"Across the Universe" is a tired, boring, worn-out hippie nostalgia tale about a boy from Liverpool who comes to America and gets immersed in the American hippie movement--all told with the subtlety of an anal probe.
Across the Universe (2007, Blu-ray)
Directors: Julie Taymor
Producers: Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd
Writers: Dick Clement (story and screenplay) & Ian La Frenais (story and screenplay) & Julie Taymor (story)
Features: * Commentary * Featurettes * Deleted Scene * Art Gallery * Bookmarking * Extended Musical Numbers * Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Evan Rachel Wood ... Lucy Carrigan
Jim Sturgess ... Jude
Joe Anderson ... Max Carrigan
Dana Fuchs ... Sadie
Martin Luther ... JoJo (as Martin Luther McCoy)
T.V. Carpio ... Prudence
Spencer Liff ... Daniel
Across the Universe Blu-ray Review
"Across the Universe" bills itself as the untold story behind the lyrics of The Beatles, but this is flat-out lie. What "Across the Universe" actually does is tell a tired, boring, worn-out hippie nostalgia tale about a boy from Liverpool who comes to America and gets immersed in the American hippie movement. It's told with the subtlety of an anal probe, inappropriately set to the tune of The Beatles anthology. A lot of people are going to love this film, and it's easy to see why--the film is laced with dazzling imagery and great music. But for film lovers, this venture into the psychedelic will likely fall short.
The songs are disappointingly the focus here, with plot and character development taking a major backseat. In fact, one character's story is told almost entirely through song, giving her no development whatsoever. And if you're a fan of The Beatles, you'll know that the songs being sung don't match the context of what's going on on-screen, so there isn't even a subtle social connection to the music.
One such example is the use of "Strawberry Fields Forever." In the film, this song is used while we see a psychedelic montage of the hell of Vietnam while our main character laments about the dark world around him. But in reality, a quick search of that song will result in its real meaning. In truth, the song was written as a poem recalling John Lennon's love of Liverpool when he was a child. This simply doesn't work in the context of the film, particularly because our main character is from Liverpool and has no desire to ever go back there. In fact, quick searches on almost every song ("Hey Jude" was one my friend noted) will display the true meaning behind them--a meaning that holds more social value and relevance than those in the film.
Perhaps the filmmakers intended to say that while these songs were written as something else, they can apply to other contexts--giving new meaning behind the music. In other words, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" can also apply to a lesbian girl secretly pining for the head cheerleader, as seen in the film. And that's a fair assessment and a decent social thesis emphasizing the impact of The Beatles on '60s culture. However, the film crams almost every single major Beatles hit leaving cleverness, originality and subtlety at home. Why the film wasn't built as a vignette piece, with each song focusing on a new character, is beyond me.
It's brash mistakes like this that plague the entire film for its overlong 133-minute running time. The film is, at least, written by folks who did live through the hippie movement and the Vietnam war, and perhaps it speaks emotionally to that generation. As a piece of cinema, however, it plays like a washed over batch of cliched music videos built around a slim story, similar to the way a porno is designed. The performances are decent and the direction is tight and concise, but everything in-between is messy, at best. Perhaps adapting the Cirque Du Soleil Beatles tribute show "Love" would have made for a more psychedelic homage to the cultural and musical impact of The Beatles. What we end up with here is a film that's just not as smart as it thinks it is.
Film Report Card:
As entertainment: C+
As a film: D
This is a review of the Blu-ray version of "Across the Universe."
Sony presents the film in 2.40:1 widescreen at 1080p/AVC on a dual-layer BD50 disc. I expected a dazzling, vibrant, sharp transfer and was immediately disappointed by its cold, repressed look. There are moments of vibrancy with solid, bright colors, but they only appear during the film's more trippy sequences. The transfer does a fine job presenting the material with no dust, grain or digital artifacts marring the venture, but some overcasting gives the film a shot-on-video oversharp look from time-to-time. It's not too distracting, but it's there. The music numbers are vibrant, colorful and sharp, as I said, and nonmusical sequences are dimly lit and tend to be on the drab side of things. The transfer does a fine job replicating the look and feel of the theatrical experience, but it's just not as stunning as I had expected.
Sony packs a delightful Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track for fans to listen to. The track is vibrant, robust and powerful with sparse but brilliant surround effects and a perfectly mixed soundtrack. This is a great track, that's worthy of listening to without the visuals. However, some of the songs feel a bit too tweaked and toyed with as though the voices were heavily tinkered in post-production resulting in off-key, off-pitch performances that hurt the film overall. It's not totally noticeable at first, but music enthusiasts might catch it.
While the Blu-ray box makes it look like this is weak on features offerings, Sony has ramped up and presented a nice cart-load of special features for fans to peruse. They include:
• Audio Commentary -- I found it quite interesting listening to what Julie Taymor and composer Elliot Goldenthal had to say about the film's musical interpretations, of which they discuss in great length. The two discuss how they came to craft the story and the music in the way they did. It's an insightful journey, but I couldn't help but think that they missed something in the translation.
• Featurettes -- There are five featurettes in total, running roughly 90 minutes. There is an extraordinary amount of behind-the-scenes info given out on the film that actually helped me understand and respect what Taymor was trying to do--regardless of whether or not I agree with it. Definitely worth watching for fans.
• Deleted Scene -- Not really much of anything, just a quick scene.
• Bonus Musical Performances -- Running nearly 40 minutes, this special feature is pretty self explanatory. I couldn't imagine the film being any longer than it already is so I guess these scenes are rightfully cut, but some of the extended numbers are actually well worth watching.
Sony has given Blu-ray fans a few quick bonus features to enjoy.
• Don Nace Art Gallery -- A dazzling assortment of roughly 140 pieces of art created for the film.
• Bookmarking -- A standard feature for Sony these days, but worth noting.
The film is presented in a blue "Elite" case and is pretty consistent with some of the more recent Sony titles. Less Blu-ray advertising--thank you. With that said though, don't cut yourself short, Sony. The box hardly touts the 90 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes.
"Across the Universe" is a cult musical that will likely allure some and leave others cold or with mixed feelings. I'm of the latter, but I know people who found the film absorbing and unforgettable. There's even someone on the IMDB forum boards who's claimed to have seen the film 39 times in theaters. To each his own, I guess. The Blu-ray version is definitely the way to go as this is a brilliantly colorful, visually engaging film riddled with delightful, classic Beatles songs.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: C
Recommendation: Give it a rent.
On Blu-ray disc: Feb. 5, 2008.
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----R. L. Shaffer