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U2 3D
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by Peter Sobczynski

"So Close, Faraway!"
4 stars

Ever since they first burst onto the scene in the early 1980's, the Irish rock group U2 has unabashedly burned with the desire to be the biggest band in the world and even though they achieved that goal a couple of decades ago, they have continued to display the same sense of overwhelming ambition that put them there in the first place. While that sense of ambition has admittedly resulted in more than a few artistic missteps over the years–the 1988 documentary/hagiography “Rattle & Hum” and the grotesquely overblown “Popmart” album and tour from the mid-1990's spring to mind–the determination to keep pushing themselves instead of simply falling back on the time-honored pattern of emerging every few years with a lackluster album followed by a tour trading on their past glories has kept them fresh and relevant in an industry that has lately become all too willing to toss veterans by the wayside in order to search for the next big thing. And yet, it is this very sense of ambition that is somewhat lacking in “U2 3D,” their new concert documentary. The film is certainly a visual spectacle and fans looking for nothing more than a visual jukebox are no doubt going to be delighted with it but anyone hoping for something more from the group–some pressing reason for its existence–may find themselves coming away from it feeling a little disappointed.

Filmed at a number of stops on their top-selling 2005-2006 “Vertigo” tour to publicize the 2004 album “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb,” the film offers exactly what the title promises–Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr in three dimensions ripping through a 14-song set for hordes of wildly appreciative fans jam-packed into enormous, soulless stadiums throughout the world. Kicking off with “Vertigo,” the song selection includes many of their biggest hits (“One,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Beautiful Day”), some early classics (“New Year’s Day,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Pride”), a couple of newer tunes (“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” “Love and Peace or Else”) and even a curveball or two (“Miss Sarajevo” and an end-credit rendition of “Yaweh”) before (Spoiler Warning!) encoring with “The Fly” and “With or Without You.” While one could quibble about a couple of the song choices (I can’t be alone in wishing that something along the lines of “City of Blinding Lights,” “All I Want Is You” or “Running To Stand Still” had been included over a throwaway like “Miss Sarajevo”), the band cranks them out with an enormous amount of energy, especially impressive when you consider how long they must have been playing them throughout the tour. Since it is a U2 show, of course, there are parts in which the band lets its social conscience take center stage with mixed results–a recitation of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights is noble enough and reasonably moving but the bit when Bono accompanies the “wipe your tears away” line in “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by reaching out into the movie audience through the miracle of 3-D to actually wipe our tears away himself is so unbelievably gauche (it sounds like something from a parody of a 3-D U2 film) that it makes the whole of “Rattle & Hum” look subtle and restrained by comparison.

And yet, despite the impressiveness of both the performance from the band and the quality of the 3-D projection (during the times when we see the view captured from cameras placed within the swaying throngs of people, the effect is so convincing as to be almost disconcerting), the film eventually turns out to be more of a technological success than a emotional one. The problem is that the best U2 songs are about communication and bringing people together and the disconnect between the message of those songs and the idea of playing them inside the enormous stadiums for crowds so vast that they lose all individuality struck me as a little disconcerting. When the Rolling Stones did their IMAX movie, there was no sense of human connection but since the Stones have always been primarily about spectacle and bombast, you didn’t really sense this schism but it is noticeable here and it does wind up working against the film as a whole. To be fair, I’m not sure that anyone could convincingly forge a sense of community within the parameters of something as vast as this–Bruce Springsteen could probably pull it off but he is the only one that really comes to mind–but I wish that U2 had at least made an effort to grapple with this problem instead of simply ignoring it.

That quibble aside, “U2 3D” is still a fairly impressive achievement (especially if you are able to catch it in one of its IMAX engagements) and it also points the way to what could be a revival of the concert film as a viable genre. Outside of a few notable exceptions (such as “The Last Waltz,” “Stop Making Sense” and “Neil Young: Heart Of Gold,” most concert movies of the past have been indifferently shot efforts that rarely captured the excitement of a live performance–little more than the cinematic equivalent of a souvenir T-shirt that shrinks the minute it touches warm water. By utilizing such advances as digital 3-D and IMAX, though, a film of this type can come much closer to recreating the sights and sounds of an actual concert (where you are most likely observing the action from a Jumbotron screen anyway) while the comparatively cheap price of a movie ticket price and repeat showings means that more fans will be able to experience the thrill of seeing their favorites in concert without going into hock. In the next few weeks alone, we are getting a 3-D Hannah Montana concert film and “Shine a Light,” Martin Scorsese’s eagerly-awaited Rolling Stones concert film that will be getting some IMAX play as well (and having heard most of the last half-hour of the film a couple of weeks ago, I can assure you that it may well be the loudest movie of the still-young year) and if they succeed at the box-office, there will no doubt be many more to follow. Of course, not every musical act needs to do a movie along these lines (is anyone out there really champing at the bit to see six-story high versions of the Eagles or Hilary Duff?) but in the right hands, it could result in something special–I know for a fact that if Shakira ever decides to do a 3-D IMAX film, you may never hear from me again because I would probably die of sheer bliss right on the spot or simply move into the auditorium for good.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16931&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/23/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Traverse City Film Festival For more in the 2010 Traverse City Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/25/08 David Pollastrini Captures the power of U2's live show excellently 5 stars
2/09/08 Scott L. I really wanted to like it, but the experience was disappointing. 1 stars
1/28/08 chad would have liked to have seen stuck in a moment. i liked the stripped down tour version 4 stars
1/26/08 Jeffrey Gardner Bono singing and a mind boggling headache from the 3-D-I'd rather undergo prostate surgery. 2 stars
1/26/08 Sheryl Karosen Amazing. Best concert ever. 5 stars
1/24/08 Ramzi Abed I think that this concert documentary is incredible. Not to mention that it's high def! 4 stars
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  23-Jan-2008 (G)



Directed by
  Catherine Owens
  Mark Pellington

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