When the whole Riverdance craze hit, I remember being impressed with the dancing a bit, but I never really found it all that interesting. Of course, that was seventeen years ago, and even though I was aware of Michael Flatley's departure to make his own dance show spectacular Lord of the Dance (at that time, it was hard to find anyone who didn't), I wasn't all that impressed. Besides, every movie, TV show, and talk show host took every opportunity to parody it, so it wasn't long before the whole thing seemed to run its course. I never wanted to see another person, arms dangling loosely at their sides, tap dancing as fast as they could, as long as I lived. Now it's 2011, and Flatley's show is entering its fifteenth year. He added some costumes, a few 3D gimmicks, and now in his fifties, Flatley isn't exactly in the prime of his dancing career. So, why in the world do I suddenly find this entertaining?
Lord of the Dance 3D essentially tells the tale of the very coincidentally named Lord of the Dance (Michael Flatley) and his fight against the evil Don Dorcha (Tom Cunningham) and his army of paramilitary tap dancers. However, the story itself is less important than the musical numbers that string them together, which, taken out of context, are enough of an attraction themselves. There's tap-dancing numbers, ballet numbers, dance battles, fiddling, all performed with spot-on accuracy. And I mean spot-on. Although the show was gleaned from several performances at O2 theaters across the United Kingdom, not a single dancer misses a beat; and these are hard beats to move to. By far, the most impressive appears halfway through the show (and repeated several times at the end in an encore) when Flatley waves his hand from one side to the other, and as his hand sweeps the dancers snap to attention in perfect harmony. I've never seen the original performance of the show, but as a labor of love, it certainly shows. Not only is it perfectly executed, everybody seems to be immensely enjoying, whether spinning around in sensuous dance numbers or Cunnigham's over-the-top grimacing as his plans for ... well, I guess total domination of Ireland, keep getting thwarted. It's not often you see something that's got this kind of energy and maintain it for an hour and a half. I can count at least two or three times during the show that I thought it was over because there was no way it could be topped, and it kept going ... and then topped itself. Heck, Flatley even has a solo where his feet move fast enough that if he hadn't earned a Guinness world record for them, one could easily believe the film was sped up. For a guy in his fifties, he's still good at what he does.
But that's the show. As for the movie setup ... well, it's true, the 3D is a gimmick. But it would be far less interesting without it. The action is captured from about five main cameras, two at each side of the stage, one in the middle, one from up in the nosebleed seats, and one used for close-ups (there are a few others, but they are more sparsely used). While the cameras capture the performances well enough, most of the time the shots are predictable, and while it's understandable only so much can be done to capture a stage show, it's amazing that the best angle ... and the best one showcasing the 3D ... is the one viewing straight on the stage from the middle. It not only gives the best view of the action onstage, but the depth is also the fantastic. In fact, the 3D looks worse in the extreme close-up shots ... everybody begins to either look like cardboard cut-outs or the 3D effect nearly vanishes. There are also a few clearly added post-production effects that wouldn't work on an audience in the O2 theater and do detract from the experience. For instance, I don't think explosion effects in television screens are capable of literally exploding out of the screens and into the crowd, or that Flatley and company can just go into slow-motion whenever they feel like. But the 3D does have its moments, notably when lines of people stretch away from the camera, or the one really good scene between Cunningham and Flatley, where both are flanked by their bodyguards, and the depth of the shot is very noticeable.
Where Lord of the Dance 3D really shines is in the sound. Every tap, whether it was added in post or recorded live, is loud, strong, and sounds as good as you can imagine. The music is dynamic, getting a little on the over-loud side near the end (though that maybe more the fault of the theater than anything else), but is otherwise clear, crisp, and beautifully recorded. It certainly keeps the occasionally boring camera angles from ruining the fun.
And that's really the point: the production IS fun. Maybe I was just too young when the show was on, or maybe it just all seems fresh again because I haven't seen anything about it in so long, but I went into this show thinking it would be an hour and a half of boredom. And really, if you can't stand the tapping, you probably won't like it. But it's hard, despite the camera set-ups, to let the technical quibbles get in the way of the show. The whole company is entertaining, talented, and put on a spectacular performance.
I should point out that the audience I was with ignored the "Don't talk during the movie" in a way that actually added to the viewing; during the routines, the audience was quiet, but as soon as one ended, I could hear nearly the whole theater whispering, "Wow! Did you see that?" It was like attending a live performance, and despite my usual disdain for that kind of thing, it actually made the evening that much more enjoyable. Amazing what 15 years can do.
Rating: THREE BONES
Release Date: March 17th, 2011
Starring: Michael Flatley and Tom Cunningham
Director: Marcus Viner