Across the Universe (2007) *1/2
Directed by Julie Taymor
The Beatles are cultural icons, praised as the greatest rock band in history—by far! As such, they deserve to be immortalized as much as possible. Personally, I think any project that pays tribute to the Fab Four must be careful to really respect their brilliant songs. Across the Universe contains some of the very best songs ever written including my favorite song of all time—Hey Jude. I applaud Julie Taymor’s desire to pay tribute to their wonderful music. Unfortunately, though, Across the Universe is an absolute disaster--damaging their songs for today's young viewer. Yet, one good thing may come from the film, no matter how bad it is. Possibly, some people may go out and buy a Beatles album after seeing the movie. What’s more likely, though, is that viewers will simply buy Across the Universe’s soundtrack and put it on their CD cabinet right next to their Hannah Montana and Ashlee Simpson CDs.
Across the Universe is definitely aimed at teenage girls, possibly trying to duplicate the success of the High School Musical franchise. As cheesy as they are, both High School Musical films are much better than Across the Universe because High School Musical is simply trying to be fun. Across the Universe strives to be meaningful and profound.
Is the movie profound? Not at all. Across the Universe has all the depth of a plastic wading pool. A complete dud of a story fills in the gaps between the performances of the Beatles’ songs. Every single song is taken literally. In Strawberry Fields Forever, we actually see strawberries—lots of them. If you want to see a Beatles song absolutely ruined, watch the scene where Prudence sings I Wanna Hold Your Hand like her dog just got hit by a car. Characters in the movie are named Jude, Lucy and Prudence so that we can have the following songs—Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Hey Jude and Dear Prudence. During Revolution, Jude sings about an actual revolution that Lucy is a part of. During I Want You, we see Max at a recruiting station with Uncle Sam posters singing to him. A Little Help From My Friends is performed on such a surface level that even Joe Cocker should be offended, even though he did make a cameo in the film.
Scenes involving songs from the Beatles’ drug days come into the movie when the kids take drugs. Bono strangely enters the film and sings I Am the Walrus while all the characters transport into what looks like a Grateful Dead album cover. Literally, if I asked Julie Taymor to storyboard the most clichéd and obvious vision for a reality on acid, you would get exactly what you see in Across the Universe.
The film seems to want to show us the turmoil of the sixties. Not once did I believe for a second that any of these characters exist in the sixties. All these young actors look like they raided a consignment shop and played a nice game of sixties dress up. There’s not a single new insight we get into that decade that we don’t get in both Forrest Gump and Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire--neither of which are known for their deep insights. None of the actors have any soul or depth which makes the turmoil they are supposed to experience completely moot. Further, most of the performances of these songs come off simply as adequate Karaoke.
Many of the scenes involve CGI effects and animation. These were not impressive at all. Instead they came across as pretentious. The movie wasn’t sexy or interesting or fun or insightful or plausible or funny or inspiring or well, you get the point. Some song performances are satisfactory, and one really worked for me—Let It Be. Though the way they incorporated the song into the plot was heavy handed, it was sung with such soul and passion that I was really choked up.
Across the Universe can be enjoyable for someone really looking to be entertained on the most shallow of levels. The Beatles deserve better movies than this. Nice try, Julie Taymor. She had to know going into this project that a difficult task lay ahead—to contemporize and make relevant these iconic songs in a plot that felt coherent. I’ll give an E for effort but an F for the final product.