Viva la Beatles! We're familiar with the many musicals that have come out of late, either being remade from stage to screen, or updated for today's era, the latest being Hairspray. And a musical made up entirely of songs by the Beatles, but not sung by the Beatles themselves? While it is easy to make a movie based on songs by the "it" group of the time (Spice World anyone?) and starring the singers themselves so that there won't be a nightmare in casting actors who can sing, or worse, start to mutilate the lyrics, how about throwing that mantra out of the window?
Across the Universe does exactly that. Who would've thought that the discography of the Beatles, diverse as they may be, could have a multitude of songs chosen, and strung together so nicely that it makes for a coherent musical all through 130 odd minutes of the story? I thought it worked, and worked perfectly, and what came out of it are pretty kooky song and dance sequences that had everything thrown in from slick editing to psychedelic animation. Best of all, the cast members themselves lend their vocals, albeit having the music tweaked a little so that it doesn't sound exactly the same as having a collection of the Beatles' greatest hits being popped into a CD and played ad nauseam.
Set during the era of the Beatles themselves, Across the Universe is set mainly across the Atlantic in 60s USA, where the Vietnam War is abound. We're introduced to Jude (convenient name to make you wait up for the inevitable song, as with the other names), played by Jim Sturgess, a Liverpool (heh) dock worker who gets himself to the USA in search of his long lost dad. He meets Max Carrigan (Joe Anderson) with whom he becomes fast friends with, and falls in love with his sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), a schoolgirl who had just lost her first boyfriend to the war.
The movie is a simple tale of romance between two lovebirds, and you'd come to expect the usual boy-meets-girl-loses-girl-gets-girl-back routine, but what works is of course, the music by the Beatles. Adding texture and layer to the movie were the various subplots which had another relationship running parallel to that of Jude and Lucy's - their landlady Sadie (Dana Fuchs), who is a rock musician, and her guitarist JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy), as they call Come Together under one big roof, settling in a Bohemien lifestyle, which suits Jude's artistic talents just so nicely. It had plenty of loving, but conspicuously absent, and for the better, is drugs, except for a surreal underwater scene, and some really insane moments inside a big top, complete with wacky animation.
What I thought the movie had taken a leaf out of Citizen Dog's was how love progressed and reached the doldrums, against the backdrop of the opposition to the War. While films like Born on the Fourth of July had very powerful statements to make, Across the Universe sort of adopted the stance that Forrest Gump had, with the love of Jude's life joining the opposition cause, much to his displeasure and becomes a barrier, but can't do anything much about it anyway, allowing unnecessary jealousy to come in between them, which became "I told you so".
Director Julie Taymor had an excellent cast to work with, not only do they sing well, but they brought out their characters perfectly. Evan Rachel Wood excelled as the teenage wide-eyed schoolgirl to whom we were introduced, who slowly turns to one with steely resolve, Jim Sturgess as the likeable English bloke who stands witness to the tumultuous era that the US goes through, and microscopically, turns from a bastardly Dong Juan back home to monogamous Romeo in the US, but the one who takes the cake, is Joe Anderson's Max, who lives life with an immortal, youthful idealism, who goes where the wind takes him, until his dropping out of an ivy league college meant receiving the Draft, in one really hilarious sequence with Uncle Sam.
All in, I can't vouch that the story will set to wow, but the songs, thank goodness for the Beatles, more than makes up for the cliche which goes straight through to the end. True Beatles fans will find tons of references not only from the songs, but from the various easter eggs scattered everywhere in the movie. They are really going to have a field day with this one. Viva la Beatles!