Asberger's Syndrome whereby she implies (I'm sure she didn't mean it) that having Asberger's Syndrome makes her a bad person. Yes, that's a ridiculous concept, but the fact that Tancharoen uses her statement of how discovering Glee after being diagnosed made her want to go out and be a good person . . . well, that's what she is saying whether she meant to or not. Now, unless Tancharoen withheld a whole bunch of footage where the woman talks about setting cats on fire and the like, she's got no reason to be saying that and it comes across as a pretty horrible slip of the tongue whereby she is giving a pretty un-Glee message. Again, I blame the director for not getting (or using) better footage.

As for the acting, I am guessing that first-billed Dianna Agron was contractually-obligated to appears she had almost no presence in the film. Jane Lynch is also notably absent, with scenes excised bound to appear conveniently for the DVD release. The real star of the film is Heather Morris, as Brittany. Morris is a professional dancer and she is front and center in wild outfits that catch the eye and she dances amazingly. Only the surprise guest upstages Morris and one has to believe that when the Glee phenomenon ends, Morris will have plenty of work.

As for the others, the cast is large and the movie does not service them all all that well. The result is a concert movie hinging on the nostalgia that comes from foreknowledge. Sadly, the theater I was in seemed to have a pretty crummy soundsystem (I never noticed problems in it before) and more frequently than not, the instrumentals drown out the singing or the background singers prevented the primary vocalists from being heard.

Ultimately, I can live with a concert movie, but it has to be phenomenal. The best concert film should give the viewer the best seat in the house or the "floating eye" for the best possible experience. That takes a director who can look at the stage and interpret both where the best place to be is and how to capture it at the best angle for any given moment. Kevin Tancharoen does not do that and Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie comes across as lazy, confused and/or an auditory jumble. Glee fans deserve better, as do those looking to get into the phenomenon.

For other works featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, please visit my reviews of:
Glee - Season Two, Volume 1
Iron Man 2
Iron Man
The Royal Tenenbaums
Shakespeare In Love


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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