Using the songbook from the greatest rock band ever (The Beatles), Across the Universe aim to capture the audience’s heart through visual captivation while regurgitating the timeless songs of those boys from Liverpool. Across the Universe is a musical like no other. It tells two separate tales, one documents the 1960’s youth engulfed in a time of war and revolution and the other is a love story that weaves through that core. Jude (Jim Sturgess) is a dockworker from Liverpool who ventures to America in search of his father. There, he develops a sound friendship with Max (Joe Anderson) at Princeton. Both eventually run away to New York, where Jude falls for Max’s lovely sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Together with their musical buddies, they react differently to the ongoing social protests and anti-war movement.
In a disappointingly literal tactic, the characters in the film take their names from various Beatles’ songs, largely so these songs can be included in the film. Through the artistic and whimsical direction of song and dance, the film is highly theatrical. Young Jude, even looks like a member of The Beatles, albeit a Beatle who looks like a tall and British Emile Hirsch. Still, all things being equal he had the appropriate look down pat for the role.
I couldn’t help but think that the continuity of the film was disrupted by some errors on the part of director Julie Taymor. She took a leap of faith, and the film looked like a series of out of place music videos strung together by nothing other quiet interludes in which the characters questioned their travels and had eccentric, childish revelations that seemed like they belonged on Nickelodeon. At certain points, it looked like the budget, or very well the director, switched hands as some of the visuals were experimental and trippy. During Bono’s appearance, as the Doctor, the filters of the shots were toyed with and it looks like an animated amateur Photoshop video. After that Eddie Izard puts on some makeup (nothing new to him) and prances around with characters taken from Tim Burton’s films.
During its first half, Across the Universe closely resembles musical numbers performed in Hairspray and West Side Story, with kids dancing and singing in classrooms and through the city. In the second half, we’re taken on a visually awkward fantasy of random images that can only be explained by some drug related hallucination. Certain scenes of song I felt were wasted on empty scenes of characters walking while idly singing the lyrics of a Beatles’ tune. It looked to me like the music video to James Blunt’s “Beautiful” and this similarity scored some chuckles from the crowd. At these halts, the increased seriousness of tone displayed by Jude and the gang came off as quirky. Even some of the choreography was trite and bizarre, which made the dancers look like they were having seizures.
Across the Universe makes some allusions to the 1997 Oscar winner Titanic, making a rather obvious attempt to match it as the love story of the year. Jude and Lucy’s love is comparable to Jack and Rose’s on a sinking cruise liner after hitting an iceberg, except already in New York, and their love isn’t forbidden. Jude, a talented young artist, even sketches Lucy’s naked body. Also, Jude is lower class and Lucy is from a well to do family, need I say more. However, instead of Celine Dion though, they use psychedelic visuals and the songs of The Beatles to grab hold of teenage girls’ hearts.
Director Julie Taymor’s flair for artistic visuals and appreciation of the majestic joys of music are definite strengths. Although nothing extraordinary, Taymor takes the magical and inspirational words of The Beatles and translates them into a medium that reveals the self-discovery and hope of a pivotal point in history. The message conveyed is that in a time of war and revolution, music is the tool that brings everyone together in a dichotomous society through its joining harmony. Music is one of the indestructible entities we have, expressing that love is all you need, as we find through Lucy and Jude’s story of passion and dedication to each other.