It might seem a bit strange to get excited about going to a concert film for its visuals, but when the band is U2 and the visuals are stretched out to IMAX proportions with the best live-action 3D technology yet, all things crazy became all things possible. The theatrical concert film, when done correctly, can be a mighty blessed thing and a thrilling way to experience a favorite band in their most natural environment. Sadly, the history of the genre isn’t populated with many great examples, as even the worthwhile efforts of Ireland’s favorite rock band haven’t always found success in the world of filmed performance art. But who would’ve thought the fusion of 3D and concert film would’ve been just the thing to break the mold?
Although it’s considered trendy in cooler (more like numb) circles to dismiss both the legacy and importance of U2 in the realm of popular music, those of us who know better and enjoy reality have always been on the right side of things. As the band continues their previously uncharted journey into a strong third decade of sustained relevance, both culturally and commercially, it’s hardly surprising to see them grafting new technology into their bag of tricks to find new ways in connecting with audiences. Over the years they’ve amassed an army of some of the most dedicated and feverish fans (myself among them) and for those having only seen their shows on TV, it’s safe to say that U2 3D might just be the next best thing to seeing them live.
Those unfamiliar with U2’s live-act may be in for a shock, as the band has built up a deserved reputation for delivering one of (if not the) best and continuously entertaining shows in the history of the medium. But even that’s not enough, as they seem hell bent on challenging whatever medium they happen to find interesting at the time and in the case of 3D film, thank goodness for that. Never before have I experienced a 3D film that didn’t result in massive headaches afterwards, or perhaps most remarkably feel silly wearing those strange, oddly shaped glasses. After all, Bono himself wears strange, oddly shaped glasses so I suppose the 3D immersion effect is complete. Familiar songs blend and merge with others, lyrics take the shape of instrumental jazz and by that measure change entirely, depending on the locale. Here vocal miscues aren’t jarring, but expected and never fail to demonstrate that what we’re witnessing is a living and breathing thing, literally galaxies removed from the world of lip-synching and lifeless choreography.
But what truly sets U2 3D apart from its peers isn’t just the manic performances of its subjects, but the stunning use of its advanced 3D tech that captures the human element of the experience like never before. In fact, the entire ‘performance’ is actually culled from over a month of concert footage filmed specifically with all three dimensions in mind while the boys wrapped up the South American leg of their record-shattering Vertigo tour. This was a good choice, as the crowd certainly brings the legendary Latin enthusiasm for live theatre to the forefront, often resulting in a dizzying, mind-altering ocean of human movement and spectacle. Co-directing this madness is relative newcomer Catherine Owens alongside noted music video director and Hollywood vet Mark Pellington (Arlington Road, The Mothman Prophecies). The results are nearly all the thrills of a live show, but with the convenience (and price tag) of a movie ticket. Score.
The performance itself is what U2 fans have come to expect, which of course means spectacular. Aural purists may wince whenever Bono misses a cue or his voice shows definite signs of wear ‘n tear, but all is forgiven when everything clicks just right. The band is legendary for their live shows, and its sense of theatrics and showmanship that makes these exploits even more expressive in 3D. Just when you thought Bono’s ego couldn’t get much bigger, here we have the Nobel Prize nominee nearly projected right into your brain, only with slightly less messianic flair. We never forget that this is a band above all else, and throughout we’re constantly reminded of just how important the contributions of The Edge, Larry, and Adam are to their fans, and most importantly each other.
One sequence during a rendition of Love and Peace…Or Else was especially stirring, as we get to see audience members close up reacting to a crazed Bono mixing the visual cues from Jimi Hendrix with the military machine, ritualistically slamming drums one moment and lighting distress flairs the next. They’d probably wonder just what the heck they were doing there, if they weren’t too entranced to look away that is. While the bulk of the film is the band accompanied by in-frame pyrotechnics, some additional animated 3D imagery is post-show for effect, but is never distracting.
As the recording industry’s financial fortunes continue their downward spiral (no pun intended), look for the ever-lucrative world of live performances to carry even greater importance than ever before as studios mine all possible sources of revenue from their talent. U2 3D doesn’t just represent a technological milestone for the industry, but for the first time hints at the possibility of what’s to come. The opportunity to bring the experience of live performances to an even greater audience has never been more available, or more affordable. IMAX has long suggested the transformation of the cinema from a mere blockbuster showcase to a more diverse, content rich experience for the masses. While documentaries on aquatic birds and beautiful landscape road shows may be impressive cinematically, it’ll take real entertainment if the movie gods will ever allow such an encroachment into their territory. It doesn’t take an acolyte from the church of Bono to see how that’s going to happen.
Complete U2-3D Set List:
New Year’s Day
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
Love and Peace
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Bullet the Blue Sky
U.N. Declaration of Human Rights
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Where the Streets Have No Name
With or Without You