MOVIE REVIEW - U2 3D
Directors: Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington
Music Written by: Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton; except Miss Sarajevo, written by Brian Eno, Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton
Producers: Jon Shapiro, Peter Shapiro, Catherine Owens, John Modell; music producer Carl Glanville
Featuring: U2 – Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton
Simply put – I have never seen a 3-D picture like U2-3D. The illusion of three-dimensional imagery is almost invariably a tease without sufficient follow-through, a gimmick that ends up delivering blurry imagery and a few cheap shocks reaching out at you from dull, static set-ups, while the glasses give you a headache.
But here is something different. Here is 3-D of a crispness and depth I’d never imagined possible before. Here is camerawork as dynamic as anything 2-D, and the movie screen re-cast as a true living proscenium, with tangible layers of virtual distance behind it like curtains of light, bodies bouncing en masse so vibrantly I thought the screen was flapping in a wind. This is the promise finally fulfilled – the company responsible for this technological triumph is 3ality Digital Entertainment. With me, at least, they have achieved name-brand credibility in one instant and overwhelming stroke. If I see their name on a future endeavor, look for me in a ticket line.
I want to make the point of craft up-front, so we can proceed to talking about just what is being presented with such groundbreaking expertise. This is a concert film, featuring U2, arguably the biggest rock-and-roll band in the world over the past generation. Notably, it is not the only concert film, or even the only 3-D concert film, presently competing for eyeballs in movie theatres, as any girl between the ages of 6 and 14 can probably inform you. As exhibitors figure out what to do with all these big, expensive screens that now have to compete with our home theatres, and the music industry tries to figure out how to replace the revenue from those gouging CD profit margins consumers are rebelling against, my bet is you’ll see more of this format, and U2, as is their habit, has succeeded in setting the bar high.
The show clocks about 80 minutes, short for a real concert but advantageous because it includes no forgettable opening act, no shuffling around until 45 minutes past the start time, and little-to-no waiting around between songs. The songs make a reasonable journey through the greatest hits of the band’s deep catalog: notably, Mysterious Ways goes unplayed, Beautiful Day is the only representative of the Grammy-winning comeback album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and fans of Zooropa and Pop (I know you’re out there) will be disappointed to note that those albums have been dropped entirely down the memory hole. The band does take time to play Miss Sarajevo from their lesser-known “pen-name” collaboration with Brian Eno, Original Soundtracks 1, with Bono performing a passionate recreation of the vocal solo first recorded by the late Luciano Pavoratti.
Anyone who has winced recently to hear Sting grope scratchily toward his old upper-register on Roxanne will be relieved that Bono’s chops have lost none of their soaring strength. The same goes for his band-mates – U2 has always thrived in the live setting, and the experience shows in Larry Mullen’s crisp, sophisticated drumming, the slippery and subliminal pulse of Adam Clayton’s bass. You especially gain appreciation for just how much melody and texture, more than seems possible from a single musician, comes out of The Edge’s guitar.
The film takes a few numbers to find its groove, it’s most scattered in editing rhythm early on, and also the most thematically indecisive. Unlike Jonathan Demme’s landmark Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which crafted the band’s add-a-musician structure into a subtle emotional narrative, for its first third U2 3D doesn’t care to tell any story more complex than Once Upon a Time, U2 went to South America and put on a hell of a show.
But then you start to see the peaks of feeling, Bono banging away on a drum with tribal fervor, and the little touches of effect, like the colored letters that cascade down around the band during a grinding rendition of The Fly. You see the band’s world-consciousness folded into the music – Bono, under the surface of rocking out, actually leading a rapturous mass prayer for peace and coexistence.
If the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Who carried the torch of rock-and-roll’s rebellion against conformity for their generation, U2 has taken that torch, stripped away the cynicism and spite, and expanded the ambition of the idea – this is rebellion against the planet’s apathy, despair, and low expectations. It may have taken them an entire generation to reach the point where a band could include readings from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in their show and not look like poseurs, but from Sunday Bloody Sunday on in their career, it’s as if we can now see the twenty-five years of preparation and design that brought us to this moment. When in 2001 they declared “We’re re-applying for the job of biggest band in the world”, they were sincere, because they were ready.
Given this power they have to whip tens of thousands of people into an ecstasy of belief with music, you can almost forgive Bono’s momentary lapses to the Messianism of the moment, like a conspicuously beatific kiss he lays on Clayton. As the show ends and there’s nothing left for him to do but absorb the passion of the crowd he has channeled, he lets out an audible and unconscious “wow”. It’s still rock-and-roll to him.