‘Across the Universe’ a visually stunning journey through Beatles’ music
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Across the Universe is a stylistic musical from director Julie Taymor (Frida) and adapted from the Beatles songbook. The film, set in the 1960s, follows the story of a dockworker in Liverpool, aptly named Jude (Jim Sturgess), traveling to America to find his father. Upon his arrival in the US, he befriends a rebellious college student named Max (Joe Anderson) and ends up falling for Max’s preppy sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood).
The trio head to New York where they encounter archetypal 1960s characters like hippie singer Sadie (Dana Fuchs), obviously based on Janis Joplin, guitar god JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy), a clear reference to Jimi Hendrix and free spirit Prudence (T.V. Carpio), who we first see as a cheerleader in Ohio then later as a runaway.
The colorful characters convene in an apartment in the city and live the free love lifestyle until Max gets drafted to fight in Vietnam. As a result, Lucy gets heavily involved in peace activism, Jude delves deeper into art, Sadie and JoJo’s romance fractures and the gang begins to split apart in a journey through the turbulent 1960s.
Films set in the 1960s usually try to stitch together all the important events of the decade into a quickie montage and only remain true to the era when it comes to costumes. On top of that, musicals, once the most popular genre in Hollywood, are now considered cheesy and false.
Given those expectations, Across the Universe certainly had to overcome quite a lot to capture audiences. Yet, despite being both a musical and a period piece set in the 1960s, the film has connected with moviegoers, grossing almost $20 million and landing in the box office top 10.
Of course, the fact that all the music in the film comes from arguably the most influential band of all time had to help fill some seats. No doubt, the highlight of the film is the musical numbers. Sturgess’ voice perfectly captures the tone of Beatles’ tracks while making them his own with unique inflections. Newcomer Fuchs wails on tracks like “Helter Skelter”, bringing a rock edge that perfectly matches the visual style the of number, and Anderson’s vocals are well suited for songs like the expertly performed “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”
Aside from the stellar soundtrack, currently at #4 on iTunes Top Album list, Taymor’s visual style enhances the musical numbers, giving each its own unique memorable quality. From the introduction with Sturgess sitting alone on a color-drained beach to the bizarre and outlandish Mr. Kite sequence (featuring Eddie Izzard), the visual spectacle that accompanies each song greatly enhances the viewing experience.
Still, the ultimate musical number has got to be “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. Immediately after Max reports to the military office after being drafted, he begins to see the Uncle Sam posters on the wall come to life and menacingly sing, “I want you. I want you so bad,” as they reach out to grab him. He is then thrown into a pseudo assembly line where anonymous soldiers who look like Marv from Sin City prep and inspect him for military duty. From there, we see a sequence of stripped down soldiers carrying the Statue of Liberty through a jungle and singing, “She’s so heavy.” The literal interpretation of these lyrics was intriguing and original and really illustrated Taymor’s skill for both musical and visual storytelling.
With Frida, Taymor proved that music and bold visual style can deliver the emotional points of a narrative. Across the Universe takes highly revered music and reintroduces it to us in a new way.