One of the benefits of being a hardcore Beatles fan is that I don’t really need to buy the covers of the best Beatles songs of all time presented in “Across the Universe.” Instead I have the entire soundtrack and much more in my grasp. Ain’t it sweet? “Across the Universe” gets a lot of guff for being that representation of the Beatles that wasn’t mean to be. It’s a movie, a mainstream movie, with a rather cliché story, but you know what? Fuck it. “Across the Universe” is an absolute masterpiece, a thrilling, chilling, and incredible musical experience that takes the best of the Beatles and transfers it into an awfully excellent romance and war time story under the direction of Julie Taymor who takes a movie and makes it into a cathartic experience for the fans.
All the while, there are numerous references to the Beatles, that are just too cumbersome to list here. Here’s the gist: Our main characters are named Lucy a diamond eyed girl, Prudence a self-conscious loner struggling with her sexuality, Jojo a guitarist in the vein of Hendrix who is a loner, Sadie the voluptuous temptress, and Max; our main hero Jude is from Liverpool, the leader to their spiritual awakening is named Dr. Robert who takes them to Mr. Kite’s circus. Are you following the references? Corny, but handled with such grace and excellence that I just didn’t care. Bono is excellent Dr. Robert who gives one hell of an outstanding variation of “I Am the Walrus,” while Eddie Izzard is wonderful as Mr. Kite providing the best performance to my favorite sequence in the bunch. And that’s not all: there are also cameos from Salma Hayek, Joe Cocker, and oh yes, there’s the music!
“Across the Universe” uses many many songs from the Beatles catalogue, but they do it with enough subtlety to really apply some sense of brilliance and creativity, all the while Taymor colors the screen with amazing visuals, incredible pastels of red and blue, and brings the universe written for us through the music of the fab four. It’s presumptuous to think that this could top any of the Beatles original versions, but they make a damn good task of living up to the group, and sometimes use the songs as a form of plot device that compliment the story without fault. There’s also much creativity in implementation of the songs. For example, in a wonderful scene, character Max is sung “I Want You” by a menacing animated Uncle Sam poster, and put through the processor as a soldier by GI Joe drones, and there’s also the surreal introduction of Mr. Kite which is a success thanks to the surprise appearance by Mr. Izzard as a ring master.
The film is primarily built around the music of the group with dialogue scattered in small portions, but the story of Jude and Lucy, Max’s eventual turn into a soldier during Vietnam, and Jojo’s relationship with Sadie all work. There are some banner performances by folks like Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, and the lusty Dana Fuchs as sexy Sadie the LA Lady who has a shake like Janis Joplin. By the second half, though, it stops becoming about the music and starts becoming an ode of respect to the original fab four with references to their record company, the Apple logo, their performance atop Apple Corps., and even a long sequence mimicking “A Hard Day’s Night.” You know, I wish I could be one of those die hard Beatles fans who tell you to keep away since the Beatles vision was never meant to be commercialized, but you know what? I loved this.
I absolutely adored it with every inch of this weak heart; I sang along, I laughed, and I got literal goose bumps by magnificent covers of “Come Together,” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” For my money, give me the original songs and a beer any day, but for a cute treat with a linear story and engaging characters, I suggest “Across the Universe.” It’s an experience that Julie Taymor injects with subtlety, respect, and an extraordinary intimacy. The gumption of the studios to include on the box of the DVD that within the song lyrics, there is a story that has never been told until now fumes me, especially as a hardcore Beatles fan. The songs from the Beatles have a story and they have a complex story with meaning and power, and a two fold exploration with the story of the making of this music all the more a fascinating part of the mythos among the fab four.
From “Across the Universe,” to “Hey Jude,” to “Strawberry Fields Forever,” it’s all nothing but music that tells a story, period. And to think “Across the Universe” fills in a gap, however good it may be, is just outright delusion that only studios could push on us. Listening to “Revolution” tells more of a story than the Vietnam war narrative we get here, and the studios would do best to stop kidding themselves. In spite of the inherent vanity behind the notion that this movie tells a tale the songs don’t, “Across the Universe” is an absolute thrill to sit through. It’s fun, it’s touching, it’s exhilarating and it strikes all the right chords. Goddamn, what a masterpiece. I got blisters on my fingahs!