Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away is certainly a sight to behold, although that’s hardly news given the entertainment company behind the project. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two Cirque du Soleil shows live, and both times, I marveled at the acrobatics, the costumes, the sets, and the performers themselves, who are so expert at what they do that casting these shows must be a long and arduous process. Although the film cannot be expected to fully recreate the experience of seeing a live show, it does successfully elicit some of the awe and wonder. Special effects are utilized in select scenes, but on the basis of what I could see, none were applied to the performance pieces; the acrobats are actually doing what they appear to be doing. This is only appropriate, given the time and effort these people devote to their art.
What disappointed me was the fact that the Cirque du Soleil team neither conceived of nor choreographed an original concept specifically for this movie. Worlds Away is, for lack of a better term, an anthology film – a compilation of select sequences from several of their Las Vegas productions, all of which are still running at various resorts. These would be Ká, Mystére, The Beatles: Love, Zumanity, Viva Elvis, O, and Believe. This means, I suppose, that sections of the film were actually shot within the theaters housing these shows. Even if they’re not, we do plainly see stages, rigging, and lights, and when the film is over, there’s a curtain call over the end credits. This was all well and good, but considering the fact that Cirque du Soleil has branched off into the movies, it would have been much more satisfying knowing I was witnessing something exclusively cinematic.
The selected acts are strung together by the loosest of plots, an innocent love story crossed with Alice in Wonderland. It begins when a young woman named Mia (Erica Linz) wonders into a travelling carnival, which is obviously located in our world. She’s handed a flyer advertising a man known only as The Aerialist (Igor Zaripov), the star attraction at the central circus. Mia attends his show, clearly intrigued. In the middle of his act, he misses his catch and dramatically falls. Mia runs to help him. Quite inexplicably, the ground gives way, magically transporting them both to a desolate yet dreamlike world where the ground is perpetually shrouded in fog and bathed in moonlight. The only apparent structures are whimsical circus tents, which sort of spiral up out of the fog. Mia and The Aerialist are separated, and the two will spend the rest of the film trying to find one another.
Their mutual quest is interspersed with footage of the aforementioned Vegas acts, which are wonderful to look at but have no bearing on their story. Not that they have much of a story to work with, nor are we made to understand why these two have started a simplistic fairytale romance. The best writer/director Andrew Adamson can muster is to portray both Mia and The Aerialist as outsiders that stare helplessly at the wonders and dangers surrounding them. An attempt is made at drama when The Aerialist is kidnapped and tortured by a band of warriors. Why they kidnapped him is never revealed, although I guess it doesn’t matter since they’re featured in only one scene. So far as I could tell, Mia isn’t even made aware of The Aerialist’s ordeal. This means that the warriors were included for spectacle alone and lend no weight to the film’s emotional climax.
Films have successfully been made with an absolute minimum of dialogue, so I can’t single that out as the reason why Worlds Away lacks explanations or meaning. The closer I look into it, the more apparent it becomes that the film is simply aimless. At least there’s plenty to look at, not just in terms of the performers and their specialized skills but also in terms of the set pieces, which are beautifully creative, and the costumes and makeup designs, both of which give one the sense of watching a Tarsem Singh movie. And then there’s the soundtrack, a combination of rhythmic world beats, soothing fantasy motifs, and dramatic melodies. Because the Love show is extensively highlighted, snippets from a fair number of Beatles songs are also featured.
Regarding the 3D referenced in the film’s extensive advertising campaign, the process is noticeable but hardly worthy of paying extra at the box office. To be fair, it has been released on the heels of The Hobbit, in which HFR set a new standard for 3D presentations that can’t be lived up to. The use of 3D is the only reason I can formulate for why James Cameron involved himself as an executive producer; ever since shooting Avatar, he has been vocal in his championing of the 3D process, even going so far as to convert his own Titanic and rerelease it theatrically. Apart from that, nothing about Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away came off as something he would have been interested in. Regardless, the film is a marvelous visual achievement but rather weak as a story and nonexistent as a character study. See it expecting a feast for the eyes, and nothing more.
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