Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away

One of my writing heroes, growing up, was (and still is) Roger Ebert.  How a man is able to, every week, provide intelligent and thought-provoking analysis of movies, many of which are drab, dreary, or just completely redundant in Hollywood never failed to amaze me.  His ability to break a film down and find in all but the worst of the worst some small measure of interest, be it how a camera is held for one scene, always reminded me to try to find something to like in everything I encounter.

Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away is a film.  Beyond that, I have no idea how to summarize what I just saw for an hour and a half today.

Now, to be fair, this was by no means a bad movie.  In fact, normally I'd encourage anybody to see a movie that spotlights luchadore superheroes jumping around on trampolines to songs by Elvis Presley.  However, in this instance, I think you really have to be a Cirque Du Soleil fan to even get the slightest hint of what's happening, and I'll lay this down at the start: James Cameron was the wrong person to have involved.

Now, I'll admit I didn't see it in 3D.  Maybe it's an entirely different experience that way.  But really, I figured this would be the perfect concept for Baz Luhrmann, who did Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, and seems to specialize in movies that feature large performances mixed with pop culture from various ages. The movie is pure spectacle, with a plot as thin as a gymnast's leotard holding it all together.

I took notes, let's see what I scribbled down.

"Return To Oz meets Labyrinth."

And that was my initial reaction.  It only gets more insane from there.

The movie, once you break it down, is a spotlight on some of the Cirque Du Soleil performances happening around the world.  There's O, Ka, Mystere, Viva Elvis, and others, and each has a sampling shown to our protagonist, a young, unnamed woman who wanders into a small time circus.  She spots a handsome young man who winds up being only known as "The Aerialist," who makes eye contact with her in the middle of a performance, plummets to the sandy ground below, and is, in the only way I can think of describing it, "consumed by a sarlaac from Star Wars."

The girl, having rushed forward to try to help him as the ground sucked him down, is also swept away by the dirt whirlpool, and awakens near multiple large tents, each symbolizing a different show.  She only has a flier showing the young man, since she only talks once in the movie, and needs a means of telling the cast of characters she encounters who she's looking for.

The first person she meets?  The love child of Doc Brown and Beetlejuice.

I also have a note here about the young woman, describing her as "Winona Ryder, only not annoying."  But, as I said, she only talks once during the film, so take that to mean what you will.

As for the performances?  Well, as I said above, it helps if you've seen Cirque Du Soleil before you realize that there's no CG helping the performers out.  When you see one person on a trapeze catch another person in mid-air by the feet with their own feet, it's because they really are that good.  A group of women who contort themselves into a tower and some performers running and flipping around poles attached to a wall seem too remarkable to believe unless you keep the "no CG" bit in mind.

Some of the performances, however, seem to take the plot and twist it around so far I was left wondering what was happening.  At one point, we see that the "Aerialist" is taken prisoner by someone I can only describe as "Fiendish Dr. Wu in a yellow rain slicker and platform shoes commanding the demonic twin of Chairman Kaga to kill some warriors with his magic paella pan that shoots explosions and lightning.". And it really is both that crazy, especially when you factor in the fight is done with rope harnesses so they can kung-fu each other up a large wall.  I don't think it really affected the plot much, but it was insane great to watch.

Each segment was filmed in the actual place the shows perform (not, as I initially thought, at a giant sound stage that they kept rebuilding every time the scene changed).  The set designs are fantastic, naturally, since they're the same ones used every performance, and I'll admit that I had no idea Cirque du Soleil even had a water show, so it was fun to find that out.

My notes run out here, since I gave up trying to record my thoughts of everything that happened partway through and just sat back to watch the show.  I do remember a really weird moment where people in deadly desert creature costumes harassed some people, but no other real descriptions that come to mind can compare to what the show actually is.  A large portion towards the end of the movie is devoted to the Beatles-themed show, and there were moments I wouldn't even dare describe, they were so full of imagination.

But, is it good?  That's the hard question.  It loses a little from the performances when the camera shifts in the middle of an act, and a few moments of slow motion pull you out of the natural grace the performers exhibit.  The storyline is a mess, there's no explanation for anything that's happening, and the ending just wraps up everything so they can show the sets and performers ending the whole thing like a stage show, and it's pretty abrupt.

That said, if you're a diehard Cirque du Soleil fan, and you don't expect you're going to get to be in Las Vegas to see some of these shows, I say go for it.  If you just like extremely remarkable physical feats of gymnasticary (or whatever the tradesman term is), go see it.  If you're expecting anything like a standard movie, maybe save it for a Red Box rental.

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