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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "U2 - 3D" (2006)

It’s almost not fair for me to review this movie, considering the baggage I bring when I walk into the theater. Until the past couple years, I had been a devout U2 fan. I have seen them 22 times. I know what it’s like to have Bono right in your face singing a lyric directly at you. Not just singing it, but also holding your hand as well (that’s a long story). I’ve been in that sea of bodies many times over and I have a pretty good grip on what song will be next just by hearing the opening note or two. But lest you think this review is just a piece of fanboy adulation, I will defer you to my lukewarm review of their 1988 concert film/documentary, “Rattle and Hum”:

(Link no longer available)

It’s also fair to point out why my fandom has waned over the past couple years. First, their most previous albums, All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, showcased the band creating some of their best songs (Walk On, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, Original of the Species) as well as some of their worst (A Man and A Woman, Yahweh). The band tried too hard to regain and maintain their mainstream success, which had once been lost upon the release of the underrated Pop album and subsequent PopMart Tour. In this fan’s opinion, the music suffered as a result. It had no surprises or sense of adventure. Furthermore, the band oversaturated themselves with the ubiquitous iPod ad, making Vertigo the most overplayed song of 2004-05. U2 had become more of a business than a band and for many, many other reasons that belong in their own article, it just wasn’t fun to be a fan anymore.

But it’s this business savvy quality that has helped the band finance some of the biggest, greatest concerts you could ever hope to see. U2 has never been shy about its desire to conquer the world and I by no means expect them to maintain any sort of indie cred in doing so. I want my U2 concerts to be bigger than life, overwhelmingly celebratory and exhausting. The new concert film U2 3D does its best in recreating that feeling and I couldn’t have been happier about how this trip down memory lane turned out. It’s a resounding success.

First, the cinematography. This is exactly what a U2 concert looks like. Nothing appears to have been enhanced or color corrected in any way. The cameras are well-placed, both on stage and within the crowds. They move gracefully around the stage while also maintaining some exhilarating static shots. The cameras capture the overall scope of the show, displaying the enormity of the large video screen and the band in one shot, but never giving the impression that the band has become dwarfed by the spectacle. We get a clear sense that the concert can be enjoyed on a variety of different levels, which is exactly how a U2 concert should feel.

Then there’s the editing. Over the past couple years, U2 has had a mixed bag of directors and editors shaping their concerts for DVD. The Chicago concert of this same tour (the Vertigo Tour) had been edited like a Michael Bay film, rendering it about as unwatchable. I don’t know why some editors can’t put faith in long takes and minimal cuts. Finally, U2 has the good fortune of having an unknown editor by the name of Olivier Wicki, who has dome some of the best concert film editing I’ve seen since Lisa Day (“Stop Making Sense,” “Home of the Brave”). The edits are smooth, seamless and never, ever overdone. The overlapping of video images with the band has a sense of purpose that actually has little to do with 3D effects.

And what about the 3D? I suppose it helps that the film was made with 3D in mind. Yet, it is to the credit of directors Mark Pellington (a former U2 collaborator) and Catherine Owens that the 3D doesn’t feel like a cheap gimmick. The success of this film is that you actually forget that it’s in 3D. Owens, Pellington and Wicki know that the power lies within the performance itself. Yes, the band come right at you, the big screen graphics look beautiful when gliding in and out of the picture and you really do get the feeling of being right there, but the overall highlight of the film itself is the emotional performance of their little-known song Miss Sarajevo, with which they originally collaborated with Luciano Pavoratti. The 3D highlight, for me, has got to be The Fly, in which the union of 3D and Zoo TV feels like the perfect marriage.

Again, it’s hard for me to not let my own experience with U2 concerts get in the way of my estimation of this film. The movie misses a couple opportunities with the 3D. I had hoped City of Blinding Lights would have made it into the film, during which time confetti came raining down onto the audience (maybe they didn’t do this for the European leg of the tour. I stopped keeping track). I also wish they would have made more use of the fighter plane image in Bullet the Blue Sky. It seemed like a natural choice to have it hover in the foreground.

Nevertheless, U2 3D captures the spirit of a live U2 concert more than any other concert film I’ve seen of theirs (even if it only runs 90 minutes, whereas a real U2 show usually runs just about two hours). The IMAX screen allows us to see the euphoria on Bono’s face as the audience leads the outro on Pride, as well as the sudden appearance of aging on the once boyish face of Larry Mullen Jr. (who, during Love and Peace or Else, suddenly turns into Larry Mullet Jr.). The Edge almost keeps a low profile and appears business-as-usual (nothing wrong with that). And it’s always fun to see Adam Clayton during New Years Day, as he takes center stage knowing full well that when that song plays, he’s the real lead singer of the band.

So, whatever little nitpicks or inevitable gripes I might have, they have everything to do with being a once die-hard fan and little to do with the film that’s out there. The movie out there is, in and of itself, a great one. It accomplishes what a great concert film should. It captures the spirit and intensity of the artist. It has the power to engage even the most casual listener. Best of all, it has a sense of purpose, not only for its groundbreaking effects that certainly go a long way in enhancing the experience, but also to show the many sides to a U2 concert. Let’s face it, the ticket for a U2 concert will only get higher with time, but at least there’s a damn solid alternative to those who don’t want to fork over the cash and they most likely won’t leave disappointed. This is a rare concert film that will give you your money’s worth, even if it does feature the song Yahweh.

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