I'll let you in on a little secret: I love all things 'High School Musical.' I watched the original 'HSM' the very first night it aired, breathlessly awaiting the first shots of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens in musical embrace. I own the 'HSM' CD, I've downloaded all the bonus tracks, I even own a 'HSM' beach towel and lunchbox. I was first in line to see 'High School Musical 3' on the big screen late last year. I now even eagerly scan the daily teen sites, anxiously anticipating any and all news on the upcoming 'High School Musical 4.' I'm addicted, and just can't get enough.
Okay, I'm lying.
I jest, only because 'High School Musical' is actually the kind of pre-fab Disney commodity that adult critics like myself find is so much fun to lambaste. It's certainly an easy target -- a cynically calculated ploy to draw in tweens with its cardboard characters, identikit tunes, and blatantly derivative story of young love kept apart by societal intervention. Disney knows darn well how to engineer these phenomenons, brainwashing kids into worshipping at the altar of 'HSM' and begging, pleading and cajoling their parents to spend lots and lots (and lots) of money on 'HSM' products, tie-ins, and soundtracks. It's just so darn easy to hate the very idea of 'HSM.'
Though I don't really love 'HSM,' I'll go out on a limb and say it's not truly offensive enough to warrant such critical snobbery. Let's give it some credit -- it's innocuous in story, lighthearted in spirit, and its only real crime is that it's so surprisingly cheap and shoddy. Long before Disney really knew what it had, it produced 'HSM' on a relative shoestring for The Disney Channel, and the only thing that really shocks in watching the original now is how little faith the Mouse House seemed to have in in.
The story is likely known to just about every single citizen of the Earth under the age of 15 years-old. Our heroes are Troy (Efron) and Gabriella (Hudgens), who meet cute at a karaoke bar, where Troy is instantly smitten. But then she vanishes... until, lo and behold, a new year starts at East High, where Gabriella is a new transfer student. Before you can say "Grease is the word!", Troy and Gabriella are battling peer pressure to quench their love, while trying out for the season's big high school musical. Can Troy and Gabriella overcome their scheming friends, the crushing needs of conformity, and overall musical blandness to realize their love on the high school stage?
Yes, it's rather ludicrous that Disney -- the master of ensuring conformity via mass merchandising and brand marketing -- would make a teen musical about love crushed by the same forces it promotes. But the saving grade of 'HSM' is that it has re-introduced a new generation to the joys of the movie musical. Unlike '80s "musicals" like 'Flashdance' and 'Footloose' (which are really music video montages), 'HSM' is far more old-fashioned in its style of music and the presentation of the musical numbers. Sure, they throw in Disney-fied tunes that mix pop, rap, R&B and dance into an utterly vanilla confection, but almost single-handedly, 'HSM' has taught tweens that it's cool to be theatrical.
'HSM' has little else to distinguish it. Unlike its two sequels, which boasted better budgets and production values, 'HSM' looks cheap, poorly choreographed, and is unsurely acted. Efron and Hudgens are cute, and a few of the other kids (most notably the bitchy Ashley Tisdale) manage to eke out some personality. But as weakly directed and choreographed by Kenny Ortega, 'HSM' certainly wouldn't rate a second look if it hadn't turned into such an unexpected pop phenomenon. But Even if 'HSM' holds little sway for us adults over the age of, say, 12 years-old, that won't make a whiff of difference to the millions of kids who love it. At least, if nothing else, letting your kid watch this derivative fluff might make them want to go out and rent 'Funny Girl,' 'Grease' and 'Moulin Rouge!', too. If for only that, I'll give 'HSM' props.
The first 'High School Musical' has the unfortunate distinction of being the most visually bland and cheapest entry in the series. Shot for The Disney Channel with little expectation for the gargantuan success it would become. As a result, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.78:1) does the best it can with source material that ain't that spectacular.
The source is at least in fine shape, with no print flaws and solid blacks. Contrast doesn't really pop, however, and has that TV movie-esque sheen. Color saturation is not as robust as the future 'HSM' sequels, with less vibrant primaries and little of the over-the-top sparkle. The transfer also looks a bit soft throughout, if not excessively so, and shadow detail that can be somewhat lacking. Finally, the encode is very clean, with no noticeable artifacts.
Kudos to Disney for supporting PCM audio on many of its musical-related titles, and 'High School Musical' gets a very nice PCM 5.1 Surround soundtrack (48kHz/24-bit). It sounds as good as is likely possible.
On one level, 'High School Musical' sounds kinda cheap. Aside from the music, the movie is flat and non-involving. There is little surround action, aside from a hint of bleed and the rarest of discrete effects. Dialogue scenes also sound rather canned, with some bad ADR, and sometimes low tones feel muffled. However, the music sounds quite good (regardless of what you think of the actual tunes). Stereo separation is excellent, there is clear and smooth attenuation to the soundtrack, and low bass adds some nice, hefty kick. Also a plus is the expansive high-end, which doesn't sound too brittle or "theatrical." 'High School Musical' is no great shakes as a movie soundtrack, but as a presentation of the film's music, it delivers.
'High School Musical' hit standard DVD as a special edition, and comes to Blu-ray the same way, here dubbed the "Remix Edition." Unfortunately, there are lots of bulletpoints but little of real quality -- all of the materials here are quite short. Video is also presented flatly in 480i/MPEG-2 video.
'High School Musical' is impervious to film criticism. It doesn't matter if I hate it, or you hate it, because millions and millions of tweens all over the world love it. Truth be told, it's a fluffy and cheap, but entertaining enough, musical diversion. This Blu-ray is the same -- nice video and audio, and decent supplements. It's not really a great "Remix Edition" as a high-def experience, but I'm sure the target audience will hardly care.