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Across the Universe (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Release Date: 2/5/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/29/2008

The concept of the movie musical isn't all that difficult to grasp. Most films in this genre have a linear story just like any other movie. But, at certain points in the movie, the narrative is moved along not through dialogue, but by the characters singing. The songs either emphasis a specific point, or more often, elaborate on an emotion. In some films, the fact that song is being used can make the movie harder to follow, but the overall idea is pretty simple. Now, imagine a movie which was full of songs...but they didn't always deal directly with the on-screen action, nor did they accelerate the plot. This is what we get with Across the Universe.

Across the Universe, which is set in the 1960s, introduces us to Jude (Jim Sturgess), a young man who lives in Liverpool with his mother, and works in the local shipyard. Jude says goodbye to his Mom and his girlfriend, and takes a job aboard a ship. Once in America, Jude jumps ship and heads for Princeton to find his biological father (who had been in England during the war). There, he meets Max (Joe Anderson), an energetic young man. The two become fast friends and Max invites Jude home for Thanksgiving. There, Jude meets Max's sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), and is immediately smitten with her. Max drops out of college and he and Jude go to New York City. They share an apartment with a group of free-spirited artists and musicians, and begin to enjoy a bohemian lifestyle. Meanwhile, Lucy learns that her boyfriend has been killed in Vietnam, and she decides to spend the summer with Max. Soon, Lucy and Jude become lovers. As the war in Vietnam escalates, Lucy wants to focus on protesting, but Jude only wants to devote time to his art. How can young love survive the turbulence of the time?

If you are pressed for time, but really feel like watching two movies, then Across the Universe is the choice for you, as it feels like two films crushed together...neither of which work. First of all, we have the main narrative which focuses on the 1960s and how that period in American history effected the young people who lived through it. Jude is the soulful artist who wants to create; Lucy is the innocent young girl whose life is changed by the war; Max is the spoiled rich kid whose choices place him in danger of being drafted; and we are the audience who's seen it all before. There is nothing original in this part of the film, and it plays like any other film which explores this period. (Oddly, I kept thinking about Forrest Gump and what a great job that movie did of re-enacting the 60s.) It's clear that a great deal of work went into this, as the costumes and sets are very detailed, but it's all very predictable and stale.

The other half of the film certainly doesn't fall under the "predictable and stale" banner. It is a musical which is inspired by, utilizes, and generally worships the music of The Beatles. When the characters in the film stop to burst into song, it's not an original number which is based on the story, it's a song from The Beatles. The film is also filled wall-to-wall with references to Beatles songs. Most of the character's names (Jude, Max, Lucy, Sadie, JoJo, Prudence, Rita, etc.) come from The Beatles' music and there are many visual references to The Beatles. Using the music of The Beatles in a film about the 1960s is a no-brainer, but having the characters sing the songs in traditional movie musical style is a very bold, but odd choice. The songs almost always fit the mood of the scene, but they do nothing to motivate the story. In fact, they often hinder it. Thus, a scene will stop (or more often, go on for far too long) as someone breaks into song.

Independently, either of these movies may have worked. We really don't need another movie about the 1960s, but that doesn't mean that the film couldn't have won us over with emotion. Across the Universe was directed by Julie Taymor, the Tony award winning creator of The Lion King on Broadway. She brings that visual sense to the film, as the musical numbers are often filled with odd props and bright colors. From a certain view point, if all of the musical scenes were linked together, they would make a fine music video compilation of Beatles' songs. However, when mixed the narrative and the musical often seem at odds, fighting for supremacy. The musical wins and we are treated to Bono singing "I am the Walrus" followed by Eddie Izzard singing "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" -- neither of which do anything for this movie.

Across the Universe is one of the most divisive movies that I’ve seen recently. The bottom line is that you will either love or hate this movie. I can see how die-hard fans of The Beatles will find it charming as there are dozens of famous songs here, and it’s fun spotting all of the references. But, admirers of movie musicals may be stymied by the lack of consistency here. Finally, general audiences seeking an escape may be thrown by the psychedelic imagery. There’s no denying that Across the Universe is an interesting experiment, but I certainly didn’t love it...yeah, yeah, yeah.

Across the Universe heads back to the U.S.S.R. on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the disc contains a AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 27 Mbps. Some movies look better than others on Blu-ray, and this movie looks good. The movie uses color to help tell the story and the colors look fantastic here. From the dark setting of Liverpool to the psychedelic scenes, the hues are fantastic and the image is never too dark. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The picture has a very nice depth to it and there are many exterior scenes to take advantage of this. I didn’t see any overt video noise or artifacting. The disc has a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. The most important thing here is the music, and it sounds very good. I wouldn’t have minded if it had shown a bit more “oomph!”, but the music is crystal clear and there is a great deal of detail and texture to it. The dialogue and sound effects sound good as well. The stereo effects are fine, as they highlight many minute sounds, and the surround sound speakers were constantly in use from the music and the various crowd scenes. The war footage provided some nice subwoofer effects.

The Across the Universe Blu-ray Disc has a wide selection of extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director Julie Taymor and musician Elliot Goldenthal. Here, these real-life partners discuss the making of the movie, going into great detail about the actors, costumes, and sets, but moreover, they speak at length about the music in the film and how it effected the production. "Creating the Universe" (30 minutes) isn't exactly a "making of", but it does explore the creativity which went into the making of the movie. There's a ton of behind-the-scenes footage here, and we get a lot of comments from the cast and filmmakers, most of whom are discussing the work of Julie Taymor. Taymor adds many comments as well, explaining her vision for the film. There's a lot of emphasis here on the look of the film. "Stars of Tomorrow" (27 minutes) profiles the primary cast of the film, allowing the actors to talk about their experiences on the film. In "All About the Music" (15 minutes) Taymor and the music supervisors discuss the challenge and the fun of using the music of The Beatles in the film. This is loaded with in-studio footage of the actors and musicians recording the score. "Moving Across the Universe" (9 minutes) allows choreographer Daniel Ezralow to describe the dancing used in the film. Taymor and Kyle Cooper (who did the titles for Se7en and Dawn of the Dead) discuss the visual effects of the film in "FX on the Universe" (7 minutes). We get a sense of the look that Taymor was looking for here. The disc has eight "Extended Musical Performances", which are exactly what they sound like. We get one DELETED SCENE, which runs 1 minute and contains the song "And I Love Her". "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" offers two alternate takes of the scene showing Eddie Izzard performing the song sans the crazy special effects. The final extra is the "Don Nace Art Gallery" which makes use of the bookmark controls.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long