ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Evan Rachel Wood,
Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther McCoy, T.V. Carpio
Director: Julie Taymor
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 133 Minutes
Release Date: February 5, 2008
“Music’s the only thing that makes sense anymore, man. Play it loud enough, it keeps the demons at bay.”
Taymor hasn’t simply made a musical for the sake of the actors singing countless classics from the Lennon/McCartney library. She has painstakingly crafted a visually distinctive film where the songs come in at the right time, helping to power the story of innocent love set against the backdrop of the 60s revolution. You can take all of the musicals of the past ten years, yes I’m including Sweeney Todd in that bunch, and none of them could even begin to measure up to the impact that Across the Universe delivers.
The story has an English lad named Jude (Jim Sturgess) a dock worker from Liverpool who lands in America. He is befriended almost immediately by a friendly soul named Max (Joe Anderson) who is about to drop out of college. And it’s Max’s sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), who Jude becomes immediately smitten with.
By now you probably realize all the characters are named after Beatles songs, which is the proper touch. Other characters include a Janis Joplin-esque singer named Sadie (Dana Fuchs), a Hendrix-like guitar player named Jojo (Martin Luther McCoy), and lost soul named Prudence (T.V. Carpio), who longs for the right female lover but is afraid to express her feelings for such. All of these characters, including Jude, Max and Lucy end up shackled up together in a pad in Greenwich Village.
The 60s progress, and so it goes without saying that the Vietnam conflict plays a big role in the story. Max ends up getting drafted and shipped over to Nam. Lucy gets involved with a radical organization of demonstrators. And as for Jude, he concentrates solely on his art, refusing to be counted out of the escalating revolution.
Describing this film in words is quite difficult, as this is a film you simply have to experience and let unfold before your eyes. The visual techniques that director Taymor comes up are incredibly stunning, as they uncannily mirror the psychedelic mood of the late 60s/early 70s. If one finds the visual style nauseating, I can understand that, but I found it completely invigorating and unlike nothing I had ever seen in a film before.
But what I do want to focus on are the performances of the 20 plus Beatles songs in the movie, all of which are performed magnetically. No matter how familiar you are with all the songs that are featured in the movie, you will experience each song in a new light. And each song isn’t just thrown in for the sake of being performed; they each serve a purpose to the scene.
Take my all time favorite Beatles song for example, “Let it Be”, which is taken and applied to a horrific situation. I don’t want to go into specific details of the scene, but the performance had me moved beyond tears. And all I can say is that if you aren’t the least bit moved by this scene, I question if you have a heart in your system.
What’s more, just about all of the best songs in the Beatles library make it into the movie. Some standout performances include classic songs as “With a Little Help From My Friends”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Blackbird”, “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and “Something”. And if that wasn’t enough, we have the likes of Joe Cocker doing a rousing rendition of “Come Together” and Bono doing a most engaging performance of “I Am the Walrus”.
I can’t forget mentioning another sequence that is still in my mind as I write this review. The performing of “I’ve Just Seen a Face”, a song I nearly forgot about before seeing the movie, is executed in such a visually remarkable way. The scene takes place in a bowling alley, and it’s a scene you just have to experience to appreciate. In addition, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is performed in such a new, unexpected and powerful way that I may end up preferring this version to the original.
I should also mention that I was hoping another favorite track of mine, “A Day in the Life” would make it into the movie. It does in the form of an instrumental guitar interlude, but that’s more than good enough for me!
It’s unfortunate that the movie only got one Oscar nomination (for Best Costume Design), because it was worthy in other areas. Obviously, it couldn’t be nominated in the Best Song category. However, the directing, art direction, cinematography, and sound categories were greatly ignored.
And I shall also mention the actors in the movie, who all master the acting and singing techniques with equal measure, which is quite a rarity for a musical. Evan Rachel Wood, one of my absolute favorites, carries a most angelic voice to match her striking beauty. And newcomers Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson have striking musical voices in their performances that you can almost picture them as any member of the fab four.
The bottom line is that, whether you are a devoted Beatles fan or not, Across the Universe is a triumphant cinematic experience that must be seen by all. I can’t promise that all will like it, as the film seemed to polarize audiences and critics alike. But if you are one of the many who believe in whispering words of wisdom, and that all you need is love…you will want to take this trip Across the Universe.
Since the standard DVD did a phenomenal job with the visual wonders of the film, I expected the Blu-ray edition to do an even more incredible job…and it did just that indeed. As far as color is concerned, there is a much noticeable difference. Blu-ray provides an even more astounding array of colors in this visually engaging film, which anyone who’s seen the film will tell you is most crucial to the effect of the presentation. Picture quality is tremendous in both sharpness and all around detail, making Julie Taymor’s vision a perfect suit for the Blu-ray format.
Since the movie is essentially a soundtrack of classic songs used to tell a story, there’s no question that the Dolby TrueHD sound mix delivers fully in bringing the music to life right in your living room. And thanks to the Blu-ray advantage, the impact of the music doesn’t stop for a second. Various set pieces for the musical numbers also add a lot to the presentation. Like the movie itself, this one of a kind Blu-ray presentation is something worth experiencing.
Even though you basically get the same extras as the regular DVD release, they are all provided on one disc, where as the DVD had them spread over 2 discs. And they’re quite plentiful, including a commentary track with director Julie Taymor and composer Elliot Goldenthal, a Deleted Scene, Alternate Takes for the performance of the song “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, and a Photo Gallery. We also get 5 exceedingly well made documentaries, “Creating the Universe”, “Stars of Tomorrow”, “All About the Music”, “Moving Across the Universe” and “F/X On the Universe”. Also featured are Extended Musical Performances of the songs “Hold Me Tight”, “Come Together”, “I Am the Walrus”, “Dear Prudence”, “Something”, “Oh! Darling”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the medley of “Across the Universe/Helter Skelter.”
Lastly, we do get one Blu-ray exclusive feature in the form of the Don Nace Art Gallery, which features numerous drawings from the film.
Yes, dear readers, this is without question the single best musical to come around in the longest time, and Blu-ray makes it even more of a joyous experience! Across the Universe is a tremendous treat for both film lovers and Beatles fans. And if you’re not familiar with any of the songs, then for the sake of humanity please see this movie and learn each song word for word!