It’s been 27 years since John Lennon was shot and killed, and since then the music of The Beatles has been used in commercials, re-releases of their classic hits and even has been the basis for a Cirque de Soleil show. Therefore, the release of “Across the Universe,” a movie musical made entirely of the foursome’s greatest hits, comes as no surprise. However, though the intention for the film seems admirable, the movie’s execution is less satisfying than previews for the film would lead many to believe.
The movie follows the life of an early 20-something Liverpool native, fittingly named Jude, as he comes to America in search of his biological father. The fish-out-of-water protagonist finds himself in the company of some progressively motivated activists, artists and musicians.
Taking place during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, the movie works as a pseudo-commentary on the trials and consequences faced by the youth of America during this point in time. And of course, no musical would be complete without a heart-breaking love story as the young Jude finds himself enamored with the sister of his best friend, (fittingly named, again) Lucy.
OK, the movie won’t win any awards for a unique storyline, but it does remain fresh through its incorporation of The Beatles’ catalogue. More times than not, the classic songs are assimilated well into the film, breathing life into the somewhat bland and predictable plotline. And although the movie seems to be straining too hard to fit in too many Beatles tracks , as a whole, it succeeds as an above average musical.
Combined with the finely crafted cinematography, “Across the Universe” is a delight to behold, with its bright colors and trippy situations accompanying the music harmoniously; a notable example is the drafting of Jude’s best friend into the Vietnam War with an army of menacing soldiers and animated Uncle Sams doing synchronized dancing while singing the completely out of context “I Want You.”
But if the film is such a visual feast and is commendable for its interpretation of the soundtrack, then could there be anything wrong with it? The answer is yes. For even though much time was spent creating vividly engrossing scenes of musical ecstasy, there seems to be a severe lack of validation to accompany many of the highly symbolic and metaphorical scenes and situations. About halfway through the film, the movie veers off the track of sanity and never really makes it back on.
Lots of heavy-handed imagery is thrown at the viewer that seems to be focused on illuminating some sort of bigger theme or connection between the war and the lives of the characters. However, the last hour of the film feels like one long drug-induced romp through the psychedelic minds of youthful America that longs to make a larger statement about the world, but lacks the finesse to do so. This leaves many moments in the film where the viewer will wonder what the importance or the point of what they’re watching is.
While watching the film, I was reminded of another rock movie musical: Pink Floyd’s disturbingly stirring “The Wall.” The complex characters, situations and underlying themes of that film make it (in my humble opinion) one of the most powerfully moving motion pictures ever created. And where “The Wall” made effective use of symbolism and the art of the metaphor, “Across the Universe” falls flat, becoming a case of a movie whose bark is bigger than its bite.
It’s a noble attempt to bring the music of The Beatles back to life, but “Across the Universe” is not as grand or deeply moving as it wants to believe it is. When it all comes down to it, it’s just too damn abstract and disorganized to really be considered thought-provoking. But aside from its shortcomings, the movie will at least stir the viewing public to break out their dusty Beatles’ collection, crank up the volume and absorb themselves in the genius behind some of the greatest songs in American music history.