Saturday, October 6, 2007

From the Archive: "Across the Universe" Film Review

Film Rating: A-

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Across the Universe.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“Across the Universe”
Originally published October 6th, 2007

How often can you sing along with a musical, when you’re seeing the musical for the first time?  Not very.  But in Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, you can sing along with the Beatles-inspired characters as they sing many of our favorite songs, traveling through the American landscape that was the 1960’s. 

While the Vietnam War rages on, and the anti-war movement gains steam, a British boy named Jude travels to America to find the father he never knew.  His father works at a University, but hopes of the man taking Jude in as a son are soon shattered; the man has another family.  But on Campus, Jude also makes a new friend; slacker Max, who drops out of school and goes to New York with Jude.  Jude meets Max’s sister, Lucy, and a romance develops.  But when Max is drafted into the war, Lucy becomes an activist, and she and Jude slowly grow apart.

The film follows these three and a group of other misfits who all are trying to find themselves, and the whole film is set to a collection of some of the Beatle’s best work.

As a general rule, you shouldn’t build a plot around the music you plan to use, but that is the film’s single greatest strength.  It takes the deeper meanings out of many Beatles songs from the era and makes a plot around them; it does this so well that if you somehow didn’t know the music was taken from the Beatles, you’d think it was written for the film.  Each piece fits the scene perfectly, being sincere, heart-wrenching, fun, or sometimes just downright strange.  The best numbers in the film are a fantastic rendition of “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” and a poignant and fun version of “Hey Jude” and the fantastic finale, “All You Need Is Love.”  Other notable pieces include a dark interpretation of “Strawberry Fields,” fun and psychedelic renditions of “I am the Walrus” and “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and an emotionally show-stopping performance of the title song, “Across the Universe.”  Virtually every song in the film is done extremely well.

The actors, all of whom sing their own numbers, do a fantastic job.  An unknown, Jim Sturgess, plays Jude, and his singing voice resembles the Beatles very closely.  When he breaks into song, you know the performance is going to be great.  Evan Rachel Wood portrays Lucy, and, surprisingly, has a lovely singing voice.  Her rendition of “Blackbird” near the end is beautiful, though it only lasts about 30 seconds.  Joe Anderson quite often steals the show as Max, slacker turned (reluctant) soldier, and his performance of “Hey Jude” is one of the film’s best.  I could go on and on about the acting and singing, but it’s great across the board.

The film is set in the backdrop of the 1960’s, and according to my Dad, who was a teenager when all this went on, nails the feeling of it.  Being 14, I of course wasn’t alive during this time, but I could tell it felt accurate because of how real and down to earth it was done.  Many parts of the movie are quite powerful, mostly because of how well they use the songs. 

As the film progresses, the production team uses stranger and stranger ways of portraying the goings-on, using animation, puppetry, psychedelic color schemes, etc. to show how mad the world was getting, and its powerful.  But as the film shows us, in the end, all you need is love.  It’s a simple message that’s been done a thousand times, but it’s powerful, and very well done.

There’s really not much more to say.  My only complaint is that the movie does drag a bit in the middle, but the finale is so good you can easily forgive it.  Across the Universe is definitely one of the best films of the year, and has my high recommendation.    

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