That pre-eminent Crock-Pot of Celtic culture, Lord of the Dance, is brought to the bigscreen in “Lord of the Dance 3D,” which uses its stereoscopic technology to little discernible purpose other than to provide one more healthy revenue stream for dancer-choreographer Michael Flatley’s enormously popular stage show. A reported 60 million have seen the live version since its 1996 debut (a direct-to-video pic was released in 1997), and the film’s G rating and pyrotechnic overkill should make it a natural specialty item for groups, families and anyone immune to the self-congratulatory nature of the show and its creator.
Numbingly repetitive in its routines, and seeming to take a bow from the moment it begins, “Lord of the Dance 3D” makes crystal-clear the sometimes muddied distinctions between a live performance and the filmed alternative. What would be a visceral-cum-hysterical experience within the confines of the O2 Arena in Dublin (where the performance was captured) becomes the subject of much more rigorous scrutiny onscreen. The 3D is intended to ameliorate this, but apart from a snowflake sequence at the end and the floating titles at the beginning, the effect of the technology is all but inconsequential.
Lord of the Dance’s claim to artistic legitimacy is its celebration of Irishness, a core value that’s a bit hard to find here, except for the basic step-dancing techniques Flatley used, once upon a time, to help create Riverdance (from which he separated himself in the mid-’90s). Backed by a score that manages to be wheezy and gooey at the same time, the pic helps itself to any number of seemingly disparate influences — flamenco, Druidism, Hong Kong kung fu movies, “Star Wars,” the Grand Ole Opry and, via Flatley’s constantly triumphal posturing, Vegas-era Elvis. Lord of the Dance extrapolates, amalgamates and pasteurizes in the timeless tradition of popular theater, including circuses, but there’s a far more forgiving distance at the circus than there is in “Lord of the Dance 3D.”
The Dublin performance marked the first time Flatley had performed with his group since 1998, and he gives over much of the stage time to the very attractive women in the cast, including Bernadette Flynn (a show veteran), Ciara Sexton and Kate Pomfret. Pomfret’s character, the Little Spirit, is a beglittered harlequin (and part of the show’s one feeble stab at narrative), but the physical assets of the other women, including Deirdre Shannon, are shown off to considerable degree. The legs are long, the skirts are short; when the assembled female dancers doff their skimpy pastel outfits at one point and proceed to dance in black bikinis, the pic’s relatively subtle sensuality goes burlesque.
Apart from a roughly 10-minute prologue in which Flatley discusses the agonies of being Flatley, without being particularly specific, “Lord of the Dance 3D” is almost entirely a performance pic. Director Marcus Viner does what he can with a series of routines that become all but impossible to distinguish from each other, except for the costuming (the women are dressed as sprites; the men resemble a SWAT team).