Review: StreetDance 3D at BFI IMAX

Performance: on general release
Reviewed by Sam Gauntlett - Friday 25 June 2010

Streetdance 3D

Walking into the BFI IMAX theatre at Waterloo bowls me over – at over 20 metres high by 26 metres wide, the UK’s biggest screen appears to descend into infinity and I feel an urge to dive in. I’m here to see new British blockbuster, and the world’s first 3D dance film, *StreetDance 3D.* I have never seen a 3D film before, so in excited anticipation, I settle down in my silly glasses to see what happens when street dance and 3D collide.

In it’s opening weekend in the UK, StreetDance 3D took £2.49m, leaping to number one at the box office and pipping other big openers such as *Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Robin Hood* _and Iron Man 2, to the post by a long way. It has also just been declared “Britain’s biggest ever dance movie”, although, beyond _*Billy Elliot*, I’m not sure how much hot competition for that title there might really be.

So what’s the secret formula? Certainly the film, backed by BBC Films and the UK Film Council, has cashed in on the growing popularity of street dance among young mainstream audiences. Recent TV shows such as Britain’s Got Talent and So You Think You Can Dance? have brought dance into our living rooms and made household names of crews such as Flawless (runners up in BGT 2009) and Diversity (winners of BGT 2009). Both of these BGT contestants feature in StreetDance 3D, as does George Sampson, winner of BGT in 2008, and the film soundtrack is a plethora of popular dance and hip hop artists such as NDubz, Tinie Tempah, Chipmunk and Cheryl Cole. Add to this that 3D is having a comeback moment (especially among young audiences) and lends itself to films that contain any kind of action, and suddenly it seems as though it was only a matter of time before street dance was presented in 3D. In fact, the third film in the phenomenally successful Step Up dance film franchise (produced in America) is also due to come out in 3D this August, so on paper, StreetDance 3D is the perfect film package for young audiences right now, and for once, us Brits beat the Americans to it.

The basic premise of the storyline is that Carly – a twenty-something, blonde Northern lass, living in London – is struggling to find rehearsal space for her dance crew, after her boyfriend and original crew choreographer, Jay, breaks up with her and leaves the group. The UK Street Dance Championships are coming up and Carly’s crew are going for the title. After some unsuccessful attempts to rehearse in a car park, hairdresser’s and shopping centre, Carly meets Helena (played by Charlotte Rampling), a teacher at a top London ballet school, who makes her an offer: free rehearsal space in exchange for teaching street dance to some of her ballet students and incorporating them into the routine for the competition. At first there are predictable tensions: the two groups are worlds apart and struggle to get along, but slowly, they begin to learn from one another and eventually make it to the competition. And of course there’s romance too – in the form of Matthew Bourne protege Richard Winsor (once voted “Sexiest Dancer in the World” by Elle Magazine), who plays one of the ballet dancers Carly must “make street”.

The 3D element to the film works best during the club and competition scenes, where leaps and kicks are freeze-framed, in Matrix-style “bullet-time”, and it is clear that a lot of the choreography was created with this impact in mind. As the viewer, we are placed at varying vantage points, with dancers propelling towards and away from us and the stage lighting rig appearing to project over the heads of the audience in front. But at points the camera work feels over-done; on a fast pan, the image becomes an uncomfortable blur and in the middle of slick, synchronised routines, performed by Flawless and Diversity, the camera zooms in for close-ups that disorientate and we miss the overall effect of the group choreography.

The standard of dance is pretty high: as well as the stars of Britain’s Got Talent, the cast includes some of the top movers and shakers in the UK street dance scene. Nichola Burley, however, plays “Carly” with an insipid niceness that is more Sesame Street than “street” and her relative lack of dance skills make her conspicuous as the supposed leader of the group, in the midst of such stunning talent. As the only white girl in the crew, I wonder whether the casting was made on the basis of appealing to the broadest audience demographic. The script too is very shaky, with some of the cheesy one-liners prompting guffaws from the audience, and the storyline improbable, with stereotypical snobby ballet dancers becoming competent street dancers in a matter of weeks.

The real star of the show for me is London herself. The film makes the city look cool and vibrant and showcases familiar landmarks: The Southbank Centre’s concrete staircases, the Gerkin’s reflective, glinting surface, the Thames stained pink at sunrise. Sweeping aerial shots of the city skyline are stunning, with 3D eclectic architecture standing out from the screen, fresh as spring grass: this is a new way to see London and the film is successful at updating the idea of Britishness that our American cousins are so keen to buy into.

Overall, as my first 3D experience, StreetDance 3D is fun: the dancing sizzles and the cinematography “pops”. But there are moments of dialogue and elements of the storyline that make me wince with embarrassment. “Britain’s Biggest Ever Dance Movie” it may be, but I am disappointed to conclude that similar films made in America (from which StreetDance 3D has borrowed heavily) have been more rounded packages. When Step Up 3D is released in August, we may find that once again the Americans have done it better, but at least this time, we can say that we did it first!

StreetDance 3D continues at the BFI IMAX until 30 June 2010

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