“Glee: The Concert” is “Glee: The 3D Concert” without the 3D. Audiences who were reluctant to plunk down extra money to see the film in 3D may have made the right choice, because other than a confetti-and-streamer finale and an animated end-credit sequence, there’s not much in the way of effects designed to break the plane of the television set. Extra depth is there, but is it worth the extra cash?
I was sent the Blu-ray combo pack to review, and my concern was that a film intentionally made for 3D using twin cameras and special 3D rigging might look a little anemic in 2D. Happily, that’s not the case. Aside from a little extra scrubbing to polish the edges, the 3D Concert looks fine in 2D Blu-ray (more on that later)
“Glee: The Concert” was filmed in June 2011 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey near the end of a North American tour that took the “Glee” gang through Toronto and 17 American cities before heading across the Atlantic for concerts in Manchester, London, and Dublin. The tour sold out at every single venue but one: Los Angeles, ironically. Total revenue for the tour was just under $46 million, and this film grossed another $17.5 million in just a two-week limited theatrical run. Home video sales should exceed both figures, and why not? Even with the severe drop in audience that the show experienced in Season 3 when co-creator Ryan Murphy inexplicably took the show into more explicit sexual territory--and I say “inexplicably” because “Glee” has a huge pre-teen fan-base whose parents would turn off the TV when things got too racy--“Glee” still attracted 8 million viewers per episode, on average.
Let’s say you haven’t been paying attention the past several years and have no idea what “Glee” is--which means that you also must have missed the 2010 Emmys, because “Glee” was nominated in 20 categories. “Glee” is a musical dramedy about members of a high school glee club (played by twenty-something actors) who look to each other for support when the rest of the school and society seems to not accept them for who they are. Each episode has almost as much soap-opera drama as there is song-and-dance numbers--the latter of which grew more spectacular and big-budget as the series went on. Their teacher and champion was Mr. Schuester (Matthew Morrison), and their nemesis was cheerleader coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), who coveted the club’s funding.
Morrison stays clear of this concert tour, as he did the 2010 tour, but just about everyone else is here: the cheerleader who gave her baby up for adoption (Quinn Fabray, played by Diana Agron); the persecuted homosexual (Kurt Hummel, played by Chris Colfer); the gay lead singer from a rival school (Darren Criss as Blaine Anderson); the plus-sized outcast with an attitude (Lauren Zizes, played by Ashley Fink); the wheelchair-bound “four eyes” (Artie Abrams, played by Kevin McHale); the Broadway-star wannabe (Rachel Berry, played by Lea Michele); the star quarterback who also loves to sing (Finn Hudson, played by Cory Monteith); the “dumb blonde” (Brittany Pierce, played by Heather Morris); the black girl who’s tired of taking a back seat (Mercedes Jones, played by Amber Riley); the Latina who uses her sexuality to get what she wants (Santana Lopez, played by Naya Rivera); the bad boy who has a thing for ladies of all ages and sizes (Puck Puckerman, played by Mark Salling); the Asian dancer who can’t sing (Mike Chang, played by Harry Shum, Jr.); and the Asian singer who’s as normal as “teens” get in a TV series these days (Tina Cohen-Chang, played by Jenna Ushkowitz).
The “Glee” gang stays mostly in character throughout the concert, with Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) reminding audiences in a taped intro that the “Glee” cast had five Billboard hits at the same time--something not even Elvis managed. They’re one up on the late King in another area, too. Once Elvis started acting, he stopped doing concerts. So it’s a tribute both to the phenomenal success of this TV series and the excitement the young cast clearly feels for the show and its followers that fourteen cast members actually made the time to tour together.
One thing you should know about this concert: it’s not given the typical concert treatment. All concerts videos are edited, but most of them retain at least some of the performers’ introductions to the songs. Not so with “Glee the Concert.” Replacing the intros are on-the-street segments with fans talking about their favorite characters (and why) and cutaways to five “Glee” fans talking about the importance of “Glee” in their lives. We come back to those five time and again. At first I was feeling cheated, thinking it ran counter to the whole idea of trying to replicate the concert-going experience for fans who couldn’t get tickets. But the more I listened to these fans’ stories--including an overweight girl with Asperger’s Syndrome and a young gay man, both of whom related to a character and felt that the show was supportive and liberating--I began to think that the concert movie is truer to what made the show popular in the first place than the third season. Seeing a few of the introductions and set-changing “stalls” in the bonus features section only reinforced that opinion. Those intros are really “you had to be there” moments.
The fan segments accomplish three things: they reinforce the phenomenal popularity of the show, they illustrate and contextualize the show’s impact, and they pay tribute to fans by including some of them in this concert video.
As for the songs, the “Glee” cast gives audiences exactly what they want. Songs from the episodes are sung by the people who sang them in the first place, with Gwyneth Paltrow, who guest-starred as a substitute teacher, making a surprise appearance to perform.
The whole ensemble opens with “Don’t Stop Believin” and ends with the encore “Somebody to Love,” while in-between we get Puck playing guitar and singing about how he likes “Fat Bottomed Girls.” We get Rachel singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” We get Mercedes belting out a soulful rendition of “Ain’t No Way.” We get Finn ramping up the angst as he wishes he had “Jessie’s Girl.” And we get Kurt singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in a much cheerier context than he first sang it in the series, when it was his father on life support that he was serenading.
In all there are 24 songs, three-quarters of them high-energy and with snappy choreography. Artie stays in character in his wheelchair, rising only to sing the song in which he dreamed (on the show) that he could walk and dance. Included are:
- Don’t Stop Believin’
- Empire State of Mind
- I’m a Slave 4 U
- Fat Bottomed Girls
- Don’t Rain on My Parade
- Ain’t No Way
- Jessie’s Girl
- Teenage Dream
- Silly Love Songs
- Raise Your Glass
- Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy
- Safety Dance
- River Deep, Mountain High
- Forget You
- I Want to Hold Your Hand
- Born This Way
- Loser Like Me
- Don’t Stop Believin’ (Reprise)
- Somebody to Love
To the cast’s credit, they seem fully aware of the show’s message, and they reinforce it at every turn, reminding fans that each individual is beautiful in his or her own way, and that being yourself is what it’s all about. It’s tough to find fault with a philosophy like that, and the “Glee” cast seems in good form for this concert. Rachel and Mercedes tie for top diva, while Brittany (played by a dancer who in real life worked on-stage with Beyonce) takes the sex-it-up prize. None of the performers seem to be gasping for air, which makes you wonder about the authenticity of the vocals. But they take infrequent pauses and address the crowd in mid-song, as if to allay anyone’s fears. In an age when so many performers seem to be faking it, it’s refreshing to see the “Glee” gang doing that. Some of their voices translate to live vs. studio-recorded performances better than others, but that’s fine by me, and I’m sure fine by fans that will see it as another reassurance that they’re watching the real deal.
As I said, while this was shot for 3D, the 2D version looks very good, if you’re not hyper-sensitive to edge enhancement and a little DNR to stabilize the noise that results from shots of performers up against a gigantic video screen. The stage lighting is handled well enough so that we don’t get any haloing or grain, and outdoor shots of fans has the same slick look to it. “Glee the Concert” is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and transferred to a 50-gig Blu-ray disc using AVC/MPEG-4 technology.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with an additional English Descriptive 5.1 track and subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French. It’s not a very enveloping soundtrack--more of a concert hall set-up, where the center speaker and front mains handle most of the output. It’s a solid but not spectacular soundtrack . . . put it that way.
Surprisingly, there’s not much here. Five minutes of “unseen performances” include the songs “Dog Days Are Over” and “Friday”; “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Ain’t No Way” give the divas a few extra seconds in extended versions; “On Stage with the Cast” features just two intros from Lynch and a proposal from Kurt to Blaine (following Brittany’s flirtation); and “Backstage with the Cast” is nothing more than a couple of minutes of backstage antics. There’s also something Fox is calling “Shazam Mode,” which requires you to download an app to your phone and then “tag” it every time you see a Shazam icon . . . which sounds like something to placate perpetually fidgety people. As I’m not one, and I don’t own a smart phone (or even a cell phone), I did not try it out.
But, of course, for many consumers the “combo pack” is bonus feature enough, with a DVD and Digital Copy included.
As concerts go, “Glee: The Concert” is solid entertainment. But for fans of the show? It’s a reinforcement of a belief system that’s as healthy as can be. The "Glee" gang puts on a respectable show . . . and an exciting, inspirational, and allusion-filled one, if you're a fan.