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Friday, January 25, 2008

U2 3D: The IMAX Experience (***)


Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World

U2 3D was shot at 7 different concerts, primarily in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during the band's "Vertigo" tour. If you love U2, everything about them that fans the unforgettable fires of that love is live and in living color in stunning 3D. If you hate U2, the very same. Bono's over the top theatrics that thrill as many millions as they irritate, The Edge's impeccable guitar work, Adam Clayton's often-unheralded (thankfully not here) genius on the bass, and Larry Mullen, Jr.'s solemn, flawless drumwork are on full display.

The 3D concert offers jawdropping sights that indeed immerse the viewer with perspectives not even being the arena live can match: Thousands upon thousands of emotional Argentinean fans hopping up and down to the chords of "Where The Streets Have No Name". A digital Bono superposed next to The Edge on stage. Bono melodramatically hugging a virtual image of his father. Homages to Zoo TV's visual propaganda during "The Fly." The blackened stadium lit up by countless 3D lights in the crowd (not just cellphone LED lights but flames from lighters. Old school! I guess smoking hasn't been banned in outdoor soccer arenas in Argentina). Musically, visually, it's a fantastic show. The only thing standing in the way of total U2-phoria are U2 themselves.

As a U2 diehard going to see them in concert, there is a disparity between my agenda and the band's agenda. I just want to hear the hits; hear the band play all the songs I love live. U2 wants that for us as well, and they'll give us hits, along with several heaping spoonfuls of their political beliefs. This was never more apparent than in their most recent "Vertigo" tour, and it's even more prevalent in U2 3D. The middle part of the show is preachier than a Catholic priest at a gay marriage. At less than 90 minutes (a good hour less than the full concert), half of U2 3D consists of a block of songs with overt political messages. "Love And Peace Or Else," "Sunday, Bloody Sunday", "Bullet The Blue Sky" and "Miss Sarajevo" feature Bono wearing a headband adorned with Muslim, Jewish, and Christian symbols that form the world "coexist". Bono pantomimes as a blindfolded prisoner of war about to be executed. The UN Declaration of Human rights is read. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream is declared as not just an American Dream but a global dream.

There is certainly nothing negative about U2's political beliefs. They are a globe-spanning band originating from Ireland, a country rife with civil conflicts and terrorism, which they've witnessed in their lifetimes. They've been to nearly every nation on Earth and seen the effects of the atrocities committed in places like Bosnia, Africa, and Afghanistan firsthand. They believe their music can help bridge the gaps between people's misunderstandings. Their pleas for disarmament, ends to slavery, suffrage, war, and the expansion of human rights to all people across the globe are admirable. 

But in U2 3D on the IMAX it's all literally in your face. It's a bit much. (Especially when Bono kisses Adam Clayton on the lips. What was that about? And why no smooches for Larry Mullen?) By the time U2 drops the politics, plays "Where Where Streets Have No Name" and just starts rocking again, it's such a relief to get away from the posturing and preaching.

While the film does succeed in immersing the viewer in the live concert experience, the other great drawback of U2 3D is that you can never shake the reality that you are still not really there. You are in fact sitting in a seat in a dark theatre wearing goofy glasses. The audience in the theatre was in a perpetual state of confusion as to how to react. The urge to stand up, to sing along, cheer, be part of the concert is in direct conflict with proper movie theatre behavior of sitting, being quiet, and not disturbing the people around you. It has the effect of a fantastic party you can't really be a part of, watching it from outside through a window while Bono periodically presses his face up against the glass.

My excitement at seeing U2 in concert is always met with a small amount of disappointment. No matter how long the concert, no matter how many hits they play, there are always going to be a few personal favorites left out. U2's catalog of songs is so massive that no setlist can fully encompass the superfan's wish list of what they'd like to hear the band play live for them.

The setlist for U2 3D is actually a pretty good one all things considered: "Vertigo", "Beautiful Day," "New Year's Day", "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own", "Love and Peace Or Else", "Sunday, Bloody Sunday", "Bullet the Blue Sky", "Miss Sarajevo", "Pride (In The Name of Love)", "Where The Streets Have No Name", "One", "The Fly", "With Or Without You", "Yahweh" (over the closing credits)

It's a sturdy mix of newer songs from "How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" with some of their enduring classics (denying the live audience "With Or Without You", "Pride (In The Name of Love)", "Sunday, Bloody Sunday", or "Where The Streets Have No Name" may likely cause a riot.) Still, there can never be enough old stuff for U2 fans. We may never hear the band play "The Unforgettable Fire", "Running to Stand Still", or one my very, very favorites, "A Sort of Homecoming" live at one of their shows again. At the last U2 show I went to at TD Banknorth Garden, I can't even begin to describe the euphoria that erupted within the crowd when the band surprised us by playing "40". Anything from their earliest albums "Boy", "October," "War," and "The Unforgettable Fire" are the songs the live crowd salivates for.

In the end, it was touching to see Bono physically spent, his voice quivering to make the final notes of "With Or Without You", letting the audience do most of the work (which they gladly do). The smiles on the faces of the band as they waved their goodbyes were genuine, the appreciation and love from the fans (and the ones wearing the goofy glasses not really there) reciprocated. When it's all said and done, U2 3D truly, vividly displays all of the band's dimensions and shows them in their finest light.