Is Glee: The 3D Concert Movie the most cynical example yet of the 3D concert movie fad? Before you answer this, remember that the mini-genre has included a posthumous presentation of Michael Jackson's rehearsal footage, rushed into theaters barely three months after his death, and a biopic of the 17-year-old Justin Bieber. I've seen both of those concert movies, and I promise you neither felt as manufactured, calculated, and plain ugly as Glee 3D, which bungles everything that's basically appealing about concerts, movies, 3D technology and even the TV show Glee itself.
There's a touch of surrealism to the whole thing, as not only are the show's actors performing in character onstage-- Kevin McHale in his wheelchair as Artie, Naya Rivera flirting with the audience as Santana-- but in backstage interviews too. That means that, even as you glimpse fans in the crowd holding signs saying "I love you Lea Michele," Michele herself is backstage talking to the camera as Rachel Berry. Heather Morris sits in a chair getting her hair curled by a personal stylist an Indiana teenager could never afford, but speaks about the concert and herself as if she's her character, Brittany. The ruse pays off only occasionally-- Michele is particularly adept at improvving to the camera in character-- but feels howlingly artificial and patronizing, as if the producers honestly don't think Glee's core audience can tell the difference between the show and real life.
Even more mysteriously, the in-character bits from the stage show-- including video appearances from Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch-- are cut almost entirely. We get an occasional shot of Kurt telling off Brittany or Santana gloating in the choir room, but otherwise there's no narrative to link together the musical numbers, which all originated at some point as part of a story on a given episode of Glee. If you're a hardcore fan of the show-- and, let's face it, anyone who sees this movie will be-- you'll get why a certain someone shows up to sing Cee-Lo's "Forget You" or why Brittany puts on a full Britney Spears outfit for "I'm A Slave 4 U." But numbers that feel hollow and overproduced in the context of the TV show feel unbearably dull here divorced from any kind of story, the cast cavorting around with back-up dancers looking no more distinguished than some late-era revival of The Mickey Mouse Club.
The one exception, the one bunch willing to embrace the inherent dorkiness that shiny, super-popular Glee pretends to represent, is the Warblers. They're a group of scrubbed-up guys singing harmonies in stuffy blazers, looking like every college a cappella group you've ever seen, and performing with natural charisma and confidence that the audience immediately responds to. It helps that their leader is Darren Criss, hugely talented and undeniably sexy; interviews with the audience show both boys and girls screaming their affections for Criss's character Blaine, who is Kurt's boyfriend, and watching him move is like seeing a brand-new, pansexual sex symbol being born before your eyes. I'd say he's reason enough to see the movie, but as old episodes of Glee and Criss's own musical efforts are easily available online, even that's not enough of a selling point.
Perhaps because the backstage interviews are so thin, director Kevin Tancharoen also weaves in interviews with a handful of hardcore Glee fans, who include a popular cheerleader who also happens to be a dwarf, a hardcore Brittany fan who also happens to have Asperberger's, and a boy empowered by Kurt to-- you guessed it-- come out of the closet. Undoubtedly Glee has had a positive effect on many of its millions and millions of fans, and watching pre-teen girls squeal in the audience has a certain timeless appeal. But all the heartfelt testimonials about how Glee changed these kids' lives feels self-congratulatory, and too conveniently tied to the show's self-appointed status as the great, powerful voice against bigotry in our culture. There's only so many times you can hear a show claim to stand for the little guy while reaping millions and millions in merchandising before the words start to sound false.
Barely making any use of the 3D effects and boasting musical numbers that aren't all that different from the lavish productions featured each week on the show, Glee 3D is no improvement on the show available each week for free on television, and for that reason feels like even more of a naked cash grab than all the other 3D concert movies that have come before it. I understand why thousands of fans came out for the live performances, I really do, but none of that appeal is captured here.