Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 12, 2008)
As a 41-year-old male with no kids, I feel compelled to ask myself a question: what the heck am I doing watching Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert? (Profanity altered to protect any kiddies who may stumble across this review.) Obviously I’m both the wrong age and gender to fit in the Montana/Cyrus demographic, but the whole thing turned into such an enormous cultural phenomenon that I wanted to give the DVD a look.
After all, the “Best of Both Worlds” tour received breathless media coverage due to its enormous success. The shows sold out lickety-split and inspired parents to drop big bucks on scalped tickets for their precious offspring. Much societal angst came with this, as many wondered if parents over-indulged their kids. In addition, the concert industry received unwanted negative attention over the nature of ticket sales and how so few apparently wound up in the mitts of fans while the scalpers boasted scads of seats.
In addition, I simply love live performances, and I acknowledge an affection for big, showy concerts. Sure, I want to hear great music, but I have little interest in a show that lacks some good visual component. I didn’t expect to think much of the Montana/Cyrus brand of light pop/rock, but maybe the performance would be engaging enough to maintain my interest.
Here’s the story behind the show, as I understand it: on the Montana series, Cyrus plays Miley Stewart, a seemingly ordinary teen girl who lives a secret life as rock star Hannah Montana. Apparently it follows Miley’s adventures on both sides of her existence.
None of which appears to have any impact on the concert. Yes, the first half or so features “Hannah” while the second offers Miley Cyrus - not fictional Miley Stewart – but I can’t discern any real relevance to the change. Perhaps the series’ young fans can let me know that I missed something, but to me, the concert just played as one performer in two costumes; I saw no other difference between Hannah and Miley.
When I review concert DVDs from acts I don’t like, I avoid judgment of the music. It doesn’t seem fair for me to actively criticize material I already knew wouldn’t do much for me. Since I still want to review these discs, I prefer to concentrate on how well the DVD reproduces the live event.
And I plan to adhere to that rule here, though I will throw out a few thoughts about the music. In short, it ain’t bad. Granted, one must go into a Montana/Cyrus concert with certain expectations. I figured the music would be the sort of generic, inoffensive, derivative light pop/rock favored by most of the Disney Channel musical performers, and I was right.
However, the Montana/Cyrus tunes favored the rock side of pop/rock more than most. Usually these acts provide dance music with a guitar riff or two, but the Montana/Cyrus songwriters went with a crunchier edge much of the time. No, the music won’t make anyone forget the Ramones, but I must admit it was more aggressive than I expected.
I give the pretty tight band behind Montana/Cyrus much of the credit. I expect that the studio versions of these same tunes probably sound much more pre-fab and sterile, whereas the live renditions actually show some kick. These folks manage to add real punch to material that easily could – and probably should - have been borderline Muzak.
The lyrics are harder to digest, I admit. With titles like “Rock Star”, “Life’s What You Make It”, “Pumpin’ Up the Party”, “We Got the Party” and “Girls Night Out”, I can’t say I expected much from the words, and I got very little. The lyrics provide simple aphorisms and “Woo-hoo! Let’s party!” nothingness. I can’t say this side of things disappointed me, though, since I sure didn’t anticipate “Positively 4th Street” here.
I was very pleased to see that the concert really was live. I expected a lot of canned music and probably a great deal of lip-synching, but it sure sounded to me like Cyrus did all her vocals live. That’s a “for better or for worse” situation though, as Cyrus doesn’t boast much of a voice. She’s a competent singer, but she usually sounds flat. Still, I’d much prefer erratic live vocals to flawless canned and auto-tuned singing, so I appreciate the apparent lack of “fixing” given to the music.
As for the visual performance, I’ll say this about Cyrus: she can perform and hold her own on stage. She manages to remain enthusiastic but usually doesn’t seem plastic. To be sure, this is clearly a very choreographed set without an ounce of spontaneity. For all the declarations of how she’s a “Rock Star”, there’s no hint of actual rock star swagger or anything other than the appearance of a girl playing dress-up.
But that’s to be expected, and I can’t knock the pre-planned nature of the performance too harshly because lots of established acts do the same thing. Just last week I saw the Police four times – and heard Sting toss out the same between-songs patter every time. And that’s from a concert that just featured three guys on stage, not one with all the choreography and effects found here.
So I’ll cut Hannah/Miley a break. Is she particularly talented as a vocalist or dancer? No, but neither was Madonna in her early days. I’m certainly not saying Miley will become a pop icon ala Maddy, but it’d be far too easy for me to dismiss her as a Flavor of the Month without a future. I have no clue if she’ll still have a career five years from now, but she does manage to display a charisma that gives her a fighting shot for continued success.
In terms of the movie presentation, Worlds usually maintains a logical focus on the concert stage. Director Bruce Hendricks keeps things simple and effective. Appropriately, Hannah/Miley fills the screen most of the time; we get cuts to the musicians, dancers and crowd, but I’d guess Hannah/Miley stays at the center at least 75 percent of the time. And that works, since she’s the star. The other shots allow us to gain a better take on the performance as a whole, but the fans probably just want to see their heroine, so the shot choices make sense.
The cutting patterns manage to remain unobtrusive. Hendricks cuts fairly quickly much of the time, but not to a dizzying degree. This isn’t a hyperactive “cut every millisecond” presentation; it keeps things moving but doesn’t annoy us with obnoxious rapidity. I could live without some theatrical moments like Hannah/Miley staring into the camera; those harm the illusion that this is a real concert. However, they’re infrequent enough to do little harm.
In addition to the concert bits, we get a few glimpses behind the scenes. After the opening song, we go to rehearsals, and we find some other tidbits like Miley’s fear of being dropped during one dance bit and her mother’s comments about the Hannah to Miley costume change. One segment chats with young fans before the show, and we also observe the mania for tickets. I’d prefer a straight concert film, but these clips don’t harm the end product.
Wow – I can’t believe I just devoted so many words to a movie with a target audience incredibly unlikely to ever read my review! I also can’t quite believe that I’m going to offer a moderate endorsement to Best of Both Worlds Concert. Do I ever expect to watch this DVD again? No. Did it exceed expectations and provide a perfectly competent – and even reasonably enjoyable – piece of pop performance? Yes. This isn’t great music, nut I’ve heard much, much worse.
Note that the DVD offers an “Extended Edition” of the original theatrical film. It runs about eight minutes longer. I have no idea how the two differ, however; I never saw the theatrical cut, so I couldn’t tell you what this one adds.