24 September 2007

Review: Across the Universe

Genre: Musical

O, Julie. Julie.

OK, it's time now for me to elaborate on that previous lament, because for a filmmaker in whom I believed as much as I in her and for a film which I had before seeing it ascribed to my list "My Most Excitedly Anticipated of 2007" such a brief commentary is surely insufficient.
To begin, what troubled me most about Ms. Taymor's latest work is exactly what about her penultimate (cinematic) piece (i. e., Frida) pleased me most: her control of the palette and the frame. Whereas in Frida she appeared to me to have determinedly worked with her cinematographer, to create a rich textile of colors and hued lightings that built and refracted and expanded the power of her story, in Across the Universe she appeared to me to have but lazily slapped on a similarly broad, yet obscurely focused palette that at best could have been described as a hackneyed stereotype of what the 60s and Vietnam mean visually. Needless to say - though I do it anyway - I was terribly distraught. From the same spectrum from which she had previously culled an intimately detailed beam she only managed to split a flickering splurge of misfascination.
Adding to this injurious motion, she and her cinematographer also seem to have chosen rather obtuse angles from which to come at their subject(s). Far more than one shot or frame left me puzzling, "What was that?" Characters were oddly occluded, off-centered, and combative with one another in scenes and the whole thing lacked the cohesive fluidity such a large-scope film should unquestionably have.
Which brings me to a third complaint: The film was just too ambitious; she seemed just completely unable to control or limit herself and her selection of episodes and songs from which she had to choose. Instead of presenting a tighter, better wraught revue of a choice few Beatles' songs, she greedily reached to include nearly their entire canon. Now, while their work is certainly worthy enough to make a director, essentially attempting to create a contextual homage to them, want to include it all, it is clearly (to me) counterproductive to hew and hedge the work so, just to ensure that each piece gets to be touched on the screen. Is it not? The time that was required to process and manage the constantly changing music was enormously costly of other parts that could have used the extra room to breathe and even to create a solid foundation for the story. For, the forced fit, like that by a frustrated and impatient puzzle-figuring child, was clumsy and rough. The heart of the story, whatever it was supposed to be, was thrown off by the lack of focus that the limitation to a few key songs would have erstwhile bolstered. It was a rocky road trying to pick out that heart from the heaping runs-over that were. And there was barely any time to breathe between competing songs, for both the characters and the audience, barely any time to contemplate the significance of the previous melodies and lyrics, to sort them out in dialogue or imagery. It was mish-mosh and entirely contrary against the point of a play being a musical in the first place (i. e., greater exposition and focus via the emotionally expansive vehicle of music). Had I the reigns, I would have earnestly tried to really use the music, really focus the songs and use them as vehicles, and construct the visuals to correspond and corroborate with them. *If any film in recent times, it is this film that, I believe, could have truly made fantastic use of the return to the square.*
However, despite these very disagreeable qualities, there was one singular sequence that shone out to me in connection with what I had hoped and expected for this film to be: the "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" scene, in which spectacular animation comes together wonderfully with the other visuals and with the music to deliver a powerful and sharply focused message and step in the course of the story. It is of this sole redemptive scene that the picture I posted above is.
So, I do hope still, Ms. Taymor, that this most recent work of yours is but aberration, a project gone awry, a rollercoaster event that somehow got away from you; I sincerely and in the best complimentary way do hope so.

Grade: C

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