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‘Universe’ is best seen on DVD

February 14, 2008
By ANDY GRAY Tribune Chronicle
DVD is the perfect way to experience ‘‘Across the Universe.’’

Watching the movie itself on the first disc ($28.96, Sony Home Entertainment) is a must, both to marvel at all director Julie Taymor does right and stare in slack-jawed wonder at the times when it goes horribly wrong.

And I liked the movie more the second time than when I first saw it the theater. The 30-plus Beatles songs make up most of the 133-minute running time, so I was a little more inclined to focus on them instead of dwelling on lackluster story that strings them together.

The story, which tries to sum up the ‘60s counterculture in just over two hours, reduces the era to the same touchstones that have been dramatized countless times before. Some of the choices are odd (why are there characters clearly inspired by Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in a Beatles’ movie?), and the in-jokey references to Fab Four lyrics become distracting.

But what Taymor, who is best known for her work as a stage director, does with the music is mesmerizing.

‘‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’’ is reimagined as a yearning ballad of unrequited love, ‘‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’’ provides the accompaniment for an inspired sequence in a bowling alley that would be the best three minutes in a modern dance program.

For sheer audacity, nothing tops the sequence built around ‘‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy),’’ which follows Max receiving his draft notice. When Max reports to the Army, the Uncle Sam recruiting posters come to life and sing ‘‘I want you. I want you soooooo bad.’’ As the song continues, Max and the other recruits are poked and prodded and molded into soldiers by green characters that look like a cross between robots and living toy soldiers in a scene that is very reminiscent of the ‘‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2’’ sequence from ‘‘Pink Floyd’s The Wall.’’ By the time they get to the ‘‘She’s So Heavy’’ section of the song, the recruits are soldiers stomping over a miniature version of Vietnam while carrying the Statue of Liberty on their backs.

Joe Cocker lends his trademark growl to ‘‘Come Together,’’ and Bono plays a Timothy Leary-style guru singing ‘‘I Am the Walrus,’’ but Taymor mostly populates the cast with young, talented actors, especially appealing leads Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood.

The reason ‘‘Across the Universe’’ is best-suited to DVD is that viewers can skip the movie when they want and just enjoy the extended musical sequences on disc two or pick out their favorite bits in the film.

The second disc also offers several featurettes with detailed explorations of the music, the choreography, the casting and the visual effects. Some of the same ground is covered in the commentary track with Taymor and composer/music producer Elliot Goldenthal. Movie: B- Extras: B+



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