Kurt (Chris Colfer, left), Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz)… (Adam Rose / Twentieth Century…)
If the weekly musical comedy TV series "Glee" is a belted aria calling for outsider inclusivity, "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie" plays like a coded jamboree for club members only.
Which means if you aren't a "Gleek" — to use the terminology for the show's fans — you might still appreciate the talent on display and the energetically sung playlist of arena pop and musical theater nuggets, but be lost as to why Gwyneth Paltrow is there singing Cee Lo Green's "Forget You," or why a nerdy-looking young paraplegic is suddenly on his feet for a rousingly choreographed version of the '80s hit "Safety Dance."
Duh, that's Artie! Or Kevin McHale as wheelchair-bound Artie, re-creating a fantasy sequence from the show. And Gwynnie played a sexy substitute teacher last season! See, Gleeks don't need to be told that the live "Glee" concept — as it swung through cities earlier this year — was a showcase done in character, numbers from the series writ large. (The movie, directed for maximum teen-screamage by Kevin Tancharoen, was culled from two Izod Center shows in East Rutherford, N.J.)
Advance knowledge isn't required, however, to determine which cast members are musical talents and who has benefited from prime-time production values. Lea Michele's self-regarding Rachel and Cory Monteith's sensitive jock Finn may share an off-and-on romantic story line on television, but the stars' respective pipes and stage presences aren't equals, as Michele's soaring, Broadway-ready rendition of "Don't Rain on My Parade" attests.
Concert movies once reveled in being visually static: The idea was to capture lightning in a bottle — the experience of being there — with an emphasis on long, loving close-ups. Nowadays, as "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie" makes clear, any expression of human energy onstage is met full force by breathless camera work — swooping in on wires, circling the performers and tracking restlessly back and forth — all flash-edited so that watching the movie is now nothing like having been there.
If you caught the "Glee" tour, it probably didn't involve ziplining into the action, or getting to bounce around onstage. The 3-D, meanwhile, is negligibly bedazzling when the high-wattage charm of natural showman Darren Criss — leading all-male group the Warblers as Blaine — and the effortlessly appealing Chris Colfer as Kurt already pop off the screen.
Another of the movie's strengths is the showcasing of cast members with dance training, like McHale, Heather Morris and Harry Shum Jr. The gifted Shum gets favored by the camera frequently during choreographer Zach Woodlee's dance routines, while Morris — whose deadpan timing as ditzy cheerleader Brittany is a show standout — shines in her pumped-up version of Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U."
Interspersed throughout are filmed shoutouts from concertgoers, and field pieces about fans, including an ebullient teenage dwarf cheerleader and a young gay male with a tale about overcoming embarrassment. The "Glee"-serving nature of these otherwise heartwarming interludes is a tad distracting.
But for the show's rabid viewership, these testimonials are probably integral to a celebratory experience like the "Glee" live show. To everyone else, it's all gonna be Gleek to you.