[Gleeful, demonic giggling.]
Kay. So, I just saw Across the Universe, and I'm about to tear it to shreds. Before I do, allow me to say that I did not hate it, and I hope that it meets some success because I like what it was trying for (or what I hope it was trying for). So, good job, Across the Universe, I hope you're the first in a long trend of progressively improving movies that may one day beget a movie worth my praise.
As sort of a backdrop to my feelings regarding this film, I wanna say that I like the idea of a musical, but I don't like a lot of musicals. I was very happy when Disney stopped making their animated movies "musicals." Right around the turn of the century, Disney started making a change in the way they did musicals--a change that I think was brilliant. It's been a very long time since I've seen Tarzan, but looking at the above linked list, I think it marked the beginning of a new tradition in the musical genre--at least as far as Disney animated movies are concerned. Instead of having the characters actually sing, they made original songs to play in the background to replace dialog--a sort of montage effect that I really like. Disney has done this in several of their newer animated features (none of which I've seen very recently, but I know they did it a lot in Brother Bear, and I seem to remember at least one instance in Lilo and Stitch), and I think it's generally a better idea than the traditional musical--the musical genre of movies had died long before Disney let it go, and I think it was broken long before it died.
Take Bedknobs and Broomsticks for instance. I watched that movie today, too--haven't seen it since I was a kid--and I was kind of disappointed. I know that musicals can be awesome, but by the time B&B came out (1971), it really was a sold out genre; the story stops for long periods of time for totally random dance scenes, and the trip to the Isle of Naboombu does absolutely nothing for the story--a red herring that stinks of a special effects expose like we see in a lot of modern movies that are saturated with CGI nonsense. The story is a lot of fun, but it's totally lost in all the tangential musical numbers and SFX sequences.
What I'm saying, I guess, is that I'm glad that Hollywood musicals finally died out, but I wanna say that I think musicals can be great, and I hope that Across the Universe is the beginning of their return to mainstream America--a new kind of musical that employs a lot of the artistry that can be seen in some music videos. I think Across the Universe was about as high quality as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which makes me worry that we may just jump back onto the downhill slide we were in before, but you gotta start somewhere, so perhaps we will see a phoenix rising.
Anyway. About the movie. The story was secondary to the music, so the movie became so tedious that, by about halfway through, I was wishing it would wrap up. It was more like a bunch of really nice music videos strung together on the string of a tenuous plot--a plot that I think had a lot of great potential that it fell dramatically short of. I think it's a good movie for people who like to say, "Oo. Pretty colors! This must be artistic." They made a valiant effort, though, and, as I've said, I'm happy to see the attempt.
The movie had some good points. They made good use of the screen--the whole screen. I've been hoping that the advent of wide-screen TVs and the demise of the VCR would encourage cinematographers to start using the edges again; I've noticed that a lot of modern movies place all the action in the center of the shot--presumably because they knew the sides were just going to get formatted out of the picture anyway. Across the Universe made good use of the whole area, and I remember one part of one song (though I don't remember which song) had Jude's profile singing on the far right side of the screen--definitely far enough to the side that, had it been formatted to fit my square TV, the image certainly would've been lost. And I liked, too, how diegetic sounds (eg ticking clocks, bouncing balls, windshield wipers) often worked themselves into the percussive lines of songs--that was fun. And some of the singing was really good--Jude had a good voice, though there were times that it had obviously been subjected to digital filters, and Max did okay for himself, and Lucy wasn't at all bad, nor was Jojo. And that brings up another thing: the names are all allusions to Beatles songs ("Hey Jude", "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Get Back", "Dear Prudence", and "Sexy Sadie"--and I can put my listing commas on the outside of the quotation marks if I want: this is my blog!). Other Beatles allusions throughout the movie's dialog were fun when I caught them, though I'm not cultured enough to have caught them all. The "killed you grandmother with a hammer" comment stuck out like a sore thumb (harharhar--hammer, sore thumb--harharhar), but the others all fit well enough that I missed most of them (one of my very knowledgeable roommates pointed several out to me as we watched).
So those are the good points. On the flip side, Prudence appeared to have no purpose other than to allow "Dear Prudence" to be sung; Sadie's renditions of songs were all pretty terrible; when Lucy was singing "If I Fell", she failed to change the pronouns, making it sound as though she was singing to a girl instead of to Jude. Also, I haven't seen Titanic in a looong time, and I've only seen it once, and I was doing my best to ignore it most of the time because I found it terribly uninteresting and was only watching it to appease a couple of my female family members--but even under such circumstances, I couldn't help but wonder if the writer(s) watched Titanic at one point and thought, "Oo, that's good. Let's toss in a guy who's really good at sketching and his love interest's bared breast for him to draw. It's brilliant! If anyone catches on, we'll just tell them it's a--what's the word? Oh yeah: allooshun. That's right. Good. This movie has lots of allooshuns to the Beatles; why not toss in some Titanic allooshuns?"
On a grander scale, I think they had too many songs that they wanted to fit into a two-hour flick, many of which they utterly failed to incorporate into the story at all. I mean, I don't think that writing a story around popular songs is a bad idea--quite to the contrary, Singin' in the Rain demonstrates that it can be a very, very good idea, and I myself think that it could be very effective if you had a specific point you wanted to make or emotion you wanted to evoke--but Across the Universe just had too long of an itinerary: it had nearly twice as many songs as Singin' in the Rain had. If they had trimmed down the list a little and spent more time with the characters and story, I think the movie could have been very powerful. But the story was overwhelmed by the music and lost in the psychedelic milieu.
Also, the ending: unimpressive. With about 20 minutes left in the movie, one of my roommates (same one who kept me up with the allusions) asked me how I thought it'd end, and I speculated and he speculated. We disagreed on what Max's fate would be, but we agreed on how things would end up between Lucy and Jude--in my roommates words, "This movie doesn't have the balls to keep them separated."
Well spoke! The phrase is a mite bit crass, but the fact of the matter is that this movie doesn't have any balls. If they could have found some satisfactory resolution that didn't involve Jude and Lucy getting together in the end, I would have applauded it no matter what it was. And Max? Shoot, I'm okay with keeping him alive, but why not show how soldiers were sometimes treated when they returned to the states--ya know, back to the homeland, hooray hoorah, why the heck are my fellow Americans throwing their rotten produce at me? Nope, Max comes home, slightly injured, it seems, but not seriously--somehow he managed to go to war and not be affected by it in the least. Granted, I've never gone to war, but I hear it has a way of changing a man--in ways I can't imagine, I imagine.
Anyway. I guess what I'm saying here is that, even though I didn't like it, I hope more movies like it are made and that it starts a glorious trend that will one day produce something wonderful. I'm told that Mulan Rouge was a similar kind of movie, but I haven't seen it, so I don't know, but the same sources tell me that it, too, was less than stellar, but still--let's make more of these movies; perhaps if we make a hundred of them, we'll manage to squeeze one or two good ones out in the mix.
Have you ever seen a Marx Brothers movie? It will be educational. You'll be able to see the musical's relationship with vaudeville and how it was born as a completely different creature than straight storytelling and expecting it to be such is a mistake. Like Singin' in the Rain: I used to fastforward through a couple song-and-dance scenes, but now I appreciate them for what they are. And what they are is not directly connected to telling the durn story.
(Tangentially related: Have you seen the Chinese movie Hero from a few years back? It's not a prose film. It tells a story, sure, but it's not a novel or a short story---it's a poem.)
(Also: Once, came out last year, was heralded as the new path for musicals. I'm anxious to see it but who knows if I will. It's use of song is supposedly revolutionary. Check the internets if you don't believe me.)
I'm not a big Moulin Rouge fan, but I have lots of friends who live and die by it. We have a copy (box set ya know) and I'll try it again someday. It too has a pop-song genesis.
I also have seen Chicago, but except for John C Reilly, it was a real nonstarter for me.
I haven't watched any new musicals since, but they seem to finally be finding their feet--Dreamgirls and Hairspray both did very well both commercially and critically. Oh: and Enchanted too.
I look forward to the reinvention of the animated musical. I'm guessing we'll see something revolutionary there in the next 5-10 years.
For some reason, Blogger doesn't want you to know who this is, but this is your brother.
I'm curious where you stand on this question today. AND, I'm curious if you saw Yesterday or Blinded by the Light, both of which came out in 2019 and both of which I think are worth watching.
ps: Blogger ALSO won't let me mark notify me, so if you respond, shoot me an email, will you