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HTF DVD REVIEW: Across the Universe (Highly Recommended)



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#1 of 14 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted February 04 2008 - 02:06 AM

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Studio: Sony/Columbia
Year: 2007
Rated: PG-13
Program Length: 133 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen
Languages: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai


The Program

Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letterbox
They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world


On February 4, 2008, at 7:00 p.m. EST, NASA will beam the Beatles song “Across the Universe” to the star Polaris, 431 light years from Earth. The purpose is to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original recording of the song, as well as the 45th anniversary of The Deep Space Network and the 50th anniversary of NASA. Beatles fans throughout the world will be playing “Across the Universe” simultaneously with the NASA launch. This will mark the first time that a radio song has been beamed into deep space.

It is only fitting, then, that on the day after the NASA launch the ambitious and audacious musical film based upon the music of The Beatles, Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, is being released on Blu-ray and DVD. This film is a remarkable achievement in every sense – visually, musically, and dramatically.

Rather than fit Beatles songs into an existing story, Taymor builds her story around the songs. She wisely avoids the temptation to imitate the Fab Four. Instead, she allows her actor/singers to make the songs their own. “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the first Beatles hit in the United States, becomes a plaintive ballad of longing. “Let it Be,” inspired by a dream which Paul McCartney had about his mother, is now a black gospel song, heartbreakingly sung at the funeral for a young boy.

The film follows two lovers as they try to negotiate the tumultuous times that are the late sixties. Jude (Jim Sturgess), a young Englishman with artistic ability who was raised by a single mother in Liverpool, decides to escape his bleak life by taking a steamer to the United States. Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a privileged high school cheerleader in Dayton, Ohio. Their paths cross after Jude befriends Max (Joe Anderson), Lucy’s older brother. They soon find themselves in New York City, where they become immersed in the musical scene and the counterculture movement. The specter of the Vietnam War hung over every young man during that era, and Max is drafted into the Army after losing his student deferment when he drops out of college. As developments over which they have no power take control of their lives, Lucy wants to fight back but Jude is convinced that nothing she can do will really make a difference.

Although virtually every scene is infused with incredible Beatles songs, the visual artistry of Across the Universe is just as striking as the music. The screen bursts with dazzling choreography and mind-blowing psychedelic imagery. The scene of Max’s induction into the Army is positively stunning, as he is quickly transformed from a civilian into an unwilling but ultimately submissive warrior in his country’s campaign to spread democracy. Images of race riots in Detroit and chaotic fighting in Vietnam are graphic reminders of how much upheaval existed in America in those days.

The performances, by a largely unknown cast (all of whom sing their own songs), are uniformly excellent. There is a McCartney-esque quality about Jim Sturgess, who is perfectly cast as Jude. Evan Rachel Wood’s singing is a revelation. Dana Fuchs, a blues singer who never acted before, is superb as Sadie, a character clearly inspired by Janis Joplin. Bono has a cameo appearance as Mr. Roberts and sings “I Am the Walrus” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Eddie Izzard does an amusing turn as Mr. Kite, and Salma Hayek appears as a sexy singing nurse in a fantasy sequence. Joe Cocker also makes an appearance, singing “Come Together.”

Across the Universe sucked me in immediately and never let me go. Like a Beatles album, it can be played over and over again without ever growing old.

The Video

The anamorphic widescreen 2.40:1 widescreen transfer is excellent, which is extremely important because this is such a visual film. There is a moderate amount of grain. The colors are for the most part bold and vibrant. One exception is the scenes which take place in Liverpool. They are suitably muted to convey the grime of that working-class factory city. Black levels are excellent and shadow detail is quite good. Digital artifacts are non-existent to my eyes.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is very nice and delivers the soundtrack with plenty of dimensionality and impact. Some viewers have complained that the music does not make much use of the surround channels, but I suspect that this was deliberate. The Beatles songs, after all, were originally recorded when all we had were mono and two-channel stereo. In any event, I found the audio to be very pleasing and totally involving.

The Supplements

The supplemental materials on Across the Universe are plentiful and first-rate.

For openers, there is a commentary track with director Julie Taymor and composer Eliot Goldenthal (who wrote movie’s non-Beatles music). They discuss many of the decisions they had to make regarding which Beatles songs to use and how to use them, and how the lyrics helped to drive the plot of the film.

There is one very brief deleted scene and two amusing alternate takes of Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite. There are also a number of extended musical scenes which had to be shortened for the final cut of the film. A photo album with more than 100 still images is exclusive to this standard-definition DVD set.

Also included are five superior featurettes. “Creating the Universe” is one of the more involving “making of” featurettes that I have seen. Director Julie Taymor is positively infectious as she relates how she was inspired to create some of the film’s more memorable sequences. She is well-known for her visual talents, and this featurette does an excellent job of showing her creativity at work. “Stars of Tomorrow” is a fascinating look at the actors who play the primary characters in the film. I was struck by the fact that the actors really seem to have enjoyed working with one another, which helps to explain why they have such convincing on-screen chemistry. “All About the Music” is an incisive look at the musical choices which were made and is a must-see for Beatles fans. “Moving Across the Universe” gives viewers an inside look at Daniel Ezralow’s superb choreography for the film. Finally, there is “FX on the Universe,” a look at how the amazing special effects were created by effects supervisor Kyle Cooper.

The Packaging

The two-discs come in a keepcase which in turn has a cardboard outer sleeve. The artwork and liner notes are identical on both the keepcase and the outer sleeve. The outer sleeve has a sticker which notes that the film was nominated for a 2008 Golden Globe for Best Picture in the musical/comedy category.

The Final Analysis

Across the Universe is delight for the senses. It looks great, sounds great, has characters we really care about, and effectively recreates one of the most controversial and interesting periods of 20th Century America. It also is a fitting tribute to some of the finest music to come out of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era. Perhaps the Beatles did not change the world, but they came closer than most.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD10A DVD Player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: February 5, 2008

[PG]116085403[/PG]
Rich Gallagher

#2 of 14 OFFLINE   Jon Martin

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Posted February 04 2008 - 04:59 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gallagher

Across the Universe sucked me in immediately and never let me go.

I should mention that this is truly a love it or hate it film. Some critics loved it, others (and the studio that released it, who wanted it recut) hated it.

It made my list of the worst films of last year. I despised every second of it (and musicals are probably my favorite genre, and I love the Beatles). As I wrote in my review, it is like a bad episode of KIDS INCORPORATED.

So, I have to say watch out if you blind buy it.

#3 of 14 OFFLINE   Jeff_A

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Posted February 05 2008 - 12:03 AM

Quote:
Perhaps the Beatles did not change the world, but they came closer than most.

Wow! Posted Image

#4 of 14 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted February 06 2008 - 01:15 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Martin
I should mention that this is truly a love it or hate it film. Some critics loved it, others (and the studio that released it, who wanted it recut) hated it.

Similar sentiments are being expressed in the thread of the Blu-ray review.
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#5 of 14 OFFLINE   Corey3rd

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Posted February 06 2008 - 04:05 PM

count me in on the "hated it" group. I couldn't stomach most of this semi-Hair rehash. Nothing clicked for me. This ranks up with Sgt. Peppers.
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#6 of 14 OFFLINE   JeffMc

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Posted February 06 2008 - 04:36 PM

I don't know if it's strictly a "love it/hate it" situation. Personally, I liked a lot of sequences in the film quite a bit and thought that they did very good justice to some of the Beatles songs, but so many other sequences were so godawful in their obvious and laughable interpretations of the songs that there was simply no forgiving of the kindergarten approach to the material. The choreography alone is something to send musicals back decades in one fell swoop. Although I can think of at least five or six moving song sequences from the film, there are at least twice as many completely embarrassing musical sequences that must be seen to be believed - and not in a good way - Mr. Kite anyone? Still, I must say that I think the film is a worthwhile mess, and even with its absolutely cringe-worthy wretched moments, there is still enough good material to make it worth watching. This film is in no way as awful as "SGT. PEPPER". It's not perfect by any means, but in the end, I can still recommend it for some crazy reason. It's got it's heart in the right place, it's chutzpah in being so obvious and literal in its recreations is both mind-numbing and almost fun at the same time, and the Beatles music definitely elevates the whole project to a height it probably doesn't deserve. Plus, I do really like at least 5-7 musical sequences in the film. It's a mixed hodge-podge of good and really bad - and in the end, I still kind of like it for the good parts alone. At least on DVD, you can easily skip over all those really bad moments.

I recommend anyone interested to check it out and judge for themselves. The film is clearly not a complete disaster, and many feel it is a masterpiece. Decide for yourself.

#7 of 14 OFFLINE   Jonathan Peterson

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Posted February 06 2008 - 04:52 PM

My wife and I are both firmly in the "Loved it" category. Brilliant film on every level for us.

#8 of 14 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 07 2008 - 03:20 AM

I think Julie Taymor is slightly too far out there for a lot of people. Even when she falls short though, I think she is brilliant. Her first film, Titus, is stunningly outrageous and one of the best ever made, in my book. Not quite a Top 20 all time, but darn close.

I think a lot of disagreement over Across the Universe comes from it being based on Beatles tunes. It's no stretch to say there are a few Beatles fanatics out there, and I find they tend to fall in two general categories. Those who believe everything they ever did is sanctified and it is a mortal sin for anyone else to touch their songs, and those who love their music, no matter who performs it. I have never been much of a Beatles fan, but I am realizing it is not because I don't admire their compositions, but because I don't think they did much with them. Their recordings were so decidedly "Pop" most of the time that I think they sold the compositions short. Fortunately, Across the Universe lets the compositions break out. I've never heard a better Come Together than the driving, blues/rock version with Joe Cocker.

My hat is off (once again) to Julie Taymor for her bold effort. This isn't one of my favorite movies, but I'll definitely be watching it again. I found myself smiling several times the first time through.

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#9 of 14 OFFLINE   AnthonyC

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Posted February 07 2008 - 04:34 AM

As a Beatles fan, I can't bring myself to see it (although I've listened to the soundtrack), but my sister loved it. FWIW, there's a 3-disc version exclusive to Fye.com.

#10 of 14 OFFLINE   Jonathan Peterson

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Posted February 07 2008 - 05:16 AM

Quote:
As a Beatles fan, I can't bring myself to see it

I am a huge Beatles fan and I felt this captured visually what I love about their music. The only song musically that didn't work as well for me was Being For The Benifit Of Mr. Kite but visually I felt that sequence stunning. About half-way through I Am The Walrus I paused it and said to my wife, Lennon would have loved this.

#11 of 14 OFFLINE   JeffMc

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Posted February 07 2008 - 05:38 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnRice
I think Julie Taymore is probably slightly too far out there for a lot of people. Even when she falls short though, I think she is brilliant. Her first film, Titus, is stunningly outrageous, but also one of the best ever made, in my book. Not quite a Top 20 all time, but darn close.

I loved "TITUS" and think Taymor is talented, but she definitely could use a little more practice in musical choreography and editing. That's why some of the better sequences in the film, such as "If I Fell", come off as well as they do since they aren't trying so hard to be flashy and clever - and failing in the process. "Revolution", "Mr. Kite", "I Want You", and "Happiness is a Warm Gun" are all very embarrassing sequences - poorly choreographed and laughable in their obviousness. What was that stupid dancing rabbi all about?!?! Sometimes less is more, and symbolism doesn't really need to hit you over the head like a giant silver hammer (hey, she missed one!) so that even a two-year-old would get the point. It's OK to be 'out-there', but sometimes it comes off as really dumb and obvious when you do. Thank goodness she gets it right in a lot of the film and doesn't always lay on the silly weirdness just to be weird throughout.

Faults and all, I still liked the film. I saw it twice in the theater and bought the DVD. But ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is not in the same league as films like HAIR or JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Not even close.

#12 of 14 OFFLINE   Jon Martin

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Posted February 07 2008 - 06:36 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffMc
I loved "TITUS" and think Taymor is talented, but she definitely could use a little more practice in musical choreography and editing.

I think that was also the problem.

I don't have a problem with them using the Beatles music. But, if you do, please do something with it. Like I mentioned, KIDS INCORPORATED had more elaborate choreography. They were able to work the songs into the story better. And that was 25 years ago.

The film felt too small, like it was a stage play (where Taymor has done most of her work in the past) opened up to a film, and not expanding to fit that size.

And they set one number in a bowling alley, and don't even have the imagination that GREASE 2 had in their bowling alley number?

#13 of 14 OFFLINE   James Lee

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Posted February 07 2008 - 11:27 AM

I guess I have a bit of a different reaction to the movie. I'm not much of a Beatles fan, but I don't hate their music or anything. I think because of this, I had a bit of an ambivalent reaction. It was just...okay. I like musicals a lot and I really wanted to like Across the Universe, but I just felt sort of emotionally detached through the whole thing. Some of the imagery was very striking and some of the musical numbers were well done. I didn't "get" some of it, like Bono's cameo and the whole Dr. Kite thing. Some of the other numbers were disappointing. for example, I thought Hey Jude should have had more of an impact but it felt kind of muted and drama-less.

I didn't hate the movie, but I guess I expected more.

#14 of 14 OFFLINE   Steven Good

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Posted February 08 2008 - 01:44 PM

My wife and I loved in when we saw it in the theater. Saw the trailer earlier in '07 and said we had to see. Very glad we saw it theatrically. Bold and beautiful on the big screen. Just picked up the 3-disc F.Y.E. esclusive, as well a the Wal-Mart exclusive that includes a hardback book with photos and lyrics to all songs.

One of the most cinematic experiences of 2007.
Roger Ebert--"This is one more pathetic example of the dumbing of America--to show the films in the wrong aspect ratio to placate the stupid, instead of in the right aspect ratio to reward the knowledgeable."





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