Musical movies come and go, each wave gathering different levels of acclaim. Films like Grease and West Side Story, for instance, remain classics to this day, while Evita and Moulin Rouge, although excellent films, have more of a cult following than anything else. With those heavy-hitters behind it, you’d think Disney’s High School Musical would have virtually no fans, no traction and no future. Um, no. Not only was High School Musical a smash hit, but it spawned a real-life traveling show and a sequel whose premier was seen by 17.2 million viewers — making it the most-watched cable telecast of all time.
Granted, the majority of those viewers are 14 years old or younger, a demographic that High School Musical 2 absolutely owns. But where kids are watching, so are parents. They’re also listening: the High School Musical 2 soundtrack debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and damn if those tunes don’t have a way of adhering to your brain. But High School Musical 2 is a movie first, and High School Musical 2 Extended Edition on Blu-ray Disc is a few notes shy of double-platinum.
The plot itself fits the demographic and title to a tee: Troy, Gabriella and the rest of the Wildcats get summer jobs at Lava Springs Country Club, where Club member Sharpay has a heyday trying to foil the crew’s performance in the talent show and, worse yet, trying to steal Troy from Gabriella. After wading through some teenage angst, one jealous brother and many sexually tense moments, what viewers are left with is a movie whose plot is peanut butter and whose performances are just so-so, but whose soundtrack is so incredible in 5.1 uncompressed audio that you end up overlooking most of the faults anyway.
Remember High School Musical 2 being cable TV’s all-time performer? This made-for-TV background is obvious when evaluating the video quality of High School Musical 2 Extended Edition on Blu-ray Disc. While the contrast, black levels and color depth are good, the entire movie, from wide-angle scenes to close-up shots, has an unmistakable grain when displayed in 1080p. The AVC compression remains rock-solid at 34Mbps, but when some of the darker scenes look like they were filmed from behind a wafer-thin lace, that steady rate just means you’ve got a better view of the grain. Some scenes even suffer from what gamers would call “motion blur,” as some of the cast’s hair seems to blur when it whirls close to the camera. Although this only happens in a few scenes early in the film, it’s noticeable enough that it’s distracting when it happens.
The first 20 minutes of the film have a few other issues, but more on the production side than the presentation. Among the most notable is a virtual cramming of “this is a musical!” down viewers” throats. In business meetings and public presentations, one of the most off-putting things to do is to come out swinging. It’s better to engage people first and feed them your message second. High School Musical 2 doesn’t do this. We see the title. We’re familiar with the first movie. We know this is a musical. Mr. Director, there is no need to throw this many musical numbers at us so quickly. The two best numbers in the film, “I Don’t Dance” and “Bet On It,” take place at the halfway mark or later, at which point the film has eased into a good ratio of dialogue to music. But the opening 20 minutes can be downright exhausting, and at least one number should have been removed.
In fact, later in the film, one number was removed in the original Disney Channel broadcast, but has made its way into this Blu-ray Disc release as an in-movie “bonus feature.” Called Humuhumunukunuku”pua”a (5:34), this previously unseen song weaves seamlessly into the rest of the film as Sharpay and Ryan “kidnap” Troy to show him the Polynesian-themed number he will be performing with Sharpay in the talent show. Unbeknownst to Troy, of course. Complete with flaming volcano and luau-like strobe lights, this sequence is classic Sharpay — which means it’s classically overkill — and it throws a monkey wrench into the otherwise tasteful songs in the rest of the movie. Super-young viewers will like seeing this secret treasure of an unreleased number, but all others will be thankful it was nixed in the first place.
Those same younger viewers will also like two different song-related bonus features. The first, Sing-Along with High School Musical 2, is essentially a karaoke feature that includes all of the songs from the movie, complete with the audio and vocal tracks, while the lyrics appear on the bottom of the screen. The second song-related feature, High School Musical Karaoke, is a more-advanced version of the same basic thing. In this feature, the video and audio tracks for all the songs are shown on screen, but the vocals are missing. This means that, when the lyrics appear on screen a la a real karaoke machine, you’d better have a good sense of the timing of each word, because you’re completely on your own.
The Bloopers (4:08) are by far the least effective bonus feature, as this extra content is nearly half comprised of people laughing. OK…. The next feature, Music Videos, also feels like a bit of an afterthought, as it includes two videos each for “You Are the Music In Me” (one in English and one as it aired in Mexico) and “Gotta Go My Own Way” (in French and English, as shown in Canada and performed by Nikki Yanovsky). These music videos are comprised of video-clip montages from both High School Musical and High School Musical 2, and since you’ve heard these songs hundreds of times before, the karaoke-like features are likely to see more play time.
Rehearsal Cam, though, is a great bonus feature that kids and adults alike should watch. On the surface it feels like a traditional “making of” featurette for each song, but it actually shows just how hard these kids were working with the choreographers to get the scenes right. It also includes a neat feature in which viewers can watch the rehearsal for any of the given songs, then let the disc automatically switch to the in-movie scene when the rehearsal sequence is concluded. This feature would have been even more effective had it utilized a picture-in-picture effect rather than the scene-switch technique, but Disney probably didn’t have time to implement Blu-ray Disc Profile 1.1 features.
With all its bonus features displayed in 480i, and with its 1080p AVC video presentation suffering noticeable grain, High School Musical 2 Extended Edition isn’t going to win much praise from Blu-ray Disc-o-philes who want super-crisp video in every release. Its uncompressed audio track, however, slightly makes up for this, especially considering the movie is a musical. Still, High School Musical 2 Extended Edition is hard to recommend to anyone who’s not a fan of the Disney Channel original movie, and/or who doesn’t have a young fan living in their house. But if your kid likes High School Musical 2, this Extended Edition Blu-ray Disc release is the definitive version.
– Jonas Allen