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Film review: Across the Universe (2007)

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Bono is the Walrus in "Across the Universe"

Rebellion goes square in this cute, but unfortunately corny, High School Musical meets The Beatles rock opera

Directed by Julie Taymor (Frida), Across the Universe weaves together 33 songs from The Beatles list into a musical story about America’s movement through the turbulent and liberating 60s.

A young man by the name of … wait for it … Jude (McCartney-esque Jim Sturgess, The Other Boleyn Girl) leaves Britain in search of his father, a former American solider who fertilised one of his mother’s ovas while stationed in Britain for the war. In America, he meets the rebellious Max (Joe Anderson) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood, Brontë and Marilyn Manson’s marital fling). Just when you think there were no more Beatles-esque names available, Jude and Max move to big smoke NYC to live with Joplin-esque hippy Sadie (Dana Fuchs), Hendrix-like Jo-Jo (Martin Luther) and dear, dear Prudence (TV Carpio). Together, they move through the big events of sixties America — civil rights riots, Vietnam War, anti-war protests and the LSD revolution — discovering love and heartbreak on the way.

Musicals hardly have the strongest plots but this takes the cake. The movie’s dilemma is that the songs weren’t written for the story; the story was written for the songs, so the plot becomes a vehicle for propping up this collection of rendered Beatles songs. It’s like a string of music videos loosely strung together with a plot.

And the renderings? Well, there were some really frightening Hannah Montana moments in there. If truth be told, there were some fantastic versions — notably “I Am the Walrus” (performed by a Ringo Starr/John Lennon/Ken Kesey fused Bono), “Come Together”, “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite” (with Eddy Izzard) and “I Want You/She’s So Heavy”.

But, it’s all been done before by The Beatles themselves — check out their kooky film clips to “I am the Walrus”, “Yellow Submarine”, “Get Back” . This sums up the movie for me — I yearned for the originals.

The movie was also dripping with cliches and 60s references, with each 60s icon ticked off for a mention — Andy Warhol, marijuana, Martin Luther King Jnr, The Merry Pranksters, The Weatherman, psychedelica, conscription, Kent State University shootings and so on. It was fun seeing all these things whisked up into a melange, but a little overbearing. In one scene, Jude even turns up to a dinner with Lucy’s family dressed like he’s off to a fancy dress party as a Paul McCartney. Subtlety is not the game in this movie.

All in all, if you shaved 30 minutes off this epic, Across the Universe would make an outstanding and fun musical for the stage, which I think is what it’s really made for.

For a great Beatles tribute movie with a solid plot and great covers, I recommend I am Sam.

Maybe you want to share your favourite Beatles song.


2 Responses

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  1. Interesting review and I would tend to agree that there is just too much forced into this film that adds little. For instance, the character of Prudence could fairly easily be chopped from this film and it would be stronger for it.

    Aidan Brack

    11 November 2008 at 4:14 pm

  2. […] because of her social status but because of what it symbolised in mainstream American. This was the era of the young drifter — middle-class teenagers leaving their homes to follow the 60s dream. Her kidnapping symbolised […]

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