Director: Julie Taymor
Ever since I first saw the previews for Across the Universe that featured Jim Sturgess seated on a white sandy British beach singing “Girl” before launching into an addictive and magical tapestry of Beatles music and dazzling visuals, the film has become the movie event I was most anticipating in 2007. More than most films, musicals must be seen on the big screen and Across the Universe is one of those movies that I know I’ll remember seeing for the first time for years to come.
A wholly satisfying work-- Frida director Taymor utilizes her roots staging operas and the Broadway version of The Lion King with this epic period film set in the turbulent 60’s that uses more than thirty Beatles songs for its inspirations in character, story and locales that span Liverpool, Princeton, several states, Vietnam and most prominently the lower east side of Manhattan.
In the film, Jude, a twenty something dock worker (played by an exceedingly charismatic Strugess) journeys from Liverpool to locate the biological father he’s never met. While on the Princeton campus, Jude befriends the mischievous and charming Max (Joe Anderson) who takes him home for his family’s Thanksgiving celebration where he first lays eyes on the beautiful teenager Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) whose sheltered existence is shattered after both her first serious boyfriend and soon her brother Max learn that they must go to Vietnam.
After a tragedy, she joins her brother in New York where Jude falls even deeper in love with her and the two begin a relationship while living in the same apartment along with a Janis Joplin inspired Sexy Sadie (Dana Fuchs), sweet Midwestern Prudence (T.V. Carpio) battling a sexual orientation issue, Max, and the Jimi Hendrix clone JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy) a guitarist and ‘Nam veteran.
From the opening moments of Taymor’s awe-inspiring masterwork, music and psychedelic visuals come spilling out of each scene and while it begins to veer slightly off course during the free-wheeling "I Am the Walrus" and "Mr. Kite" segments (featuring Bono and Eddie Izzard), the film gets back on track with the sheer power of its ambition, likable leads and inviting Beatles songs that enchant audience members throughout.
Some of the choreography is remarkably inventive and warrants a second viewing just from the overwhelming finished product that marries both live action with animation along with perfectly synched movements including a memorable scene set to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” as Max reports to the taxing medical and psychological evaluations of the U.S. Army before heading off to Vietnam.
According to IMDb, 90% of the songs available on the deluxe edition of the soundtrack (that can be found on iTunes) were actually recorded live and on-set during the production instead of the usual post-production recordings and filmed dubs of most musicals, including the heartbreaking “If I Fell” which Evan Rachel Wood reportedly completed in one perfect take.
After playing at Toronto Film Festival, Across the Universe received mixed reaction, saved for a four star review by Roger Ebert and glowing praise from The New York Times, and despite a limited release that will prevent it from playing at as many American theatres as say the latest offering from the Farrelly Brothers, I’m hoping audience members looking for something remarkable and bold will flock to the film (driving as I did more than thirty-five minutes to see it) and it will get an even greater re-release after award season begins.
Additionally, if there’s any justice, it should also begin raking in the accolades and nominations for a much deserving Julie Taymor whose work recalls the same kind of Oscar for Special Recognition that Gene Kelly received for the epic ballet sequence in An American in Paris. While as a musical buff, it’s not lightly do I put another individual in the same category of cinematic genius as Kelly, keep in mind that he received the award for an approximately ten minute sequence whereas Taymor’s film runs a stunning two hours plus.
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