Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Ignore the critics – go see Across the Universe

Posted by shannonclark on September 15, 2007

And then, like I plan on doing, go back and see it again. Probably a few times.


Across the Universe just opened today in a few cities, will be opening in wider release in a week. BTW, the website for the film is in flash, undersells the film, and does not have much (other than a facebook “share the trailer” option for a fan/critic to use to promote the film, no easily accessed stills I could use to illustrate this review, just for example)

Across The Universe - Strawberries

It is the most beautiful film I have ever seen. And I have seen a lot of films – 100’s of them. In college I was a film projectionist, for two different campus film societies. I projected both 16mm and 35mm films, films which were pre-1950 for Law School Films (so named because we showed the films at the University of Chicago Law School Auditorium and for at Doc Films anything post-1950 up to current films, even the occasional film preview. And while there I saw many stunning and fantastic films – films by masters such as Wim Wenders.

Across the Universe is on that level – and since it benefits from the best of modern technology, the visual quality is stunning. Seriously there are literally 100’s of frames of this film which I would pay to have as prints to hang on my wall – they are deeply detailed, rich, colorful, and perfectly lit images. Amazing if they were still photos. Hint, that link is to 48 frames from the film, go take a look. Then come back and read the rest of this review.

Almost unbelievable in a film.

I am almost always deeply disappointed in the lighting of most films – I recall being very annoyed by a particular scene in Philadelphia where the lighting was used to play tricks, where it changed in the middle of scene to create a specific effect on the main characters in the midst of a dance.

In contrast, Across the Universe appears to have been shot by master photographers, by experts in getting exactly the focus they want, including some really amazing shots of reflections, of subway cars in motion, of landscapes and waterfronts. Shots which even with the best film or digital cameras are hard to get – and which are usually almost impossible in a movie.

And then, of course, there is the music (and the cameos, more on those in a moment).

I loved the music – and I enjoyed the story, relatively light as it is. If you don’t already know, every song in the movie (and there are some 33 of them) are Beatles songs. Yup, those guys. And this is a musical – the main characters get up and sing.

But unlike Britney Spears on the VMA’s, they are not lip syncing. The soundtrack is the main actors (plus cameos) performing, in most cases recorded live, on set!

To quote from a NY Times article on the making of the Across the Universe:

… like some two-thirds of the film, uses the vocal track recorded on the set rather than the cleaner studio version, which is almost unheard of in today’s movie musicals. But Ms. Taymor wanted the singing to flow seamlessly from the acting.

Can I get a “hell yes!”?

My kinda filmmaker! This is a movie about music where the characters are hearing what we, the audience are hearing, they are the ones singing it, they are the ones performing it. That, for me at least, is how music should be used in a film. And here it is used to amazing effect.

No, these are not the Beatle’s versions of the songs. If you don’t like really good covers, if you aren’t a fan of Coverville, you might not love this movie as much as I do. But I am, and I do love it.

It appears that critics are heavily divided on this movie – some are panning it, some are praising it. Ignore them. Go see it in a great, modern theater with the best possible projection and sound, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Stay through the credits.

Then, if you are like me, figure out when you can return and see it again.

When the full soundtrack, with all of the songs from the movie is available, I’ll buy it. I plan also on digging up my old Beatles albums and listening to them afresh – though I’ll confess, I suspect in many cases I may enjoy these cover versions more than the originals.

Though I hope that this movie helps get the Beatles remastered for the digital era. I know I’d like to hear them in their full glory, but unfortunately the digital versions I have, ripped from cds issued many years ago are not at all crisp or remastered versions.

There are images from Across the Universe which will haunt me – in a good way – for a very, very long time. Yes, there is psychedelia, animations and general craziness, but there are also shots of real, haunting beauty – crisply lit closeups, rich shadows, a few scenes on the waterfront where I literally said to myself – “okay, no way she can top that image.” then, “wow, she just did. Not sure how entirely but wow, this next shot is even more amazing” and then, “whoa. She just did that again, three times in a row”

It is that kind of film. Simple shots, shots of paint peeling from a door in a rundown NYC apartment are lit in creative ways.

Okay, I mentioned some cameos. There are a lot of them – Bono, Joe Crocker, Eddie Izzard, Salma Hayek to name just a few. I’m sure there are others I didn’t quite catch.

In summary – go see it. Amazing movie, great music reimagined by masters, shot beautifully and performed phenomenally.

Personally I think it should sweep all kinds of Oscars – at least for music, photography/cinematography, and costumes.


3 Responses to “Ignore the critics – go see Across the Universe”

  1. Shannon

    Just mentioned your post on ‘Serge the Concierge’ in Across the Universe…What is your Favorite Bar or Coffee Shop? Seen the Movie?

    What is your favorite place to hang out with friends in San Francisco?

    Take care

    ‘The French Guy from New Jersey’

  2. eadweard said

    Thanks for your insightful comments on Across the Universe.
    I saw the film at the premiere in Toronto, and the audience of 1,300, gave a long spontaneous standing ovation at the end of the movie.
    Most movie reviewers have totally missed greatness of the film. It’s all about the experience, the music,and fabulous cinema. A lot of love went into that film (not from Sony).

  3. Jenny R said

    I totally agree with your article about the movie. It is definitely one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen, and I too have seen a lot, and am a huge fan of movies, particularly musicals. Of course because of this, I think the music is absolutely amazing and very well done (especially the “Let it be” number, which is my favourite part:)) I also did not know that the actors actually sung live on set, and that it was not recorded before hand, which is particularly unique for a movie. Also, of ocurse when I found out thaty Julie Taymor also directed the Lion King musical, I then knew why it was so good. Julie really has an amazing imagaination, and is so talented. This truly is an amazing movie, what with the breath-taking images, the amazing musical numbers, (which are equally breathtaking), and, of course, the great and beautiful actors who are in this movie, (ESPECIALLY in Jim Sturgess’s [Jude’s] case!:)). So, this is easily one of my favourite movies of all time, and will always be. Thanks again for your insight into this movie

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