It Should Have Been… a classic

August 15, 2007

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HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or you’re deaf, chances are that the weapon of mass destruction that is High School Musical has invaded your ears at least 28 times in the last year. At one stage Disney channel took to screening it every 3 hours, including sing-along, dance-along and vomit-along versions.

The uber-typical teenage plotline involves macho sports dude Troy yearning for piece of ass Gabriella to see his sickening sensitive side. Thank goodness the school musical is just around the corner, the perfect opportunity to show her what a great boyfriend he’d be- by prancing about and singing like an effeminate homosexual. But she’s so shy and helpless that she falls for the big con and is pregnant before the week is out. Except she isn’t, because this is America Baby! and luckily everyone’s brought along their rose-coloured sunglasses. And here lies the problem. There are enough cheese-infested, glorified representations of the American High School to fill a baseball stadium, and that’s not even considering those with SONGS added to the mixture. The premise is actually a very shrewd one, and certain to score a hit amongst youngsters who dream of one day, like, totally hooking up with the basketball captain and think the poverty-stricken slums just a few blocks away are the stuff of cautionary bedtime stories.

But the film too easily succumbs to the tired, formulaic child-crap that dominates Disney Channel schedules on the smaller screen. Simply, the kids deserve more. Perhaps it’s true that young people need escapism, fantasy worlds to fall into after a day of boring old education. But who says this can’t be their own ordinary world, staring right back at them from the studio, with that little pinch of the hyper-real emerging from its roots? It’s a no-brainer. High School Musical should have been a mirror held as close to a real American High School as was possible, shot from human camera angles, less of the blinding lights, the odd spotty kid wandering into frame every few scenes.

 There should be fist-fights. Swearing. The school should be in a state of grievous disrepair. To be honest, balls to America. This film should have been made HERE. Britain. Sonewhere up north, preferably, perhaps inner-city Liverpool. Or Glasgow. Teeth will fly, wallets will be swiped, windows smashed… and then some maths geek with massive specs will break into song. His mates will join in for the chorus, their messy loitering instantly morphing into a beautifully polished dance routine. They hang from trees, they belt out lyrics (with original regional accent) from atop a battered stack of lockers. The teacher emerges from a grey, smoky office and twats them all back into the lessons they’re skiving from, before singing a heartfelt verse about wage decreases and Ofsted examinations. It should have been tongue-in-cheek. It should have been funny.

It should have been Byker Grove meets Grange Hill with songs. At the very least it should have taken a lead from the musical episode of Buffy. It really is devoid of the slightest flicker of inspiration or imagination. But the lit-luns LOVE IT. Just think how happier they’d be if it was any good. No wonder they’re getting stupider, if thats what they’re being told is quality entertainment.

Even Grease captured to some extent a flavour of the segragation and social structure of the American school system, and the score was on the money. High School Musical fails spectacularly to acheive either, but retains the arrogant romanticism in its style (or lack of). The story is stale, the songs a dull re-hashing of every pop beat of the last 10 years with lame lyrics to match, and the characters exhibit less reality than the World Wrestling Federation. The principal morons often refer to each other as ‘cool’, displaying just how misguided they really are.

All drama is based on conflict, yet the only excuse for conflict in HSM is that Gabriella won’t go out with Troy until he’s proven what a complete arse he really is. The message that the feeble script tries to ram down our throats at every opportunity is that school is shallow and you should just ‘be who you wanna be’. This is acheived by presenting a school full of highly attractive boys and girls who all partake in activities that their appearance immediately suggests. The catchiest number ‘Stick To The Status Quo’ actually shouts the reverse moral very loudly, aiming for irony but laughably over-estimating the ability of their target audience to grasp such a mature concept.

 Rusty Oscar is currently running a new version under the noses of studio moguls. Set in an inner-city comprehensive school, 15-year-old Gavin proposes to pregnant chav Mikkaylaaa, but is it his baby? Or is it Wayne’s? Or Dwyane’s? Or woodwork teacher Mr Balls’? Tyrone sings about the blade he’s brought to school in memorable power-ballad ‘Slice You Up’, while Sandraaaa duets with her raging violent ex on ‘I Know U Only Does It ‘Coz U Love Mehhhh’. The final gangland showdown on the playing field behind the science block will decide once and for all who’s getting a GCSE and who’s getting an ASBO. Alan Parker of Bugsy Malone fame has been asked to direct. The makers of HSM have been asked to live in the real world for a few days and come back with a real message for the kids.            

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