Camp Rock

I owe the guys behind the High School Musical franchise a big apology. I’ve been a little hard on them in my DVD reviews of both their first and second made-for-TV movies. However, those movies look like Citizen Kane next to Disney Channel’s latest movie, Camp Rock. It is possible to put together a musical television movie aimed primarily at tween girls and still make it enjoyable for others. My wife loved High School Musical and the music still gets spins in our car. So, don’t think that everything that will follow is just some old guy who isn’t the target audience for what he is reviewing anyway. Camp Rock is no HSM. Camp Rock really sucks.

Camp Rock doesn’t stray particularly far from the HSM formula. It just does everything at a much, much lower level. Mitchie Torres (Demi Lovato) wants more than anything else to go to Camp Rock for the summer, but her family is too middle class to afford the tuition. Fortunately, and isn’t this a coinkidink, her mom (Maria Canals-Barrera) is hired to cater at the camp and now Mitchie can go at a reduced rate. Meanwhile, Shane Gray (Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers) is told by his band mates in the hot rock band, Connect 3 (Nick and Kevin Jonas) that he needs to live and work with his uncle at Camp Rock to make up for some bad behavior on their current tour. Huh? Anyway, they are your Troy and Gabriella for this little 98-minute cliché fest.

Mitchie gets to Camp Rock and runs into brainy and nice Caitlyn (Alyson Stoner) whom she immediately dumps to join the clique of rich wench Tess (Meaghan Jette Martin). Mitchie tells everyone she’s wealthy and keeps the fact that she also has to work in the kitchen to help her mom until it, shockingly, comes out, and at the worst possible moment! Mitchie also meets up with Shane who doesn’t realize she’s also the one he heard singing when he first arrived and is searching for. Makes sense, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t.

Don’t worry, it will all work out before the big Camp Rock final jam. The important lesson to be learned, of course, is given to Mitchie by her mom early in the movie. As her daughter looks for something to wear that will help her fit in with the other campers, she tosses out that Mitchie just needs to….wait for it….”be yourself.” That’s right, the old “be yourself” warhorse is dragged out to show that it is better to just admit who you are and not try to fit in with rich, stuck-up blondes.

It wouldn’t be as much of a problem for these people to be themselves if themselves weren’t such lousy actors. Jonas is terrible and Lovato, despite being the obvious heir apparent to Miley Cyrus’ crown at Disney, isn’t much better. This doesn’t need to be Shakespeare in the Park, but they are both pretty stiff and fake and Lovato’s million megawatt grin doesn’t cover over her inability to show any real emotion. To cover over for that, we get funny food fights and lots of them. Hilarious!

The bad acting is not the place where Camp Rock really falls short of HSM, though, it’s in the music. Despite the presence of the Jonas Brothers and what must have been access to some good songwriters, none of the tunes are memorable. In fact, they are often boring and not helped at all by the uninspired and sometimes messy choreography and staging. Unlike HSM, this movie does not include actors breaking into song in kitchens, cafeterias and basketball gyms, everyone who sings is either “performing” in a show or rehearsing. The production numbers lack any sort of flair and seem a bit lifeless. Kenny Ortega really makes these things look easier than they obviously are.

I’ve never been a big fan of this type of product, but this is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Not that it will make any difference to your tween daughter who is on her way to making sure this gets a sequel in 2009. Do your best to keep stuff like Camp Rock out of your house, but if you can’t, you have my sympathies. The DVD of Camp Rock is billed as the “Extended Rock Star Edition.” When you hear that a DVD is some kind of “edition,” it stands to reason that there are other “editions” out there. Not so with Camp Rock - it’s the only version being released…so far. The “extended” part of the title is unclear to me since I didn’t see this on television, but I think it is a new song at the very end of the film sung by Mitchie and backed-up by the other girls in Caitlyn’s garage/recording studio.

Since the name of the game here is the music, the disc has two different ways for viewers to get more involved in the musical numbers. There is a function that allows you to watch the whole movie with the lyrics of the songs coming onscreen during the musical numbers. Then your daughter and her friends can sing-along. A karaoke function is also provided. Although the name seems to imply that the vocals will be removed from the songs, I couldn’t get that to work. It came out exactly like the sing-along function, but maybe I missed a button somewhere.

The longest extra is a section called “How to Be a Rock Star.” The cast and some creative folks from the movie go over things like “Dress Like a Rock Star,” “Dance Like a Rock Star,” and “Network (!) Like a Rock Star.” Of course, since this a Disney thing, there is also “Behave Like a Rock Star” which tells you to be a nice person and treat everyone fairly and equally. That’s how rock stars behave? Finally, they just say that it doesn’t really matter because “Everyone’s a Rock Star.” You get a participation ribbon in rock star-ness just for living! Mostly it’s a harmless thing where a young viewer will get some good moral lessons and might also get told you really need to practice to get good at anything. Nothing wrong with that lesson, I guess.

The Disney machine is working synergy hard with this project and that comes out in the extras as well. There is a 15 minute documentary called “Jonas Brothers: Real Life Rock Stars” and a five minute one called “Introducing Demi Lovato." Both include interviews with the subject and lots of rehearsal and behind-the-scenes video from the filming of Camp Rock. Although both extras talk a little about the movie itself, most of the attention is focused on their background, goals, and what not. The Jonas Brothers’ seem like nice guys and I don’t even hate their music, but I wish they had skipped this project.

Two of the extras take a backstage look at a couple of the production numbers included in the movie. There is the five minute “Hasta La Vista: From Rehearsal to Final Jam.” That’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like, although with the time limit, there isn’t a lot to it. There is some funny stuff by Jordan Francis and Roshon Fegan at the end of the segment, including some outtakes and impromptu dances. The other backstage view is the four minute “Too Cool: Setting the Scene.” The outdoor stage used in the scene is shown being built with discussions by the actors and dancers of how it was to film. I really hated this scene in the movie, it was really weak, and watching it again made me remember why I hated it.

The rest of the extras include a six minute slideshow of random pictures taken during filming. This is actually kind of fun since it does not include posed and airbrushed publicity shots but actual snapshots from cameras that were brought to the set. It shows the young actors and others in a more real setting. Less impressive are two music videos included. One is a minute and a half version of “Start the Party” and the other a two and half minute version of “We Rock.” Both videos are heavy with Camp Rock clips and were probably used to promo the movie when it appeared on the Disney Channel originally. Last and least is a “hidden” extra that shows you the director and crew dancing around to “We Rock” on the same stage as the movie’s Final Jam. It’s pointless to any fan although it was probably funny for the cast.

Only one version of the film is included and it’s 1.33 to 1. The transfer is crisp and you can really see Lovato’s gigantic smile every three seconds. This DVD is aimed at hardcore fans of the Disney machine and they are the only people who should come anywhere near it.