Director: Julie Taymor
Staring: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Rated: PG-13 (For strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity)
Once in awhile a film comes along that is so different, so unique, and so strange, that it leaves you speechless. “Across The Universe” was one of those films for me. When I first saw the film I couldn’t believe what I was watching. The movie is a personal project from director Julie Taymor, who fought a battle with the movie distributers for various reasons (the biggest issue was length, as the studio felt it too long), but the movie reached theaters unscathed and safe. So what is it? Well, it’s a movie that takes various songs from sixties rock band the Beatles, and writes a story around them. I kid you not, the songs aren’t placed around the script, the script is written around the songs. Some of the Beatles most popular song characters, including Jude, Lucy, and Prudence all make appearances.
Though the actors all perform the songs for their respective characters, there are cameo performances from Bono, Joe Cocker, Selma Hayek, and Eddie Izzard for extra effect. The story revolves around the lives of several teenagers growing up in the seventies. Many of them, like Lucy and Prudence, are living fun and blissful lives in high school, but find the world get grimmer and more serious in the seventies. Kind of like the Beatles music itself now that I think about it. So while there is a story, it takes a back seat to the timeless music and wonderful visuals. The director may not have had a spectacular script to work with, but she has a visual eye that’s wonderful to take in. The early scenes of the movie are filmed like a regular movie, and don’t look either good or bad.
Once the seventies roll around though, and the expansion of art and drugs is at hand, the movie takes off in visual places that you can’t believe. A scene where a friend must enlist in the Army involves a bunch of dancing toy soldiers and a singing Uncle Sam. Another scene has (tasteful) images of nude people swimming in a ocean that is one of the best shades of blue I’ve seen in a film. One of the more visually striking numbers is of the use of red Strawberries in the “Strawberry Fields Forever” sequence. This is a film budding artists will want to study and watch multiple times. The film is riveting to watch, the only problem is when the movie is over. Since the storyline is weak and the characters more gimmicks then real flesh and blood, it’s hard for the film to leave any kind of emotional impact on you.
I walked away from the film amazed at what I saw, but feeling as if it were all for naught. Twenty minutes later, I was thinking about what I wanted for dinner, and the movie hadn’t stuck with me at all. That night images with radiant colors and expert craftsmanship drifted in my dreams, but nothing of value was there. I appreciate what everyone tried to do here. It’s clear the director had a vision, and the cast shared that vision, but the movie is more interesting to experience then it is to watch. A second time through was more of the same: I marveled at the colors, the costumes, and the use of the music. When it was all done though, I moved on to something else. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about great art is that it should stick with you until you at least get to dinner.
There is a shocking amount of nudity and sexual images in a PG-13-rated film. Parents will certainly want to preview this film before letting their kids watch this almost R-rated film. Recommended for ages 15 and up.