Trying to weave so many Beatles songs together to make one cohesive story is a daunting task but Julie Taymor succeeds with Across the Universe.
Some of the cutting from scene to scene is a bit choppy in the beginning as all the characters are introduced, and the psychadelic drug trip scenes in the middle are a bit over the top (as I suppose psychadelic drug trips should be, but throwing together random and absurd images and trying to make it work is a bit of an art and i think they could have just done better on those scenes) but overall the story created is a good one, and an intriguing one, that will engage the viewer not just in a game of “what beatles tune will they cover next,” but “what will happen to the characters?”
Before I sat down to write this, I looked up the movie on IMDB, just to see what they said about it over there. Now, all of the main characters take their names from Beatles tunes, Jude, Lucy, Maxwell, Prudence, Sadie, Jojo, and, oddly, Sadie is a visual reference to Janis Joplin while Jojo pretty much looks like a dead on Jimi Hendrix impersonator. In addition to this, and this is something I didn’t see mentioned, I have to wonder if Jim Sturgess was cast 1) because he has a wonderful singing voice but also 2) because he looks like a young Paul McCartney. because HOLY CRAP. i think it’s a little uncanny.
Also, in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them roles, Bono as Dr. Robert (reference to Ken Kesey I think), Salma Hayek as a nurse, Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite and Joe Cocker as a random bum/pimp/hippie (he appears in one song as three separate people).
As for the music itself, I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever. First of all they chose good vocalists. Secondly, the songs were arranged beautifully. If you go on iTunes to get the soundtrack, you have to have to have to check out the mostly a capella arrangement of “Because.” It’s stunning. Songs arranged for Sadie and her band were done well. I also really liked what they did with While My Guitar Gently Weeps – they tone it down and it’s quite melancholy – it’s played right after Martin Luther King Jr. is killed.
I didn’t really get “Let it Be,” sung by a little kid who gets killed in what I will just term as racial violence towards the beginning of the movie. On the one hand I can see how they wanted to include it in the overall movie because it is set during the 60s when the civil rights movement (along with the war in Vietnam) was going on, but on the other hand, it is one of those scenes at the very beginning of the movie that just seemed cut together kind of quickly. As my mom commented early on, “I feel like we’ve just been watching music videos.” And she did have a point.
Overall, though, if you are a Beatles fan, like my mother and I are, or just a dork about music in general, you will find this movie to be really enjoyable. I also really liked this for the same reasons that I liked Moulin Rouge, and the way they cut all those random songs together to make them tell a story. Incidentally, Across the Universe starts with Jude singing “Girl” in this really haunting arrangement with very sparse instrumentation supporting him… very a la Nature Boy from Moulin Rouge.
If you haven’t seen this yet, you should at least rent it. Getting the music from iTunes may be more accessible, but I feel that if you don’t first see the movie, you won’t have quite the same experience just listening to the songs without the visuals to reinforce the story line.