Sunday, October 26, 2008

HSM3 "Senior Year": More original than expected, with a little fabulosity

Near the Marine Corps Marathon finish line point today, I heard a bit of “HSM3” bellowing out on some outdoor speakers, and later today I saw “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” The story, on the surface, follows the same paradigm as the indie musical I saw last night: a senior high school class puts on a production, moves into a fantasy world, and the audience bonds to the characters.

Of course, HSM3 comes at us as the third of a series. The first two aired on the Disney channel. The 2006 HSM1 was interspersed with dancing lessons given by Zac Efron. The third is the first to have an initial theatrical release. As it opens, it fills the eyes with a sea of red, with the basketball and dancing and cheerleading from high. It seems like it will be the expected G-rated sequel ready to overwhelm us with wholesomeness. But, in a theatrical version, we seem to get to know the characters better, and the film starts to venture into a bit more original territory, and make interesting references to characters or issues of other films. The film is presented in standard 1.85:1 but I think it would have benefited from a full 2.35:1. I recall that the first film DVD was in full screen. Director Kenny Ortega seems to be building on the cash cow franchise and carefully making excursions into more ambitious material in the third film. So it is by far the best of the set. The singing is not continuous, and the score by David Lawrence has already become well known.

As in the indie film yesterday (HSM3 probably cost about 50 times as much to make!), the English teacher Ms. Darbus (Alyson Reed) sponsors as senior play – this time a musical extravaganza rather than Shakespeare – but a Shakespeare idea could almost have worked here too. The musical will give creative opportunity to Sharpay’s brother Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel) as choreographer. He comes across as the “gay” or fab-five type character, as much as expected in a G-rated film. (Yes, he seems to come right out of “Were the World Mine,” yesterday). There is a shot of a car license plate in purple letters “Fabulus” – which in indie cinema is sometimes a code word for gay.

Troy is pressured by his dad to stay in basketball, but has secretly mailed an application to Juilliard (presumably for drama or dance). I don’t think Juilliard takes applications that way. But three other of the kids (including Ryan) have applied, and we’ll find out who gets in during the film’s climax. It almost sounds like Disney wants to atone for the “sin” on TheWB’s show Everwood of bonding us to the piano prodigy character Ephram (Gregory Smith), and then having him bolt out of auditioning at Juilliard because of conflict with his father. In HSM3, several of the major characters, including Troy himself (he’ll do both basketball and theater, after the distractions of possible separation from Gabriella - Vanessa Anna Hudgens) come out very well indeed.

Although a lot of the film fills our eyes with the garish reds of the previous movies, it ventures out into some iconoclasm, with scenes in a tree hour and another in an auto junk yard. The tree house scenes hint at the fantasy of other comparable movies based on having kids perform Shakespeare.

In both this film and yesterday's ("Were the World Mine") we see an English teacher willing to experience her self-concept through the public accomplishments of her students rather than through her own. That itself is interesting to me.

Zachary David Alexander Efron, remember, had made a splash as “Cameron Bale” in the WB series Summerland, and now looks quite bulked up. He just celebrated his 21st birthday without excessive grown-up things to do on TV (remember Shia LaBeouf did the same and had his supposed first drink on Jay Leno). Perhaps soon a hosting of SNL? There's one sequence where Efron does an amazing solo break dance. Efron's best line in the film is the simple "I'm in!" I recall reading that Efron was a good student, took mostly AP courses in high school while becoming a star. Jared Padalecki (CW’s Supernatural) was a presidential scholar when he graduated from high school in Texas in 2000. Ashton Kutcher almost became a pre-med student instead of actor.

When I sub-taught, I covered theater a few times, and I did encounter some real talent.

Update: Oct 28

I don't know how long this link will stay up, but AOL has an Efron picture in its "Stars on the Beach" gallery. You may have to be a subscriber.

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