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Across the Universe’ a worthwhile journey

Caitlin Ferraro | Tuesday, November 6, 2007

If daring enough to journey “Across the Universe” in Julie Taymor’s film, one will encounter bleeding strawberries, bowling-alley dancing and an underwater ballet. The viewer is on a voyage across time into a world of stunning visual techniques, inspiring character performances, 1960s history and the songs of the Beatles.

And while the film may not be added to the shelves of classics like “The Sound of Music” anytime soon, it is still a visually stimulating modern movie musical.

The young talented cast is led by Evan Rachel Wood. Wood plays Lucy, the young hometown girl who transforms into an anti-war hero that falls in love with Jude (Jim Sturgess), an English ship welder. Jude comes to America to find his father, only to find Lucy.

Wood is a beauty on camera with a matching set of vocals and is rumored to be in the studio soon for her first album. Sturgess has an incredible voice and an uncanny resemblance to a young Paul McCartney. The supporting cast is fantastic, with Lucy’s older dropout brother Max (Joe Anderson), who is drafted into the army; two aspiring musicians played adeptly by Martin Luther McCoy as a Hendrixian-inspired Jo-Jo and Dana Fuchs as the Joplinesque Sadie; and the lovelorn lesbian Prudence (T.V. Carpio).

Most of the movie’s 133-minute run is filled with Beatles hits, and the basic plot is that of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy screws it all up. But the beauty of the film is that writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais masterfully craft a story to match the Fab Four’s songs. Rather than focus on dialogue, the scenes are depicted by gigantic creative illustrations to a Beatles song.

Hardcore Beatles fans are by no means the only ones who will enjoy the soundtrack – rather, script – to this film. In fact, many of the songs are hits the general public will recognize. Sometimes the songs are performed in the same vein of the Beatles, but sometimes they are dramatically altered. Taymor reinvigorates the popular anthem “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in a creative and original way. Instead of the upbeat rhythm of the original, Prudence sings a much more somber song because the one person with whom she wants to hold hands has no idea of her feelings. And that is the beauty of this film, because it displays both the unchangeable power of “All You Need is Love” –while completely reinventing other songs.

In a word, the visual creativity in Taymor’s project is stunning. In the number “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” Max and his fellow drafted soldiers are pressured by a giant Uncle Sam, ordered around by GI Joe commanding officers, stripped to their skivvies and forced to carry the Statue of Liberty – and boy, is she heavy – over a miniaturized Vietnamese jungle. The metaphors in this choreographed piece are endless and intriguing.

There is no doubt that Taymor was trying – trying to be different, trying to make something radical and fresh. She only fell short in a few scenes where she went a bit far. For instance, after riding a Magic Bus with Bono (sporting an interesting ‘stache), the eclectic group meets the crazy Mr. Kite (Eddie Izzard). Sure, the youngsters were out on a hippie trip all hyped up on drugs, but that does not mean most of the audience of the film was. Bottom line: The sequence “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” was just plain weird.

“Across the Universe” is more than a movie, or a musical; it is an experience. An experience all should share. If you pick up on the subtle references to the Beatles like the nude sketches of Lucy a la Lennon and Yoko or rooftop concerts, you are ahead of the game.

For the most part this film is one to sit back and enjoy, because in the end, if you do not walk into the theater singing these songs, you will surely walk out humming them.