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Saturday, April 12, 2008

DVD Review

Across the Universe

*

Pg-13 (How'd this get a PG-13? Nudity wise and swear wise, really? Once again showing the ability of big studios and films to get a more generous rating than the indies)

I came into this film hating it already, just for what it is and the fact really dislike Evan Rachel Wood. I came into it hoping to be surprised, really wanting to be proved dead wrong. I really was excited to have my foot put in my mouth, and…

…this is an instant camp classic, at least in portions. As a whole it’s annoying as anything. I loved Moulin Rouge!, but I really am lamenting its residual effects; for the people who sing the “love medley” and don’t know where any of the songs come from or what their original context was, and for movies like this one.

This film really channels Moulin Rouge! more than it does The Beatles. It starts out exactly the same way, though apparently Ewan McGregor was booked. But Baz Luhrman knows his films are spectacle and insanity and high camp and goes with it, and his post-modern attitude gives his films an added depth of feeling. Julie Taymor, as talented a director as she is, doesn’t seem to have reached that point yet, or feels she’s so important that she’s an exception. That she’s so good at execution she doesn’t need emotion, she can just make it.

There have been several film disasters that have been musicals based on Beatles songs, and this is the least appealing. It lacks the imagination of Sgt .Peppers (I mean singing robot maids? Who would ever think of that for “She’s Leaving Home?”), and doesn’t have the misguided but oddly poigniant absurdity of All this And World War 2, and in retrospect that film and its events seem far more in context with what The Beatles were writing about anyway, as children growing up after the war.

The covers of the songs are well done, and the singing’s done pretty uniformly well, but the songs are presented so literally, and, without any interpretation or adaptation sonically or narratively weaved into the story, that it’s laughable.

I guess maybe the filmmakers were thinking:

“We need a gospel choir singing “Let it Be” in a sad tone…alright, lets introduce a black kid and kill him off and they’ll sing it at the funeral!”

“How do we explain the Hindi in “Across the Universe?” Let’s just have some Hare Krishna walk by!”

“How about when he’s singing “A Day in the Life,” he’s reading a news paper!”

The dance scenes feel like they should be fun, but fee; too mechanical, and border on self-parody. The film is so artificial but refuses any sort of reflexivity (minus the roof-top concert); and no not trying to name check every Beatles song ever or give the characters song names is reflexive or anything but pretentious; that it seems to feel that its message supersedes any possibility that it’s really just superficial superfluity.

The expressionistic draft sequence is refreshing in its stylistic detail, but it’s also the high point in the films self importance. And like the 60’s at their worst, this is a grading self-importance which below its superficial trimmings is ultimately shallow, narcissistic, and pointless.

That said the film borrows every cliché from the period, not so much from history, but from films from the period, and does so without referring to The Beatles, or at least acknowledging its derivation or taking the songs into a contemporary context. Rather it takes the music and pastes it onto the ‘60’s that we’ve all seen on TV movies.

It’s really ironic since The Beatles were such a self-effacing band who really didn’t want to be associated with the political climate of the times, though at least the film gets Revolution right and in its pointed context. The Beatles didn’t think they were the end all be all, just, as John said, a band that got “really really big.”

But while the film is so blindly true to the songs, its heart couldn’t be any farther from The Beatles. This stands as one of the most blasphemous adaptations of a text in film history. Scorsese’s presentation of the life of Christ may have been rough but at least it was true to the message. My question is how do you take the heart and joy out of the Beatles? The film’s climax is a rendition of” All you Need is Love” to arrange a reconciliation between lost loves (though there’s no feeling between the two. Wood somehow manages to be the least intriguing woman in the piece). I guess they didn’t notice that first, this isn’t a love song, and second, that contrivance, and its presented too seriously for them to have noticed the irony in singing a song that’s about the futility of manmade structures (i.e. contrivance) at such a contrived moment.

2 comments:

Bekah said...

Hey Jacob! (It's Bekah (Kamauu))

I agree and disagree with your review... but for the most part I agree.. does that make sense? :-)

The movie not so good... however I do really like all of the cover songs!!

Favorite part of your review...

"I guess maybe the filmmakers were thinking:

“We need a gospel choir singing “Let it Be” in a sad tone…alright, lets introduce a black kid and kill him off and they’ll sing it at the funeral!”

Haha! When I saw that part Kyle and I just looked at eachother somewhat confused. Also, the whole middle section of the movie, I'm pretty sure, could be deleted and wouldn't be missed.

Anyways- thanks for the suggestions for the Sonoma Film Fest. Unfourtunantely, we ended up seeing Elvis and Anabell through a majority rules vote. It was okay.

I just watched "The Good, the bad, the ugly" a few days agao... its my new favorite western... any thoughts on that movie?

bkparedes.blogspot.com

Davey Morrison said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your review. This movie was ridiculous and made no sense, although there were a handful of parts that, taken out of the context of the whole, were pretty cool. I think the point at which I threw up my hands in frustration and yelled "Bah!" was when a character named Prudence decides to lock herself in a closet so everyone else can sing "Dear Prudence."