Judge Patrick Bromley may have the music in him, but that showed up well after high school.
Our review of High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Blu-Ray), published February 17th, 2009, is also available.
This is the last chance to get it right!
After the extraordinary success that the Disney movies High School Musical and High School Musical 2 experienced on television, the Mouse House finally got smart and decided to release this newest installment, High School Musical 3: Senior Year into theaters. The result was the cinematic event for kids and 'tweens in 2008, who couldn't wait to see how things wrapped up for Troy, Gabriella, and all of the East High Wildcats. Now, HSM3 (as it's called by those of us in the know) comes to DVD in what can only be the first of many editions.
Facts of the Case
It's finally senior year at good old East High, and there are a lot of loose ends to tie up: basketball star Troy (Zac Efron, Hairspray) has to lead the Wildcats to the state championship. He's also got to choose where he's going to college, and whether or not he'll pursue basketball or musical theater. Complicating matters is that his long-time girlfriend, Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens, Thirteen), may be heading off 1,000 miles away to Stanford. Breaking up would just be the worst! There is, of course, one more big musical to put on, this time based on the kids' own experiences and written by teenage Kelsi (Olesya Rulin, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary). Spoiled, snobby Sharpay (Asley Tisdale, Donnie Darko) is still trying to steal the spotlight from anyone who has it, and her sycophantic twin brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel, Milk) is along for the ride. And, of course, there's still the prom to consider!
The good news? They're all in this together.
Having been through high school once upon a time, I have to laugh at how much something like High School Musical 3: Senior Year romanticizes—even fetishizes—that time in a young person's life; the film has about as much understanding of what high school is really like as an episode of Saved By the Bell. I'm also struck by the fact that my youth was spent watching John Hughes movies, meaning my preconceived notions of high school were shaped by Duckie and John Bender. High school was not the happy, dancing place it's become in the eyes of today's kids. And while I would love to report that High School Musical is only a children's phenomenon, my wife (the high school teacher) reminds me it's still quite popular with actual high school students—this despite the fact they know the realities of high school firsthand. It's like a police officer being obsessed with Robocop because he feels it somehow accurately reflects his own life.
I am not the audience for High School Musical 3. That goes without saying. And as much as I would love to make the argument that all movies should try their best to be good, and that good movies are for everyone, I can't get around the fact that movies like this are made for a specific audience. What I have to say about HSM3 doesn't really matter, especially to people that tend to read film criticism. Young people want to see it, whether I like it or not.
So what is there to say about the film? It's bright and energetic. It's also antiseptic, looking and feeling more like product than a movie. The actors are all smiley, attractive, and utterly indistinguishable from one another. There are a lot of songs, mostly of the dance-pop variety, none of which have a single memorable hook or chorus; say what you will about that ubiquitous "We're All In This Together Song" from the first film, but at least it sticks in your head. The songs all seem to belong to two categories: the lover's ballad (Efron and Hudgens share several) and the one with lyrics about how "now is the time" and "the future is coming" and "we've got to do it" and sometimes "what will I do?" but then back to "now is the time." There isn't a "Summer Nights" or a "We Go Together" in the bunch, so I can't imagine kids singing these songs a year from now, much less 20.
Of course it doesn't work for me. It's not really supposed to. As a movie, HSM3 is lacking; there's nothing to warrant the transition from TV to the big screen (not scope or scale) except additional box office revenue. There's nothing about the staging of the musical numbers in the movie that takes advantage of the format. There isn't even much of a story. This is one of the first movies I've ever seen that starts with the Big Game climax, meaning there isn't a whole lot to hang the rest of the movie on. Sure, there are questions about where characters will go to college or who will go to the prom with whom, but these don't exactly generate dramatic suspense. No, mostly the movie exists so fans of the High School Musical series can see their favorite characters again and know what happens to them beyond high school. I know, I know—there's life beyond high school?
Having not seen the theatrical cut of High School Musical 3, I can't say exactly how much footage has been reinstated for this special "extended" edition, and nowhere on the DVD is any of the new material identified. A commentary track might have helped, but I'm guessing the movie's target demographic isn't all that interested in the musings of director Kenny Ortega. I can say that at 117 minutes, the movie overstays its welcome. I'd have been happier with a tight 90 minutes—but, again, I'm not the audience for this film.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and, aside from a very obvious layer change, I saw no visible flaws or defects. The image is bright and the colorful palette is rendered nicely. Even better is the audio presentation, a very strong 5.1 surround effort which has some neat surround effects (there are several crowd scenes) and giving both the dialogue and the music a strong, clean delivery. I may not have liked the music, but I can't deny it sounds pretty great on the DVD.
The Extended Edition comes with a handful of pretty lackluster extras. There are some deleted scenes, an inconsequential blooper reel (consisting not of actors messing up takes so much as goofing off between shots), a pair of interview featurettes with cast members in which they glorify the prom experience (My favorite line comes from Hudgens: "Prom is fun because it's something you do.") and a collection of cast goodbyes—this despite the fact the door has already been left open for a High School Musical 4, which has already begun casting. The bonus feature most likely appeal to the movie's young audiences is a "sing-along" karaoke option for each of the film's musical numbers. The DVD provides the option of jumping to a specific song or playing the whole film in this option, so kids can sing along to each new song as it unfolds. The Extended Edition also comes with a bonus "Digital Copy" of the film for use on a computer or portable media device.
I'll admit that I haven't seen High School Musical or High School Musical 2, so I can't speak to whether or not this film is an improvement or just more of the same. I'm inclined to guess it's the latter, and for this audience that's just perfect. Ultimately, it's a waste of time to even bother reviewing a High School Musical film. It's critic-proof—less a movie than a pop culture phenomenon. Sure, there are better movies for kids to watch, but at least this one is positive, upbeat, and says all the things kids are supposed to hear. They'll figure out that high school isn't anything like High School Musical 3 soon enough. I guess there's no harm in letting them live with the singing, dancing fantasy for a while.
For now, I'll be hanging onto my DVD of Grease.
If I said "Guilty" or "Not Guilty," would it matter?
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