January 23, 2008

U2 3D

Bono Is Watching You

Grade: B
Directed by: Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington
Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr.
MPAA Rating:
Running Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

There are two dividing lines on whether you will like U2 3D, the celebrated rock band’s latest concert film. The first is between those who like U2, their music, and perhaps even their message, and those who do not. Second, there are those fans who hold regard for the sort of multi-faceted, on & off-stage rockumentary emblemized by 1988’s Rattle and Hum and those who just want the music, man.

Gone are the days of the IRA rants and “Zoo TV” stage personas. Still, with Bono there is never “just” the music. So, even a film that comprises solely footage from various concerts throughout the band’s global “Vertigo” tour is going to have its moments of political grandstanding synthesized into pop performance art, whether elucidating the fact that “Pride (In the Name of Love)” was written about Martin Luther King, Jr. or leading a call-and-response on how Jesus, Jews, and Muhammad are “all sons of Abraham.” The postlude to “Miss Sarajevo” includes a partial reading from the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. In truth, Bono’s messianic dogma, whether genuine or not, is at worst a clever marketing hook that only enhances the band’s ethereal, larger-than-life quality.

While U2 has filmed countless concert videos over the years, U2 3D combines ever-evolving 3D technology with the immense IMAX audio/video experience to create while not the best concert film ever than certainly the most sensory and innovative one. [Note: the film will open in limited IMAX theaters on Jan. 23 and expand wide to other digital 3D theaters on Feb. 15.] The result is a sight to behold, a film that accomplishes the proverbial goal of recreating the rattle and hum of being part of the live audience. Moreover, its omnipresent 3D cameras provide a periodic glimpse of how to it feels to be a performer onstage before a stadium full of screaming, chanting, and pulsating fans.

While exhilarating at any level, the film must be seen in the IMAX 3D format for optimal impact. When Bono gazes into the camera and sings of wiping your tears away during “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” his hand appears to be mere inches from your cheek. Directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington employ long, lyrical camera shots, not the sort of quick-cut editing so prevalent in today’s music videos.

Yet, for all the techno wizardry and infectious melodies, there is still an air of popmart packaging to U2 3D, beginning with an opening title card announcing that the film is being co-sponsored by electronics retailer Best Buy. It continues when you look around at your fellow theater audience members, locked in a fixed gaze, clad in futuristic polarized shades, and illuminated by the dull glow reflecting off a fifty-foot high video screen. For a moment, it looks as if you are the willing dupes in some Orwellian group-think experiment. But then, the band begins grinding out the opening bars to “New Year’s Day,” and it once again becomes all about the music. Man, oh man…

Neil Morris

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