I am going to preface this review with the fact that I am not a fan of musicals. I wouldn’t say I hate them, but it’s safe to say if my wife wasn’t such a big fan, I probably wouldn’t watch them. Sure I grew up on the Disney classics, and those are technically musicals, but when it comes to live action, I’ll pass. There have of course been some exceptions, but for the most part I become disinterested very heavily during the “boring” songs and most of the good will that has been bought is lost. This is hypocritical since I can look past slower parts in many other genres, I know.
With that said, my wife is obsessed with Across the Universe and I have seen bits and pieces of it so many times over the years, it equals up to multiple full viewings by this point. I am also a fan of the Beatles…mostly the upbeat, pop stuff, less sappy love songs.
So it is only suiting that Across the Universe is getting 4 “where were the other famous Beatles’ songs” out of 10.
FOR THE INITIATED
Across the Universe merged The Beatles’ music that everyone can recognize immediatly and a few others that the more hardcore fans can catch. It tells the story of Jude (Jim Sturgess), an English artist who travels to America to find his father during the backdrop of the Vietnam War. After running into Max (Joe Anderson), he is brought into Max’s circle of friends before meeting Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Lucy is Max’s sister and is the first to experience tragedy in the movie when her boyfriend dies in combat. She eventually moves to New York with Jude and Max, but brings a letter to inform Max he has been drafted. We meet several other characters that reference other influential people for that era (Jo-Jo as Jimi Hendrix, Sadie as Janis Joplin, Dr. Roberts as Tom Wolfe/ author of Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test). We see the anti-war protests and a lot of trippy drug scenes, all taking the viewer through the time of the music.
Across the Universe utilizes the Beatles more famous songs and several actors who should have become bigger stars. I would discuss the music here, but it existed long before this movie, and it did its best to make them work as a musical. The actors were the only “new” positive aspects to come out of the movie. Jim Sturgess sadly only had this and 21 as his big breakout roles before getting resigned to lackluster movies and appearances on tv. Evan Rachel Wood was the “big” name before and even continues on now days with roles in varying degrees of popularity. Her most recent and memorable role is Dolores in West World, or as my wife kept telling me, Marilyn Mansons’ ex girlfriend. Most of the cast had great performances, but sadly they were all eclipsed by the music and artistic direction … which was a shame.
Sadly, the musical performances were too over the top. They did their best to merge the story to fit with different songs, but there was a disconnect somewhere. Maybe if the story was more streamlined and less concerned with fitting in 60s’ easter eggs, it could have been a much better movie. Either the focus should have been on just The Beatles’ or have a wide variety of different musicians instead of two “are they supposed to be Jimi and Janis” actors singing Beatles covers.
Another tragedy is the CGI aged horribly. The scene where they are are going back to New York after being abandoned by Dr. Roberts is unnecessarily and the CGI is sloppy. There are several drug induced scenes (it is the 60s’ afterall) that could have benefited from some special effects that were not simply filters or inversioms. The practical effects such as the puppets and masks were all much better, and gave off a wonderful ’60s trippy vibe.
This should have been a better movie. Period. But this just goes to show, even if you have some of the most promising young actors of 2007, singing the best catalog of music ever, you can still end up falling flat. The movie ended up feeling rushed, cheap and convoluted. If you really want a rock opera that works, Green Day did it so much better with American Idiot. I do understand that it is an unfair comparison though, since that album was written specifically to be adapted as a screenplay, where as Across the Universe had the challenge of writing a script that added the music cohesively. It is worth mentioning that Tom Hanks and HBO are bringing American Idiot to the small screen soon. Hopefully the movie feels more fleshed out than Across the Universe, because the play was awesome.
All in all, if you haven’t seen Across the Universe and are a big fan of The Beatles check it out … otherwise you aren’t missing much but trippy outdated CGI and some refrences to the ’60s you can get from your local hippy at the bar.
Picking a related musical is tough. I already recommended Sing Street after seeing La La Land, so I will go with something that covered the same era in a much more likable manner, it also happens to be my favorite movie, Forrest Gump. It shows the Vietnam War from the side of protesters and veterans with a not so serious tone, and had a much better love story. Sure the love wasn’t reciprocated equally, but even with Jenny being the worst, their story is far better than Jude and Lucys’. And if you’re a fan of ’60s music, the soundtrack has everything from Elvis to Bob Dylan to CCR, sadly a lack of Beatles though.