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Overall Rating
3.52

Awesome36.07%
Worth A Look: 32.79%
Average: 3.28%
Pretty Bad: 3.28%
Total Crap: 24.59%

4 reviews, 37 user ratings


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Across the Universe
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Many Pools Of Sorrow, Few Waves Of Joy"
1 stars

Every once in a while, usually when I am bored and have nothing else to do, I sit and wonder about which film I would most liked to have been seen at its premiere screening. There are those legendary premieres that have gone down in history, such as the gala in Atlanta for “Gone With the Wind” or the tumultuous reception that “E.T.” received when it first unspooled at the Cannes Film Festival. Then again, what movie fan wouldn’t relish the chance to see something like “Psycho” or “2001" or “Jaws” or “Star Wars” with audiences responding purely to what is appearing on the screen instead of the hype surrounding them? And yet, if I had the ability to go back in time and attend one such premiere, I have always claimed that I would travel back to 1978 and check out the debut screening of the immortal “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” For those of you who have managed to live a full and rewarding life without ever having encountered this particular title, it was a bizarre and disastrous attempt by legendary multi-media impresario Robert Stigwood (whose previous productions included “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Tommy,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease”) to make a killing at the box-office with a lavishly-budgeted rock musical with a score consisting entirely of a couple dozen late-era Beatles songs sung by a cast consisting of numerous then-hot performers (including Steve Martin, Aerosmith), a few veteran actors (George Burns and Donald Pleasance) and an ingenue or two (wherefore art thou, Sandy Farina?) and top-lined by none other than Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees, who where then at the apex of their respective popularities thanks to the mammoth successes of “Frampton Comes Alive” and the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. As you can probably guess, the resulting film was a demented and garish mishmash that was crucified by critics, music and film, utterly ignored by audiences and quickly designated as one of the worst films ever made as well as one of the biggest box-office bombs in history.

Now you may wonder why I would choose this particular title of all those in cinema history as the one that I would want to witness as it screened for the first time. Well, my rationale is a simple one. This was a film so badly misconceived and garishly executed on every level–it quickly becomes clear that everyone involved assumed that the combination of The Beatles, the Bee Gees and Frampton was so sure-fire that nothing else mattered–that I would have liked to see the faces of those experiencing it at that initial screening as it started off on the wrong foot and only proceeded to get more and more insane as it progressed. (My guess is that they probably looked exactly like that shot in “The Producers” when we see the audience at the conclusion of “Springtime For Hitler.”) Well, I may never get the chance to travel back to that screening but you can experience the next best thing to it with “Across the Universe,” a bizarre and disastrous attempt by multi-media impresario Julie Taymor, the talented director of the stage version of “The Lion King” and the bold films “Titus” and “Frida,” to make a killing at the box-office with a lavishly-budgeted rock musical with a score consisting entirely of a couple dozen Beatles hits. Of course, the more I think about it, I am increasingly convinced that comparing the two films is grossly unfair because for all of its flaws, at least “Sgt. Pepper’s” had a coherent idea at its center–to attempt to make as much money as possible off of the popularity of its stars and the everlasting audience goodwill towards the Beatles–while I haven’t the foggiest idea as to what the point of “Across the Universe” could possibly be and I am fairly certain that none of the people involved with its production have any idea either.

Set during the 1960's, a time of tumultuous change, “Across the Universe” stars newcomer Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood as star-crossed lovers Jude (groan) and Lucy (double groan). Jude is a working-class stiff from Liverpool who abandons his job and girlfriend to hop a boat to America to track down the father he never knew. While looking dear old dad up at Princeton, where he is working as a janitor, Jude is befriended by the rich and heedless Maxwell (Joe Anderson) and through him meets his younger sister, Lucy. Jude is immediately smitten with Lucy but she already has a boyfriend, who has just enlisted in the Army, and so he decides to abandon Princeton with Maxwell for the excitement of New York City. Before long, Lucy joins them (her boyfriend is dealt with in such a perfunctory manner that you wonder why they bothered to introduce him in the first place) and she and Jude fall in love amidst a background of sex, drugs and protests. Trouble occurs when Lucy becomes more and more involved with the anti-war movement, specifically a horndog protest leader who seems more interested in scoring with the girls than in bringing the boys back home (and who later turns into a mad bomber for no apparent reason), while Jude would simply prefer to sit around drawing pictures. Whether or not they get back together is something that I will leave for you to discover but I will note that–Spoiler Alert–the finale does involve the tune “All You Need Is Love.”

This may not sound like enough of a storyline to prop up a four-minute video, let alone a feature-length film, so the screenplay by Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais jams in a bunch of equally flimsy supporting characters and subplots to distract us from the less-than-compelling central plot. There is Sadie (Dana Fuchs), a faux-Janis Joplin who serves as Jude and Maxwell’s landlady while trying to jump-start here musical career. Then there is Jojo (Martin Luther McCoy), a faux-Jimi Hendrix who flees the urban unrest of Detroit for New York and winds up joining forces with Sadie both on and off the stage. Finally, there is Prudence (T.V. Carpio), a mopey budding lesbian who flees an unrequited crush by taking off for New York and who joins up with our heroes by coming in through their bathroom window, which might have been a funny side bit if it wasn’t immediately underline by having a character remark “She came in through the bathroom window.” (I believe that this was the moment in the film when I actually wanted to wander up into the projection booth and slap the film silly.) In her most gripping moment, Prudence inexplicably begins crushing on Sadie and when she finds out about Jojo, she locks herself in a closet for no other reason than so the rest of the cast can coax her out by singing “Dear Prudence.” And since these additions are barely enough to beef up the storyline, the film also throws in a distraction to these distractions in the form of a psychedelic-themed interlude involving a bus trip with Bono as a faux-Ken Kesey type belting out “I Am the Walrus” and Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite (guess what song he sings?), who is either a cult ringleader or a circus ringmaster.

As terrifying as it sounds, the above description of “Across the Universe” makes it sound far more lucid and coherent than it plays on the screen. You see, most of this story is conveyed to us not through dialogue but through the characters singing Beatles songs at the drop of a hat in the manner of a rock opera along the lines of “Tommy” or “Pink Floyd The Wall.” What seems to have escaped the makers of this film is that “Tommy” and “The Wall” were self-contained works in which all of the songs were designed to tell one specific story. By comparison, the 30-odd songs utilized here were all created as separate entities (outside of the tunes from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the group one real stab at a concept album) and were never meant to be wrenched together into one storyline. It might have worked if the screenplay had stuck to the earlier Beatles songs, the ones that dealt with universal emotions in a clean and direct style, but outside of a few early chestnuts such as “All My Loving” and “If I Fell,” nearly all of the songs heard come from their latter-day albums like “The Beatles” and “Abbey Road” in which the lyrics became increasingly insular and were often subsumed by their increasingly lavish productions. (Anyone who still persists in insisting that the eternally overrated “Sgt. Pepper’s” is the greatest rock album ever recorded clearly hasn’t listened to it in approximately three decades or so.) In other words, such classics as “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” are nowhere to be heard–possibly because that might inspire unfavorable comparisons to the Beatles’ own superior cinematic efforts–while the lesser likes of “Because” and “Blackbird” get the full-on treatment. I am not entirely sure if there were any restrictions placed on the filmmakers by the Beatles when they allowed their songs to be used here but I suspect that nearly everyone in the audience could come up with a better selection of tunes than the ones used here.

The fact that “Across the Universe” doesn’t work as a whole is bad enough but what really sinks it is the unavoidable fact that it isn’t even successful as a series of strung-together music videos. This is especially disappointing because, based on her previous work on stage and screen, Julie Taymor has more than adequately demonstrated that she is indeed a true visionary. Alas, based on her work here, it would seem that she has been stricken with the artistic equivalent of cataracts as her usually clean and distinctive approach has given way to a goofy hodgepodge of styles that could pretty much serve as the dictionary definition of that old saw about a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. At certain points, her attempts to visualize the songs are too thuddingly literal to be believed–“With A Little Help From My Friends” gives us a glimpse of Jude and Maxwell getting by and getting high with a little help from their friends, Jude falls in love with Lucy to “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and when he gets all mopey after they break up, that is the painfully inevitable cue for “Hey Jude.” At other times, Taymor goes so far over the top with pointless visual overkill (especially in the Vietnam induction sequence set to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”) that any genuine sense of emotion gets buried in the morass. There are a couple of nicely staged bits here and there–“I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is transformed into a plaintive and reasonably touching hymn to unrequited love and “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” is a riot of sound and color that is greatly enlivened by the off-the-cuff commentary by Eddie Izzard–but for the most part, the film is too gauche to work as a real musical and too flat to work as camp.

Look, I have never shied away from visually lavish song-and-dance extravaganzas in the past–I adore the aforementioned “Tommy” and “Pink Floyd The Wall” and consider “One From the Heart” and “Pennies From Heaven” to be among my favorite movies of all time. Hell, I even have a sort of perverse fondness for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” just because it is so deliriously daft in every aspect that it almost becomes irresistible. However, words such as “adore,” “favorite,” “fondness” or “irresistible” are not the ones that immediately leap to mind when thinking about “Across the Universe,” though “perverse” comes mighty close. This is a mess through and through and while it may not be the single greatest besmirchment of the good name of the Beatles to ever appear for mass consumption–that would probably be either the infamous Nike ad that used “Revolution” or Paul McCartney’s solo output (not including his collaborations with Elvis Costello)–but it may well be the silliest. To say that this nonsense doesn’t do justice to the Fab Four is an understatement–this film wouldn’t do justice to the likes of the Bay City Rollers.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16458&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/14/07 14:40:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/23/12 Barry Jordan Bloody awful film! 1 stars
10/14/11 Matt Ferrell Great movie for any Beatles fan! 5 stars
4/06/11 fartvenugen completely craptastic and awful, horrific 1 stars
9/22/10 art THOSE NIFTY BEATLE"S TUNE"S,i LOVE a GOOD MUSICAL!!!! 4 stars
11/13/09 Someone after watching this, my sister is now in love with jim sturgess 4 stars
8/10/09 Jeff Wilder Superb music. But it would've worked better if they hadn't tried to shoehorn a plot in. 3 stars
1/09/09 Alexandra great singing, maybe a little too many visuals and all that... 4 stars
6/28/08 Michi absolutely horrible. complete waste of time for all the reasons mentioned in this review 1 stars
5/19/08 zenny fucking BRILLIANT 5 stars
5/15/08 vik sarakula one of the best movies , any type, I've seen 5 stars
3/13/08 Anthony Feor An assault on the eyes and ears of any Beatles fan 1 stars
2/25/08 SamanthaP i loved this movie, the visuals were great, and the singing was great too! 5 stars
2/24/08 mary how can anyone NOT like it!! great production 5 stars
2/18/08 Servo I guess you CAN make a horrible musical using timeless Beatles music ... who knew? 2 stars
2/13/08 MB Peter Sobczynski is an assbasket. 4 stars
2/11/08 Randy Bought the DVD today and I loved this movie. I am a Beatles fan and this movie is so cool. 5 stars
1/19/08 beau great music, and i may not have seen it if there was no evan rachel wood 4 stars
1/14/08 Joyce Evoked the era...brought tears to my eyes... 5 stars
12/13/07 William Goss Little more than a trippy checklist of covered classics and sixties archetypes. 3 stars
12/12/07 Mitzle Not even good in a weird way, horrible 1 stars
11/17/07 John I guess that i will go against the grain...I loved it...perhaps because I grew up then 5 stars
11/14/07 Carmen Crowe Touches on many events of the 1960s. Deeply involves itself in none. 2 stars
11/06/07 Bret God awful 1 stars
10/30/07 jcjs33 it'll be nominated for an Oscar..excellent flick especially for those of that era. 5 stars
10/21/07 john aster FYI "Sgt. Pepper's" wasn't the last Beatle film "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "I Am Sam" 5 stars
10/17/07 Elizabeth Very entertaining, energetic and creative. 4 stars
10/15/07 Keystra Williams People were walking out of this. Wish I'd been one of them. Yikes. 1 stars
10/13/07 ashley love love LOVE this movie! i had the soundtrck downloaded before i saw the movie lol. 5 stars
10/12/07 D Unbelievably bad 1 stars
10/11/07 Katie Fantastic movie.....best one this year!!! 5 stars
10/08/07 Shelly interesting 4 stars
10/02/07 Elena-Beth Favorite film of the year, feel protective of it. 5 stars
10/01/07 MARY Hard to follow sometimes. I didn't always get it. 4 stars
9/28/07 Veronica I'm a designer I went to get inspried and I did! Not for the masses 5 stars
9/24/07 Heather Beatles fans will love this movie 5 stars
9/23/07 Bill Gosse Near erfect film. Thanks, Brian 5 stars
9/16/07 Ron I walked out half way through. My regret: Not leaving 1 hour earlier. 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  14-Sep-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-Feb-2008

UK
  28-Sep-2007

Australia
  22-Nov-2007




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