‘Across the Universe’ Retro Review


Director: Julie Taymor
Starring: People who can’t sing.
Plot: Some talentless fuckspods butcher classic pop music.
Review: With the massive range of songs available in The Beatles library, and their ingraining into pop-culture over the past 40 years, using them as the basis for a musical is not a giant leap of the imagination. Taking the psychedelic route for some of the musical numbers is, again, an obvious choice. This is a concept that could be a simple victory, or a mishandled mess. Constructing a story from the lyrics of Beatles songs, we are introduced to a range of characters who explore a cross-section of 60’s culture and politics whilst searching for love, peace and other basic story elements. Most of the characters are good enough, if somewhat simple, and the reconstruction of an era is done well. The narrative structure, however, is a complete disaster. Characters and story threads are brought in and dropped with little consequence or consideration. For example: the character of Prudence performs a song early in the first act totally out of context with what has already happened, drops completely out of the picture for 20 minutes, appears frequently as a lead character throughout the second act before totally vanishing from the final 40 minutes only to reappear in the finale. Likewise, the romance between Sadie and Jo-Jo plays out and ends with them separating on bad terms in the second act, only for them to be together at the end of the movie without any explanation or even the token ‘longer glance, look away and smile and sidle towards each other’ that would’ve sufficed.Granted, trying to string a story together using pre-existing songs is also going to be rocky – as demonstrated by previous films that have tried this – but they could’ve at least attempted to follow basic script- and story-telling conventions. On the same note, trying to forcibly change the meaning of classic songs that the average viewer is readily familiar with the meaning of is only going to breed confusion and distance between the viewer and the movie.

The psychedelic music sequences are hit and miss. Some, such as the death and horror of the Vietnam War being represented by bleeding and imploding strawberries during ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, are somewhat evocative and well done. Many other, however, come across as simply idiotic. The directors pre-occupation with blending musical numbers with sporting events is quite perplexing. The grid-iron players leaping through the air in time with ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ is nearly as laughable as the bowling sequence.

And now for his world famous Pac-Man routine!

The real nail in the coffin of this film is the performers. Nobody expects top quality acting in a musical, yet you should expect the performers to be able to sing. Whilst some a simply average (Evan Rachel Wood fares the best), other cannot be described as anything other than terrible. Jim Sturgess, in the lead as Jude, is particularly awful. This sounds mean, but the guy is a terrible singer and whilst most of the cast may at least pass an ‘Australian Idol’ audition, Sturgess, by comparison, puts them on a glittering pedestal with is insipid grating attempts as music. The opening scene, in which he performs and croaky, toneless and off-key rendition of ‘Girl’ (followed by Dana Fuch’s wailing and strained massacre of ‘Helter Skelter’) almost warranted turning the film off there and then. The real travesty comes later in the film when Sturgess breaks into a spirited performance of ‘Revolution’ that could have people attempting to claw their ear drums out of the side of their head at the shear horror of it. Completely awful.

What causes ‘Across the Universe’ the most damage is the simple fact that the film-makers seemed far to pleased with themselves. Showing little to no restraint, the feeling is that their genius will transcend simple conventions like ‘story’ and ‘talent’. They seem to have a particular blindness to the limitations of their actors, many of whom could’ve been spared if they’d been reigned in a bit, as evidenced by a DVD extra feature laughably titled ‘Stars of Tomorrow’.

Interesting as a montage of the era, but best avoided. Especially if you’re a fan of the Beatles and don’t feel like hearing their best hits being butchered worse than the last time I got hold of ‘Beatles: Rock Band’.

TWO outta TEN

I don't even.