ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is by far the most visually interesting, eye and ear-poppingly creative movie musical to come along since Moulin Rouge. Like Baz Luhrman did, filmaker Julie Taymor gives the audience a feast for their retinas with a very cool core of cast members who sing at times live on set and give very pleasing covers of the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The story centers on six people in the 1960s. The two main characters, as well as all the characters have names taken directly from Beatles songs. Jim Sturgess plays Jude, a poor, young working-class boy from Liverpool who comes to America looking for his father. While at Princeton he meets Max, the son of a wealthy New England family who of course wants nothing to do with that wealth. Jude falls in love with Max's sister, Lucy, played by Evan Rachel Wood, who is troubled over the fact that her boyfriend was sent to fight in Vietnam.
For the summer, before she has to start college, Lucy goes with Jude and Max to live in New York in an apartment run by a woman named Sadie who is also the lead singer of a rock band. JoJo, a black guitarist whose brother was killed in riots also comes to New York and joins Sadie's band. A lesbian cheerleader from Ohio becomes disillusioned, as she can't express her true feelings and also journeys to New York for some sense of freedom.
Embracing her experiences from the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical The Lion King, Julie Taymor incorporates some people with puppets. In almost every musical sequence, you get a sense that maybe you're watching a VH-1 special tribute. The choreography is very imaginative. The colors are vibrant and like her 2002 film Frida Taymor knows how to enrich the eyes with delicious palettes that really boost each frame whether it's with disco ball or psychedelic colors or whether it's with funky costumes that just jump out at you. There are also great film negative tricks and CGI concoctions, which enhance what you see in a delicious way.
The absolutely most outstanding sequence is Taymor's interpretation of "Strawberry Fields Forever." Like with Lennon who was very outspoken against the Vietnam War, so are the characters here. The emotions that are brought up seem selfsame and the intercutting of the different Vietnam TV war images mingled with Taymor's lush artistry like using bleeding strawberries or strawberries as bombs was very inspired. There's also a wondrous underwater sequence done for the Beatles' "Because" off their Abbey Road album which is also very spectacular.
Eddie Izzard appears to sing a Beatles song. Dana Fuchs sings "Helter Skelter." Joe Cocker does a version in the movie of "Come Together" while Bono from U2 does his interpretation of "I Am the Walrus." All are cool and hilarious and strange. I love the Beatles' music, and if you are a fan, I think this will be just an absolute treat.
Taymor has created a series of music videos based on hit Beatles songs that are at times wild and carefree and at other times earnest and heartfelt, strung together by a minor love story. Now, whether you'd like to think of it as that or if you're like me and you think that this is more or less a very loose and very metaphorical interpretation of the Beatles career and their influence, it doesn't matter. On whichever level, I think this film works.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some drug content, sexuality, and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 11 mins.
Showing at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 6 and Wednesday, Jan. 16.