Even after the critics drubbed this film to death, I wanted to see it. I loved Julie Taymor’s previous films; Titus, which is still my favorite Shakespeare adaptation; and Frida which is one of the better bio-pics of the last decade. Both had a wonderful mix of story and fantastical imagery. The trailer for Across the Universe made it look like a wonderful trip through the 60’s, with my favorite band The Beatles lending the soundtrack. What I didn’t realize, was how tiresome it would all become.
I was into Universe for a while; Jude the poor boy from Ireland looking for his dad in America and meeting Lucy, the privileged North Eastern girl made for a nice enough story to begin with. (Could you come up with a couple of more obvious names from Beatles songs than Jude and Lucy? )Most of the characters names in the film come from their songs, so they could easily be worked in to the musical theme; I kept waiting for Sgt. Pepper and Rocky Raccoon to show up.
The covers of the Beatles songs ranged from slightly-above-passable to downright awful, it got very old after the 10th or so song, which is only about 20 minutes into the film. The film might, and I stress might, have worked better if they used songs from various bands from the decade instead of continuing to rape the Beatles legendary works. The musical interludes were far too close together, the film felt like about 30 music videos loosely tied together. The story soon became secondary to them trying to work another musical number into the film, which brings the entire thing to a halt.
Jude, Lucy, her brother Max all move to New York together during the height of the Vietnam War, brother is soon sent off to the war, sister turns to protesting, and Jude just wants to hang out and create art. The most interesting number in the film comes in I Want You, when the military is changing Max into a soldier. Meanwhile we’re also introduced to a couple other characters, who all felt way too secondary and mostly unnecessary. I particularly could have done without Sadie and her boyfriend Jojo, who are kind of supposed to be like Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix if they’d ever hooked up. The little affection I felt towards the main characters, was far more than what I cared about these two, they could have easily exorcised most of their storyline and shaved 20 minutes off this overlong mess. Bono shows up as Dr. Roberts for two songs, and is pretty much wasted.
Usually I appreciate filmmakers experimenting with the medium, I like when something new is tried, much more than the average Hollywood schlock. But I’d rather watch Martin Lawrence ham it up in drag, than sit through Across the Universe again. There are some very cool visuals within this film, they could make an absolutely brilliant short film out of the footage, but all together it grows far too old; way too many songs, with too little story and character to care about. They absolutely destroy a couple of Beatles songs, most notably Dear Prudence and For the Benefit of Mr. Kite. It might be worth watching in three-to-five minute intervals, one song at a time, by themselves the songs may be entertaining, but as a whole, stay far, far away.