Saturday, September 8, 2012

Across the Universe

Writing a review during a tornado warning might not be the best idea, but here goes nothing. 

Across the Universe is another of the current trend towards the Jukebox Musical of adapting a musical play or film from the existing catalog of a musical artist, when the songs might not have anything to do with each other, or the topic of the story.  There is nothing wrong with this approach to telling a story, however it does lend itself better to the stage as compared to the big screen.  Mamma Mia! adapted from ABBA, Movin' Out adapted from Billy Joel, and Rock of Ages are just a few examples.

Across The Universe is a love story between Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess) set in the 1960s amid the turbulent years of anti-war protest, the struggle for free speech and civil rights, mind exploration and rock and roll. The story moves from high schools and universities in Massachusetts, Princeton and Ohio to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Detroit riots, the dockyards of Liverpool and Vietnam where Lucy's brother Max (Joe Anderson) has been selected in the lottery .  With a combination of live action and animation, the film is paired with many songs by The Beatles that defined the time. 

Everything about the film screams that it would be better served on the stage.  Even the dancing sequences and set transitions were clearly what you would expect to see in a stage performance and comes across as disjointed from the visual of the film.  Having memories of "the Yellow Submarine" cartoon as a child with my father, I was a big fan of the Big Blue Meanies with Eddie Izzard, however this again is an example of where the execution on the big screen fails by comparison.

The performances from the leads were nice, but nothing really stands out beyond their voices.  I did find it impressive to see them singing when you don't immediately think of the actors for their singing voice.  The most impressive performance for me comes from Martin Luther, the former member of the Roots band, who plays a guitarist that joins the band of Sadie (Dana Fuchs).  It isn't so much his acting, but how well he plays the guitar.  The most notable cameo appearances are made by Bono, Eddie Izzard, Joe Cocker, Salma Hayek.

While musicals certainly have a place in cinema as well as on Broadway, they are unfortunately not for everyone.  With a music catalog from the Beatles it is instantly receptive to the masses, however for me there was a lack of coherence in the story and overly literal interpretations of songs makes it difficult to praise the film as much as I wanted to. Ultimately it is a very good 3 Quack film to watch at home and sing along with.  I hope that some day the film does make its way to Broadway as I believe it would be even better received. 

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