We put Across the Universe on our Netflix list when it came out–I’m not quite sure why. When it arrived and we read over the blurb, my wife said “This is probably one you’ll want to watch on your own–unless you think I’d like it.”
So I started in, using headphones as I usually would if I’m the only one watching. Using headphones: That’s a significant point, and in this case a Really. Bad. Idea. Because you can hear the musical arrangements extremely well…and that was unfortunate. Within ten minutes, I reassured my wife, “No, you probably don’t want to watch this.” I did watch it all the way through…a bad habit acquired when watching the old public-domain flicks.
Backing up a bit
Understand: We both like (most) musicals. We both enjoyed Mamma Mia!, which in some ways is a similar idea (build a movie around one group’s songs, with actors doing all the singing). (I know what people have said, but we thought Pierce Brosnan’s singing was perfectly acceptable for the situation.) We both like (some) Beatles music.
And, in fact, I don’t fault the actors singing the Beatles songs in Across the Universe. I thought Evan Rachel Wood did a credible job, Jim Sturgess was thin but OK, Martin Luther was good, and Dana Fuchs didn’t actually make my ears bleed very much (in any case, I think she was supposed to be channeling Janis Joplin at her most abrasive).
Set aside the “story”
I’m not going to concern myself with the so-called plot, the so-called acting and all that. It was what it was–pretty sad, but it was what it was. I’d certainly never sit through it again.
What really got to me were the arrangements.
[Section deleted because I really don't know much about the people in charge, and so shouldn't ascribe motives. What I do know is what I heard--which was particularly uninteresting, leaden electric bass and drum parts in the arrangements that use the instruments.]
OK, I get that McCartney was somewhat of a revolutionary in making the electric bass something other than a percussion instrument. I’ll admit that I never thought of Starr as a world-class drummer, but compared to what goes on in these arrangements, he’s a master of subtlety and technique.
There were a couple of real singers in the performance. Bono should be ashamed. Let’s let it go at that. Still, going to IMDB, I see dozens (hundreds!) of enthusiastic reviews, along with some bad ones (apparently, 186 reviewers out of 441 gave it less than 7.5 stars out of 10–and 52 of those gave it the lowest possible rating. I’m with that group, thanks).