“Across the Universe” has all the makings of either THE BEST MOVIE you saw this year or THE BIGGEST (vaguely sacreligious) DISASTER you ever laid your eyes on.
I mean, just watch this trailer:
It sadly falls somewhere in between, and that is somehow even bigger of a dissapointment than if it had stank harder than some “Jennifer Lopez/beau of the moment” vehicle.
Things it has going for it are pretty impressive:
1. Julie Taymor (who, lets face it, is a genius: watch “Titus” and try to argue against it, I dare you), AND the same cinematographer who created the enchanted Amelie universe
2. a mind-bogglingly good looking cast (Jim Sturgess, our leading man, is so shaggily handsome Kathleen and I occasionally had to look away just to keep our retinas from getting burned)
3. An all star set of cameos (oh look-isn’t that Joe Cocker? And Bono? And Eddie Izzard? AND Salma Hayek?
Yes. They’re all there)
4. A sweeping anti-war/all you need is love story that seems very timely.
5. And of course, the Beatles music. I mean, if you’re going to make a rock musical, you may as well use the best rock songs ever written, right?
Things that keep it from living up to its (pretty impressive) potential:
1. Julie Taymor (who, lets face it, is really more of a theatrical director than anything else:watch “Titus” and try to argue against it, I dare you) So much of “Across the Universe” looks like something Max Fischer would have dreamed up in Rushmore if he had a 50 million dollar budget that it is really hard to take it even remotely seriously (especially during the “climatic/serious” scenes like the Vietnam draft sing-a-long)
2. the mind-bogglingly good looking cast (leads aside) is not given very much to do. There is a rumor over 45 minutes of the film were cut (the movie STILL feels a little too long at just over 2 hours) which results in some devastatingly underdeveloped characters, who basically serve as croqui sketches for certain 60s icons: (sexy) Sadie is Janis Joplin, Jo-Jo is a thinly disguised Jimmy Hendrix and so on and so forth. Plus, you can no longer look at Evan Rachel Wood without thinking of her doing it to Marylin Manson.
3. All those all star cameos can be awfully distracting. Especially if EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM IS PRESENTED IN SOME SORT OF A PSYCHEDELIC SEQUENCE.
4. The story, while noble, takes a second seat to
5. The music. Which brings me to what I always felt (but am in general afraid to say for fear of being lynched by all the musical freaks around me): MUSICALS, my friends, are tricky.
Especially rock musicals. (I hate nothing more than the fake edginess of, say, “Rent”)
Especially rock musicals with important messages (despite the whole “there is nothing you can say that can’t be sung” adage, the format requires such whimsy in execution that it inevitably diminishes the topics it talks about: if there is a war protest going on and all it ends up being is a backdrop to Evan singing in a phone booth…I don’t care what you say, but the message will get, if not lost, then muddled).
To Taymor’s credit, she recorded much of the singing live, and it seems more natural and genuine than any singing I’ve seen on film probably in the last decade. And the songs themselves, though rearranged, are still true to form and beautifully subtle. And, also to Taymor’s credit, picked and chosen wisely so as to work best with the (supposed) plot.
And above and beyond all: the movie looks great: like a juicy, lush, candy colored, psychedelicatessen treat on the big screen.
Its a little slow going in the start, but once their engines are revved up, every swirl and lick are thought out with care and love and the dreamy drug induced sequences are obviously done by someone who knew what they were talking about.
So, problems and nit picks aside, go see it in the movie theaters.
And final word of advice: the bigger screen you find, with a better sound, the better.