Review: Across The Universe by Jamie

The last time I looked at a film that took the music of one band and built a plot around it was the fucking atrocious ABBA-based musical ‘Mamma Mia!’…. Oh god, the shrieking, the bad singing, the bad acting… I’m just going to have a little cry. Please bear with me.

Right. Sorry about that. That film really touched me and not in a good way, more like the kind of way that the Pope might try and cover up. Zing, take that Catholic Church! Haha, satire. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Mamma Mia. So yeah that was a terrible, terrible film that kind of made me want to launch a full scale invasion of Sweden to try and make sure this kind of thing never happens again. Still, this kind of thing did happen again. And this time the band that supplied the music, The Beatles, came from my beloved Britain! Would I have to commit some desperate acts of domestic terrorism or would ‘Across The Universe’ actually turn out to be good?

Thankfully it looks like I’m safe for the time being. I had some worries going in but it actually turns out that ‘Across The Universe’ was an eminently enjoyable film. And how could it not be, really? It’s based on the music of The Fucking Beatles. I think we’re definitely dealing with song-writers of an infinitely higher calibre than ABBA. So yeah, it’s definitely starting from a stronger point right there.

Now, I can remember when I first heard about this film and there were a lot of complaints I’d heard from people basically disliking the cover versions of the song or saying that the songs were being used too literally and yes, I can see why those people have those complaints. But you can’t take such things so seriously. Cover versions have been a part of music probably since music began. And even if those cover versions are going to exist I don’t see the problem. It’s not like the original versions are suddenly going to disappear or be superseded by the new versions. Of course, remakes of films are totally different and a perfectly valid thing to get upset about for reasons I simply won’t go into here…

As for the using the songs too literally, well, yeah. I can see that as well but you’ve got to understand that the songs are being used in this context to tell a narrative throughout an entire film. They’re not being left to stand on there own or to tell a story throughout an album. They aren’t meant to be interpreted and picked apart for their meaning when used in a film in this manner. They just tell the story of the film. I suppose some people may say that taking these elements from these classic songs and using them in this way some how cheapens them but to that I say pshaw! Of course, when you take elements from an older film and re-use them in a different way in a remake it’s completely different and a completely valid thing to get upset about for, once again, reasons I simply won’t go into here…

Anyway, I didn’t see this film when it first came out mainly because of those complaints. I liked the Beatles and had no interest in watching their music possibly being butchered in what sounded like it might just end up being a pretty standard love film. Then I listened to the Cool Shite soundtrack podcast about this film. I generally seem to have similar tastes to the guys on that podcast and they seemed to enjoy it so I thought ‘what the fuck, just give it a watch.’ So I did. I should say that, having listened to that podcast there’s a chance that some of my thoughts may echo some of theirs though I tried to leave it a little while after listening to it before writing this in the hope that there wouldn’t be too much cross-over.

So, the story basically follows a group of characters living through the tumultuous mid to late 60s, the things they encounter on their journeys and the friendships they make along the way. I’m guessing, though it’s never actually made clear, that this is some kind of parallel dimension where The Beatles never existed but peoples lives play out according to their lyrics or something. Anyway, the two main characters are Jude Feeny (Jim Sturgess), a working class artistic boy from Liverpool who comes to America to try and find his father and ends up staying there to try and find himself and Lucy Carrigan (Evan Rachel Wood) an upper class girl who loses her boyfriend in Vietnam and becomes heavily involved in the protest against it and heavily involved in Jude as well. There’s also Max (Joe Anderson), Lucy’s brother and Jude’s best friend who’s quite a fun, likeable guy who suddenly finds himself called up to serve in the war effort, Sadie (Dana Fuchs), the group’s landlady and singer in a band, Jojo (Martin Luther McCoy), Sadie’s boyfriend and guitarist and Prudence (T.V. Carpio), who’s a bit of a drifter and a lesbian.

I’m sure you can see just by looking at some of the character’s names that this is literally littered with Beatles references. It doesn’t stop at character names (Though Bono has a cameo as Dr. Robert and Eddie Izzard as Mr Kite though we’ll come back to those later). Almost everything seems to be some kind of reference. At one point Jude is trying to come up with a logo for Sadie’s record label and eventually settles on a strawberry whilst singing Strawberry Fields Forever and the label is called Strawberry Jamz which is an obvious reference to Apple Corps and just in case you didn’t get that, Jude is earlier shown trying to draw a green apple. The Blue Meanies from Yellow submarine appear, The Magical Mystery Bus appears, an early scene in the film takes place in The Cavern Club… I think you get the point. If I keep going on like this I’ll still be here when I‘m sixty-four.

So the music’s clearly the backbone of this film but it would be utterly pointless without a plot and yeah, there are times when it lags and during the beginning I was a little worried because it just seemed to be random scenes tenuously linked by Beatles music which kind of fit it and I was worried that this film was essentially just gonna be a bit of an excuse just to do a few cover songs with little to no actual plot but as it went along I found myself genuinely enjoying the story and empathising with the characters and the various predicaments they find themselves in. I’m trying to be vague because I think it’s really a film you should probably see for yourself.

The plot also features a few real life events which the characters find themselves involved in though some are just mentioned in passing to try and give some time of context of the films time frame. There are race riots, a riot at a college which turns violent, the assassination of Martin Luther King and, of course, the previously mentioned Vietnam war. There are even references to the rise of the psychedelic drug use, though I suppose you’d have to include that in a film that included ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘For The Benefit of Mr Kite’.

So let’s get onto the music then. In general it’s all pretty goddamn good. I didn’t find the cover versions in anyway pissed on what The Beatles did and I wasn’t particularly annoyed by the ‘over-literal’ interpretations of the songs. There where definitely some highlights for me. In particular Bono’s cameo to do a version of ‘I Am The Walrus’ and Eddie Izzard’s cameo to deliver a spoken word version of ‘For The Benefit of Mr Kite’. It’s brilliant and anyone who’s an Izzard fan is sure to enjoy it. He’s basically just being himself in the context of a Beatles song. I could go on about other songs and why I love them so I’ll just make a quick go of it: Joe Cocker’s version of ‘Come Together’, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ featuring Selma Hayek as a troupe of sexy nurses, a transatlantic version of ‘Hey Jude’, a rooftop version of ‘All You Need Is Love’ and my personal favourite Beatles song ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ during the end credits.

Hmm, I guess this hasn’t been a review so much as it’s been a series of lists. Still I highly, highly recommend you see this film especially if you love The Beatles but aren‘t against their music being used in new and interesting ways. Also it really made me want to play Rock Band: The Beatles again so that’s always good. Four pints out of five.

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