I felt a little uncomfortable buying a ticket for the new Hannah Montana 3D concert movie. There's something not quite right about a 35-year-old man going to see a movie like that, especially when he's alone, and especially at 10:30 on a Sunday morning. The two guys in line beside me buying tickets for the action thriller Untraceable didn't make me feel any better.
Neither did the auditorium full of 9-to-12-year-old girls and their parents. But I had a job to do, and I made every conceivable effort to let every adult around me know it by brandishing my notebook as conspicuously as possible, holding the tip of my pen thoughtfully in my mouth, and making utterly illegible and useless notes in the dark. (There's something in there about why these kids weren't in Sunday School and parents making up for missing the concert here in Knoxville last fall, I think.) But it's hard to look serious when you have 3D glasses on.
The revelation of the movie, for those of us familiar with the phenomenon of Hannah Montana but not so well-versed in its details, is that Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour is a rock show. It's not quite Gimme Shelter or The Song Remains the Same, but it's not an extended dance-pop diva act, either. The music is live, performed by a more-than-competent band made up of studio and session professionals, and it's based almost exclusively on big stadium-rock drums and guitar power chords. Cyrus is a capable singer, but not in the scale-topping Christina Aguilera/Mariah Carey mold. The only pyrotechnics were the real fireworks featured in nearly every song. Cyrus' models are Avril Lavigne, Ashlee Simpson, and the Kelly Clarkson who sang "Since U Been Gone." When she appeared as herself, dressed in black leather pants, white biker boots, a distressed leather vest, and fingerless gloves, she could have passed for a member of The Donnas. It's more than just a superficial comparison—The Donnas are as manufactured an act as Hannah Montana, just on a smaller scale, and by damn she sounds like them on "Rock Star" and "Start All Over."
The Hannah Montana show is, of course, intensely choreographed. But so is nearly every arena concert tour—Kiss, the Rolling Stones, Van Halen. Cyrus appears first as Hannah Montana, dashing around the stage and out onto the three walkways that extend into the first few rows of the audience with set poses and tightly scheduled winks into the camera. Dancers appear at regular intervals. Most of the concert was filmed from the stage, so it's not even like you're at the show. Its more like you're in the middle of it. (I went to the Brad Paisley concert at Thompson-Boling Arena on Friday night and had good seats, just to the right of the stage in the first balcony, and those were nothing compared to the virtual seats in Best of Both Worlds.)
The 3D technology is still clumsy, but it's far beyond what was provided for monster movies in the 1950s. It works best at simply providing depth and perspective; the flashier effects—a drumstick or guitar head pointed into the camera or the shattering-glass graphics of the opening credits—come off as tricks. Good tricks—the little girl next to me was frustrated that she couldn't grab what she saw—but tricks nonetheless.
Two moments of creepiness stood out. During backstage footage of one of Cyrus' 30-second costume changes, Cyrus appeared frail, tired, and pitiful. She looked like a teenage girl caught in a celebrity tug-of-war. My notes read: "Who would do that to a 14-year-old?" And while all that was going on, the Jonas Brothers, another Disney act, was covering the intermission. The two older brothers are 18 and 20, so their love ballad directed at 20,000 preteen girls struck exactly the wrong chord.
But Best of Both Worlds isn't about the supporting band or what goes on backstage. Cyrus nailed her rock-star act, and that's what all those kids lined up outside for the sold-out 12:30 show were there to see.