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Across the Universe (2007)

February 5, 2010

5/10 Octopus’ Gardens

One hell of an ambitious movie, but I think I’ll just stick to The White Album.

Across the Universe is the story of a lower-class British boy named Jude and an upper-class American girl named Lucy who meet in the ’60s, fall for each other, become peace activists against the Vietnam War and try to work it out in world filled with so much fighting and confusion.


The thing that separates this movie apart from every other movie ever is that the story and characters are pieced together from Beatles songs and the whole thing is pretty much a musical celebrating the Beatles’ extensive and legendary career. Cool idea, but like I said, a little too ambitious for its own good.

Well, the first thing Across the Universe has going for it is that it’s a freakin’ Beatles musical. Maybe I’m delusional, but doesn’t everyone like The Beatles? Honestly, what’s not to like? From Please Please Me to Let it Be, it’s all gold. With that being said, director Julie Taymor has some pretty phenomenal stuff to work with.

On the other hand, it doesn’t always work in her favor.

The real challenge in putting together a movie like this is making a story that the audience is going to care about using unrelated songs as your source material and doing so without it just coming off as fan service. This is not an easy task to undertake, but ultimately it all goes back to the songs.

Now, some of the covers here are great. They’re fun to watch, they’re wonderfully choreographed, they get your feet a-tappin’ and it’s hard to eff up a song when it’s so damn good to begin with. Then again, some of the covers here are not so great. This is no fault of the actors, the finger actually gets pointed right over to the Fab Four and Taymor on this one.

Look, the Beatles are unparalleled, they’re immaculate, but like any band, they had some pretty shitty songs peppered into the mix. For a good while in this movie, everything’s just peachy, I was diggin’ it head to toe. Then we eventually get to the period in the Beatles’ career where they discovered The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, things take a sharp turn to the bizarre and oh how quickly my verdict did drop.

It all culminates in this one scene where all the characters find their way into a circus tent – one that clearly wouldn’t have existed without the help of our good pal LSD – and thus force the audience to sit through Eddie Izzard as what can only be described as a zombie/carnie inbreed performing the strangest, most idiotic cover of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” I ever did see. It was at this point that my good buddy Fred and I turned to each and started laughing out loud in the theater.

This was a hard scene for me to shake and the rest of movie never really recovered from it.

It’s just that when you have the entire Beatles catalogue to work with, why in God’s name would you be inclined whatsoever to start singling out songs that most Beatles fans would skip over without thinking twice? The answer to this question is beyond me, but “Mr. Kite!” is just one of numerous song choices to Across the Universe that were totally unnecessary.

The acting’s also fine, nothing memorable, but the one other thing I liked about this movie was the way the plot mirrored the Beatles’ own changes as a band, both in their songs and appearance. John, Paul, George (my favorite) and Ringo had a pretty fascinating career from the time they joined up to the time they got Yokoed and I liked that this aspect of the group managed to finagle its way into the script. The world in 1960 was a much different place ten years later and the Beatles – John in particular – have always been a pretty good barometer of that transformation, a musical history lesson if you will and something worth studying.

Even though Across the Universe wasn’t really my thing, I can appreciate why others might dig it. As far as musicals go, it’s pretty epic and it has the balls to match, and while some of the song choices are a tad suspect, the soundtrack remains a major selling point. Definitely has its moments, but me, I’d rather spend two hours re-watching A Hard Day’s Night or buying a bag of whatever those kids were dropping during “Mr. Kite!” and having myself a time listening to Abbey Road on repeat.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2010 1:51 am

    The movie definitely has some excellent moments such as that gospel version of Let it Be or pretty much any songs in the first 40 minutes of the movie. Like you said though, once they get on that bus with Bono, it all goes downhill very quickly and doesn’t recover enough at the end. I liked the movie somewhat though, I would give it a 6.5/10.

    • February 5, 2010 12:35 pm

      Yeah, Bono as Dr. Robert, that was a weird cameo. A lot of weird cameos here actually.

  2. February 5, 2010 10:59 am

    I thought there were some extremely visually striking moments, but that’s about all this film had going for it. My girlfriend and I walked out out of boredom after the acid circus tent scene.

  3. February 8, 2010 11:37 am

    I really loved this film, I was totally taken right into it and got lost in it. I thought it was so clever in the way of putting the songs into the stories. But I can see what you mean about it being too ambitious for its own good at times.

  4. March 1, 2010 2:12 pm

    5 points? speaking of generous… 😉

    jesus, this movie was one freakin‘ mess…

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