‘Across the Universe’ tells story set to Beatles songs
When The Beatles’ television movie “Magical Mystery Tour” was broadcast on the BBC in December of 1967, it was considered a flop — their first — and the critics went wild trumpeting that The Beatles were finished. People forget that the color film was shown in black-and-white and at that time on very small screens.
OK, so it wasn’t their best work (“Let it Be” wasn’t that great, either, as a movie chronicling what would be the break-up of the Fab Four), but the music was always incredible.
When the “Magical Mystery Tour” album was released, it climbed straight to the top, proving that even a bad movie couldn’t damage the songs of Lennon/McCartney.
So when I heard a new movie was being released featuring the music of The Beatles, I had my reservations, mainly because the music was being performed by relative unknowns with a few legitimate performers from the music industry. The music is always paramount, but without The Beatles performing it, I had my doubts. Who can forget the fiasco of a movie known as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” back in 1978, sung by a host of artists including The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton?
With that out of the way, I wasn’t expecting “Across the Universe” to rock my world, but any excuse to hear how the music would be interpreted was worth a look-see. Granted, I can say up front that some of the scenes felt like they were thrown in to match the lyrics of the song being played, with little regard to continuity. Then again, since the story takes place in the turbulent ’60s, one can simply chalk it up to a bad acid trip and write it off as a bummer.
Director Julie Taymor (best known for her Broadway version of Disney’s “The Lion King”) puts a pretty cool twist on reminding us that history indeed repeats itself, paralleling events from 40 years ago, complete with protestors against a divisive war, a corrupt administration that has lost touch with its constituents, surrounded by music that will far outlast and outlive some of the stuff being released today. There are a few surprises in store here, including memorable appearances from Bono and comedic actor Eddie Izzard.
Starring Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess, “Across the Universe” boasts a cast of characters whose names come directly from The Beatles’ catalogue. Sturgess plays young dock worker Jude (from The Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool), who travels to America in the ’60s searching for the father he never knew. Interesting casting choice, having Sturgess in the lead, as he bares a striking resemblance to a young Paul McCartney. Probably didn’t hurt when he was auditioning for the part, I’m sure.
Wood plays Lucy, a reserved young woman not as familiar with the ways of the world as Jude, who discovers his soul mate within Lucy. When her brother, Max (Joe Anderson), is drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, the two take on the role as activists. The characters they keep company with take Lucy far away from her sheltered existence.
While the story itself (by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais) reflects the ’60s and highlights the decade of turbulence within this country, as a musical the numbers pop out pretty effectively when choreographed with all of the dancing.
Another musical this summer, “Hairspray,” gave us the early ’60s and was able to address the Civil Rights movement with music, and surprisingly came off as entertaining with a social conscience.
“Across the Universe” does a pretty good job covering the second half of the ’60s, mixing both the social unrest, psychedelic experiences and music that defined a decade.
— Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including Sirius Radio. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews on RSN.
Keepin’ it reel:
Now Playing: “Across the Universe”
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Cynthia Loebe, Martin Luther, T.V. Carpio and Heather Janneck
Directed by: Julie Taymor
Rated: PG-13 for some drug content, nudity, sexuality, violence and language
Running time: 135 minutes
Howie gives it: 3.5 out of 5 bagels