Quick question: if you're over the age of 13, why are you reading this review? The answer is either a.) you're a parent of a kid who loves Hannah Montana and has already begged you a million times to buy this Blu-ray; b.) you secretly like that Miley Cyrus song "7 Things" and now want to check out her back catalogue; or c.) you've heard that 'Best of Both Worlds' is in 3-D, and as a diehard early adopter you just have to check out the latest technology. All good
excuses reasons, but I'll add a fourth and even more shocking one: 'Best of Both Worlds' is actually a bizarrely engaging snapshot of where tween culture is in the year 2008, and though I never thought I'd be caught dead actually admitting to liking anything with the words "Miley Cyrus" in the title, it's also a testament to a young performer with such boundless energy and enthusiasm that it's almost impossible not to be won over by her.
Since the Hannah Montana "Best of Both Worlds" tour broke scalping records when it launched last year (reports had hand-wringing parents paying up to $3,500 a ticket), Disney wisely rushed 'Best of Both Worlds' -- the film -- into production to get it into theaters only a few weeks after the tour wrapped. The film's release led to more broken records, as the movie opened to huge numbers in its debut weekend (it is now the top-grossing concert flick of all time) thanks to legions of tweens who skipped school to watch their hero strut her hair extensions and Disney-fied brand of power pop on movie screens twenty feet tall. As a "film" 'Best of Both Worlds' adds absolutely nothing new to the concert film genre, but as a love letter to Hannah Montana and her fans, it's quite enjoyable fluff that even adults can bop their heads to if they check their cynicism at the door.
'Best of Both Worlds' is exactly that -- showcasing the on-stage and off-stage life of Cyrus, but whitewashed by the Disney machine to such an extent that, on the surface, it seems as if we learn absolutely nothing about the young star that might be unusual, perceptive, realistic or at all interesting. We watch as Cyrus hangs with her ever-doting dad (that's Billy Ray Cyrus of "Achy Breaky Heart" fame), pals around with her Asian friend (Disney is nothing if not "multicultural" in its engineering), and cracks jokes with her fashionable but not too gay team of stylists. Meanwhile, thousands of overheated fans storm the outsides of the auditoriums, waxing philosophical about their idol ("she's like, really cool and, like, I loooovvvve her!" screams one tween) while lapping up all the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus merchandise they can at the t-shirt stands. Of course, all of this backstage banter is little more than a glorified commercial, but as a rare peek behind the curtain of yet another typically brilliant Disney "product," it's fascinating. Theirs is a patented brand of marketing magic that stands alone on a rarefied plane, one that allows a bunch of 40 year-old corporate business majors in some Disney office somewhere the god-like power to dictate the musical and cultural tastes of an entire generation of 11 year-old girls.
What saves 'Best of Both Worlds' from being unwatchable, then, is actually Cyrus herself. Toss away all the controversy over bitchy YouTube videos and "scandalous" Vanity Fair photo shoots that show less skin than a bikini, and you have an incredibly poised and professional 15 year-old girl who has somehow managed to avoid crumbling under the stress of arguably being Disney's biggest star since Hayley Mills. Refreshingly, she's quite likeable and free of pretension off-stage, while on-stage she's nothing but a class act. Like the Energizer Bunny with Mickey Mouse ears, she bounds across the jutting ramps encouraging the shrieking audience to sing along to the choruses and mime her fairly simple dance steps (and, thanks to about 1,568 costume changes, plan a whole new back-to-school wardrobe). Add in an inventive stage-set that constantly projects Hannah Montana-approved images up on a gaggle of jumbotron screens, plus a slightly-embarrassed band comprised of aging if able studio musicians ("you mean we've really been reduced to playing back-up for a 15 year-old?" you can almost hear them mouthing to each other), and you have an extremely calculated if strangely appealing concert experience.
Certainly, there's little individuality to Cyrus' musical oeuvre. Relentlessly upbeat, it's a one-note ensemble of tunes from the Hannah Montana show, plus a couple of "poignant" numbers featuring her dear old pop. Special guest stars the Jonas Brothers also pop in to do a few tunes, and their musical dexterity (the boys apparently co-write at least some of their songs) stands in stark contrast to Cyrus. These curly-haired pretty boys actually possess real, raw talent that's charged by a percolating sex appeal, so their high-energy dance moves (i.e., lots of suggestive hip-shaking) come off as surprisingly subversive for a Disney product. But if Cyrus is ever actually perturbed by having to sing a bunch of formulaic TV love songs or being upstaged by the Jonas Brothers, she doesn't let it show. She seems to feed off of the audiences' familiarity with the songs rather than be put off by it, and belts out every number as if it was the Greatest Song in the World. She is, if nothing else, dedicated to her fans.
Which brings us to real reason to recognize 'Best of Both Worlds" as a genuinely important anthropological artifact of our culture. The audiences captured in 'Best of Both Worlds' are simply out of their frickin' minds. I've never heard such screaming at a concert since the glory days of the Partridge Family, Menudo and New Kids on the Block all rolled into one -- it's as if Disney stuck an electric cattle prod under every seat and turned them up to 11. The result is a riveting spectacle of herd mentality and blind devotion, as these pimply-faced kids go bonkers at ever hair flip and smirk-pout that Cyrus offers. More akin to a religious experience than a mere pop concert, 'Best of Both Worlds' is -- for better or worse -- the epicenter for our current tween culture, and I bet historians will continue to study the phenomenon for years to come. No, I don't fully understand it, either, but damn if it doesn't have a good beat and you can dance to it.
'Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert' is a history-making next-gen release, the first to feature both 2-D and 3-D viewing options. I'll get to the 3-D version in a minute, but first, a look at the 2-D, which will likely get overshadowed in terms of buzz by its more dimensional cousin, but it is by no means second best.
Overall, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) is superb. According to tech specs provided by Disney, both the concert and behind-the-scenes sequences were captured with HD cameras. The songs are the true highlight, with excellent clarity and depth and spot-on blacks. Color saturation is also bright, vibrant and eye-popping, with wonderful hues that never bleed or blur. Of course, the 2-D transfer isn't 3-D, but it might as well be as the sense of texture and realism to the image is up there with the best high-def I've seen on a music title.
Granted the off-stage material fares worse by comparison, but it still looks quite good -- awesome in spots, even. Colors are surprisingly supple, and apparent detail is strong. Even shadow delineation is far above the norm, for a bright and appealing picture. Indeed, the difference between the behind-the-scenes and concert footage in 'Best of Both Worlds' is not nearly as noticeable as one would think. Unfortunately, some heavy artifacting mars some of this rawer material, with noticeable jaggies (likely from an unconverted source) and frequent bursts of noise sprinkled throughout. But 'Best of Both Worlds' is largely about the concert material, and on that level it's five-star.
Now, for that 3-D version. First, the bad news. Only the film's credit and concert sequences are in 3-D, not the backstage footage, which makes the taking on-and-off of the glasses quickly tedious. And more importantly, no this is not full-color 3-D -- it's only the old-fashioned "anaglyph" red/blue process. Four pairs of 3-D glasses are provided, and they are typical cheesy paper/plastic kind that kinda hurts the tops of your ears after about 20 minutes. I also found the best "sweet spot" was about eight feet from my 70" Sony, which filled up my field of vision quite well and ultimately provided a solid if unexceptional 3-D presentation.
That said, watching 'Best of Both Worlds' in traditional 3-D is still kinda fun. Depth is good, if far from the best 3-D processes I've seen. Objects far in the foreground seem properly dimensional, but the middle and rear planes tend to flatten out. The mix of a full-color HD source and the red/'blue glasses, however, is a bit tiring on the eyes -- I quickly grew annoyed with the image being largely purplish. Watching 'Best of Both Worlds' certainly is a gimmick-like experience, and needless to say, this will not rival IMAX 3-D anytime soon. However, to be fair, it's still far superior to those old broadcast experiments with 3-D where they'd show some cheesy old B&W horror movie and you'd get a pair of red/blue glasses at your local 7-11. If you consider the 2-D version of 'Best of Both Worlds' as the primary presentation, then the 3-D version certainly serves as a great little bonus for the Blu-ray.
Disney offers multiple audio options for 'Best of Both Worlds,' including the studio's first DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit) and uncompressed PCM 2.0 Stereo (48kHz/16-bit/1.5mbps) mixes. (And though they're not labeled on the box, there are also Spanish and Portuguese dubs in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, and subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.) The DTS-MA and PCM get to duke it out for dominance, with the DTS-MA getting my money thanks to the sense of atmosphere it created.
Thanks to the endlessly screaming tweens that make up a Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus concert, the DTS-MA 7.1 track is much welcome. The live concert feel is captured quite well, with the surrounds nicely filled out by prepubescent hysteria. Alas, true localization of instruments is minimal -- this film's sound design just isn't that imaginative. As for the backstage material it is predictably front heavy, with little in the way of discrete effects.
Dynamic range gets a workout on both mixes, however, thanks to the loud concert sequences and one particularly ear-rattling montage of Cyrus' fans screaming (and screaming, and screaming...). Yet I found both the DTS-MA and PCM tracks too bright for my taste -- low bass could have been strong in each case to off-set the brittle upper range. Some of the vocals border on the shrill side, and drums lack the punch they could have offered. The mixes are nothing if not "bouncy," however, with the differences between the peaks and valleys in the music engineered for maximum effect -- turn this one up loud and you will get hit by a sheer wall of exuberance. To be sure, neither the DTS-MA or PCM tracks is bad, and the DTS-MA is certainly more immersive, but 'Best of Both Worlds' still isn't gonna be my new music demo disc of choice.
Not counting the 3-D version of the film, 'Best of Both Worlds' is relatively low on extras. What we do get is at least presented largely in top-quality 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video, but you still shouldn't expect an avalache of great material here.
'Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert' is already a pre-sold commodity for millions of tweens across the world. There is little I can say to dissuade the converted, nor sway the detractors, but I will admit to enjoying this hybrid concert film/road movie far more than I expected -- it's cute and fun and inoffensive. This Blu-ray is a great release, too, with excellent video and audio, a few supplements, and even a 3-D version that's fun to watch. I don't think the added dimensional effect is enough to warrant a purchase for non-fans, but even the most diehard Hannah Montana-hating early adopter might want to give this one a rent just to check it out.