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Across the Universe (2-Disc Deluxe Edition) DVD Review

Across the Universe movie poster Across the Universe

Theatrical Release: October 12, 2007 / Running Time: 133 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Julie Taymor / Writers: Dick Clement, Ian Le Frenais, Julie Taymor

Cast: Evan Rachel Wood (Lucy Carrigan), Jim Sturgess (Jude Feeny), Joe Anderson (Max Carrigan), Dana Fuchs (Sadie), Martin Luther McCoy (Jo-Jo), T.V. Carpio (Prudence), Spencer Liff (Daniel), Lisa Hogg (Jude's Liverpool Girlfriend), Nicholas Lumley (Cyril), Michael Ryan (Phil), Angela Mounsey (Martha Feeny), Erin Elliott (Cheer Coach), Robert Clohessy (Wes Huber), Dylan Baker (Lucy's Father), Linda Emond (Lucy's Mother), Bill Irwin (Uncle Teddy), Joe Cocker (Bum, Pimp, Mad Hippie), Harry Lennix (Army Sergeant), Logan Marshall-Green (Paco), James Urbaniak (Sadie's Manager), Bono (Dr. Robert), Eddie Izzard (Mr. Kite), Salma Hayek (Singing Nurse), Cousin Brucie Morrow (Himself)

Songs: "Girl", "Helter Skelter", "Hold Me Tight", "All My Loving", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "With a Little Help From My Friends", "It Won't Be Long", "I've Just Seen a Face", "Let It Be", "Come Together", "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?", "If I Fell", "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", "Dear Prudence", "Flying", "Blue Jay Way", "I Am the Walrus", "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", "Because", "Something", "Oh! Darling", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Revolution", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Across the Universe", "And I Love Her", "Happiness is a Warm Gun", "A Day in the Life", "Blackbird", "Hey Jude", "Don't Let Me Down", "All You Need is Love", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Flying"

Buy Across the Universe from Amazon.com: 2-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD • 1-Disc DVD • 2-Disc DVD Gift Set • Blu-ray Disc


By Aaron Wallace

No one's music has been covered as many times or as in many ways as The Beatles, possibly the most influential musicians of all time. "Yesterday" is the most-recorded song in history and a quick flip through your album collection
will likely reveal a Beatles song or two by some other artist. The band is no stranger to the big screen either, having starred in a handful of their own films and been heard on the occasional soundtrack to others. More than four decades after the band's legendary appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show", however, Beatles music and Hollywood fused together like never before last year in Across the Universe.

The unusual musical from director Julie Taymor follows four young adults -- Jude, Lucy, Max, and Prudence (sound familiar, Beatles fans?) -- and their two older friends -- Sadie and JoJo -- through the social turbulence of the 1960s. Vietnam, self-expression, and youthful rebellion are, as expected, the order of the day. In that climate, Jude (Jim Sturgess) and Max (Joe Anderson) forge a friendship while Jude falls in love with Max's younger sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), and the military sends Max an unwanted letter. Sadie (Dana Fuchs) and JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy) fall in love too, their relationship forming a subplot that gets considerably less screentime.

Liverpudlian lad Jude (Jim Sturgess) gets directions and a laugh from his new Yankee friend Max (Joe Anderson) while on the campus of Princeton University. When not in the sky with diamonds, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) takes a liking in her older brother's friend. You know, the British one with the disheveled head of hair.

As with most musical revues, the songs are much more important than the story. The plot desperately leaps from one Beatles number to the next, trying to construct a credible narrative out of cryptic lyrics to essentially unrelated songs. The difficulty inherent in such an endeavor is apparent from the very start and Across the Universe fails to overcome it. As a result, the characters are nothing more than loosely defined archetypes who never connect with the viewer and the story paints only an abstract landscape of 1960s America without a single memorable plot point.
Jude and Lucy are that '60s couple who quarrel over how involved with the revolution they should be. Max is the token drafted soldier. His parents typically can't understand why he won't settle down in a career. Sadie and JoJo are always fighting and making up but it isn't clear why and it's even less clear what purpose the Prudence character serves, other than providing a convenient forum for her namesake song.

But for all the sacrificed story that they require, the songs in Across the Universe are still the best thing about the movie and enough to distinguish it from all the other '60s period dramas that it otherwise mirrors. Following in the footsteps of Love, Cirque du Soleil's Beatles-based musical show, Across the Universe reinvents a hefty lot of Beatles numbers with a contemporary edge. The new takes range from polished but similar to brave and unique. Leading man Jim Sturgess, who plays Jude, is quite the vocalist and his co-stars all easily hold their own. There's a slick pop/rock sensibility to all of their voices and the songs accordingly have a radio-friendly quality that somehow refrains from diluting the source material. Dana Fuchs, who plays Sadie, gets the red ribbon for singing; her rocker chick belting produces the most innovative and exciting performances. The only disappointment is the absence of a few classics that would have been as easy to work in as any other ("Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby", for starters).

Newly-drafted soldiers carry the Statue of Liberty on their shoulders while wearing underwear in one of the many visually imaginative sequences of "Across the Universe." Taking a backseat to Jude and Lucy's drama, Sadie (Dana Fuchs) and JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy), musicians with relationship issues, are given limited screentime.

If the songs are enough to make the movie worth hearing, the astounding visuals are more than enough to make it worth seeing. Taymor again proves herself a visionary with this stunning work of art. Strawberries fall as bombs, a terrifying Uncle Sam springs out his poster, and a small apartment gives way to a euphoric sky. In a Tim Burton-esque moment of twisted surrealism, Eddie Izzard makes an unexpected appearance as a haunting ringmaster of the trippiest circus to ever come to town. Drugs play a surprisingly small role in the film but they are undoubtedly represented in the increasingly imaginative aesthetics.

Across the Universe unfortunately earned a measly $24 million at the box office. Reports vary as to the production budget (Taymor references it as "big" in the bonus feature) but that almost certainly represents a loss for Sony. The studio will have to look for profit in the home video market, which Across the Universe has been turning since released early this month on single-disc Blu-ray and a 2-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD. The latter is profiled below.

Buy Across the Universe: 2-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai
Closed Captioned; All Extras Subtitled in Korean
Some Extras Subtitled in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai
Release Date: February 5, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $28.96
Two single-sided discs (DVD-9 & DVD-5)
Black Keepcase in Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

The film is presented in its original 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio and enhanced for 16:9 displays. As expected for a brand new film, the transfer is excellent, leaving no room for complaint. A visually significant movie like this really shines on even a big screen display.

Audio is presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound track, which gets the job done.
Rather than making steady use of the rear channels during the musical numbers, though, the surround channels hold back until they can be brought in for a particular effect. That approach isn't without its merits -- the surround sound packs a more noticeable punch when it revs up and certain environments are more believable in surround than others -- but I like to be engulfed in the sounds of good music and given the importance of the songs to a musical revue like this, I would have preferred the track to offer more. Nevertheless, the sound is extremely crisp and clear throughout and demands the viewer's attention even when not making full use of the available channels.

A number of subtitles are available for the film and the bonus features: Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. English and French subtitles are also available for the film itself but, oddly enough, not the bonus features.

More of Eddie Izzard's Zidler-isque turn as Mr. Kite is seen in Disc 1's alternate takes. Here, he's backed by smiling blue people. In one of the more than 100 photo gallery images, Jude Feeny looks wistfully at the fruity flag of the "Strawberry Fields Forever" sequence. Director Julie Taymor has received plenty of praise for the flair and flavor she brought this production, but let's not overlook the fact that she can take Bono seriously while he looks like this.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Disc One's most outstanding special feature is an audio commentary by director/co-writer Julie Taymor and composer/music producer Elliot Goldenthal. The track is informative and insightful, covering everything from the concept behind various scenes to the filmmaking tricks employed to pull them off. Taymor dominates the discussion, so much so that when Goldenthal chimes in it comes as a surprise. That's not a problem, though; this is clearly Taymor's brainchild and her analysis is valued.

Also on the disc is a 1-minute deleted scene, "And I Love Her", performed by JoJo as he serenades to a semi-nude Sadie. The scene and the song are both forgettable but deleted footage is always nice to see.

There are two alternate takes of Eddie Izzard's performance of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite", both recorded live. One of the best scenes in the movie, this imaginative venue for Izzard's impromptu creativity is enjoyable in each of the discarded renditions as well. They can be played individually or together via the Play All option that run 5 minutes and 49 seconds.

Rounding out Disc One is a Photo Gallery with three self-explanatory subsections. "On the Set" offers just over 100 images (way too many, given how slow-loading they are and that these are just stills from the final film), "Behind the Scenes" provides 18 photos from production, and "Design" supplies 30 images. Sadly, there is no option to view all the photos as a slideshow.

Disc Two begins with five excellent featurettes which are not grouped together with a Play All option or seamless transitions but which together comprise a sort of documentary about the film. The first is "Creating the Universe", a half-hour look at the concept behind the movie and its production, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with relevant cast and crew.

Four of the "Stars of Tomorrow" -- Jim Sturgess, T.V. Carpio, Evan Rachel Wood, and Joe Anderson -- chillax during a break in filming a peace demonstration scene. Choreographer Daniel Ezralow looks surprisingly calm for being in the same room as all those disturbingly jut-jawed Army men. Jude is momentarily a strawberry on the Disc 1 Main Menu's intergalactic parchment.

"Stars of Tomorrow" (27:06) looks at the relatively unknown main cast and their respective talents. Despite a natural inclination towards praise, the piece is interesting and includes some neat video of the cast rehearsing and goofing off between takes.

"All About the Music" (15:23) is true to its name,
spending even more time on the rehearsals and studio recordings and includes discussion about the movie's most important element: Beatles songs. "Moving Across the Universe" (9:03) profiles the film's atypical choreography from the perspective of choreographer Daniel Ezralow, matching rehearsals with the final product. Finally, "FX on the Universe" (6:35) covers another essential element to the movie's success, its impressive visual effects. This last featurette is brief and selective, giving only a light overview of the mechanics behind certain effects. A deeper look would have been better but this is still very much worthwhile.

Aside from the five featurettes, Disc Two presents eight extended musical performances (35:00). While the movie itself often joins a song in the middle or leaves before its conclusion, this special features section allows the viewer to hear some of the songs in their entirety (or near entirety), a treat indeed. The songs/scenes found here are: "Hold Me Tight", "Come Together", "I Am the Walrus", "Dear Prudence", "Something", "Oh! Darling", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Across the Universe/Helter Skelter". A Play All option is happily made available.

The 2-Disc Special Edition isn't as comprehensive as it could be... publicity materials (most notably a trailer) are especially missed. Nevertheless, the platter here is a fairly robust one and the contents are, on the whole, superb.

Disc One's 16x9 main menu appropriately features a moving canvas of stars while "Across the Universe" plays in the background and various clips and images from the film rotate. The stars are joined by strawberries on Disc Two, where "Strawberry Fields Forever" plays. The sub-menus are still and silent. The scene selections are all named for a song featured therein, thirty in all (and no easy way to navigate through them).

The discs are packaged inside a standard keepcase, adorned with a cardboard slipcover that duplicates the attractive cover art with holography and a brighter palette. The disc art portrays one of the two foremost leads on each. Inside the case is a two-sided insert advertising both the Standard Edition and Deluxe Edition of the movie's CD soundtrack. The back cover presents an appealing collage from the movie and a synopsis that, presumably due to contractual reasons, omits the B-word while awkwardly highlighting Bono's cameo.

Disc One begins with previews for Blu-Ray disc and two films: 21 and The Jane Austen Book Club. These are also found on the main menu, along with previews for other titles: Vantage Point, The Other Boleyn Girl, Moliθre, Jimmy Carter Man From Plains, "Damages": Season 1, Rent, Blonde Ambition, Saawariya, and Persepolis.

With a nine-person circle of love, the movie reinforces its free-spirited late-1960s setting. Jude and Lucy bond on a New York City sidewalk.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Across the Universe tells a wholly unforgettable, unoriginal, and uncompelling story. Proving itself an exception to the rule, however, the way the film tells that story is so inspired that it is nevertheless one to see more than once. Essentially an extended music video that aligns a decade with its soundtrack, the movie marries great music with spectacular cinematography and visual effects to produce an experience worth having. The 2-Disc Deluxe Edition provides excellent video, decent (though not quite perfect) audio, and a pleasing serving of bonus features. If the movie wasn't enough to warrant a recommendation, the DVD seals the deal.

More on the DVD / Buy Across the Universe from Amazon.com:
2-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD / Blu-ray / 1-Disc DVD / 2-Disc DVD Gift Set (w/shirt)

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed February 22, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2007 Columbia Pictures and Revolution Studios, 2008 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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