With U23D, You Too Are Onstage

January 28, 2008 · Print This Article

By Tracey Hackett, Contributing Editor

The song “Even Better Than the Real Thing” supplies the buzzwords for what many fans and critics are saying about the new U23D movie that premiered this month at the Sundance Film Festival and which was released to IMAX theaters on Wednesday.

When the band’s first film for theatrical release reached the multiplex nearly 20 years (Rattle and Hum hit theaters in November 1988), it met with a surprisingly negative and largely bitter critical reception. But what a difference two decades makes when U23D uses digital 3D technology to capture concert footage of the band in South America.

Although U2 is the first critically acclaimed rock ‘n’ roll band to use this technology to document its performance, the film could revolutionize the way other performers present live concert documentaries in the future.
“Watching it gives a real perspective of being in the audience at a U2 show,” said Edge. “So many concert films reduce the band. This one brings scale and grandeur.”

While 3D projections of the band on a multi-story IMAX screen do create an element of scale, the film’s perspective of sometimes being right there on stage with the band has just the opposite effect. Rather than feeding the impression that the band members are larger-than-life rock stars, viewers actually get a better impression of their humanness than they would by simply attending a live U2 show or even watching a typical concert documentary.

In one shot, for example, as the 3D camera pans over Larry Mullen’s drum kit, viewers get a glimpse of the small table on which sits what looks like a glass of beer, an ashtray and a box of tissues. The table and its objects could belong to any 40-year-old man anywhere, but instead of being located beside someone’s recliner in front of the television, it’s beside U2’s drum kit as the drummer plays to an arena of more than 50,000 screaming fans. The detail gives the slightest (and not unwelcome) shade of mundane to the rock ‘n’ roll glamour.

Another shot that captures the band’s humanness comes during the performance of “Pride (In the Name of Love).” Bono holds out the microphone as the audience chants part of the chorus, and his expression of elation — the same look mirrored by many of the audience members at a U2 show — is obvious. Even after a more-than-20-year career in music, he looks at his audience — singing in unison to this popular U2 song — with the same look of happy adoration that many fans have when they look up at the four men on stage.

Although the film is essentially a live concert documentary, Bono points out its element of social activism when discussing the performance of such songs as “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Miss Sarajevo.”

“Underneath there is a narrative operating, and I think it runs through social activism. It moves through the ideas that fired up our engines over the years, taking some of those ideas about nonviolence and human rights,” he said.
While some fans may not find the overall 3D effects as impressive as they had hoped or imagined, the film is still a worthwhile and entertaining presentation. In fact, it could be considered a success simply for the effects it achieves in a handful of scenes.

“Love and Peace” captures an incredible perspective of contrast, for instance, because the band performs on the main stage while Bono sings and makes a flamboyant presentation on the b-stage.

And “The Fly,” which was renowned for the graphics that coincided with its performance during the ZooTV tour of the 1990s, gets a renewed shot of energy by having some of those graphics now presented in 3D. As the band performs the song, the word “believe” speeds toward viewers faces, only for all the letters to disappear except for the “lie” at the center. Other phrases also rush out to viewers, finally dissolving into a rain of individual letters.
Perhaps the most memorable performance of the entire film is “Where the Streets Have No Name.” As the opening notes of the song fill the arena, the audience begins to surge in unison with the rhythm. Seeing that mass reaction in 3D gives the illusion that the audience is an ocean, with each individual member a single wave on that ocean of humanity.

Therein lies the greatest achievement of U23D — not in showing the perspective of the audience, looking up at the band, but in capturing the perspective of the band, looking out at the audience. It goes beyond imagining what it might be like to be on stage with Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry. The film, for a brief time, allows viewers to actually see through their eyes and hear with their ears — and that’s something no U2 show or concert documentary has ever completely done until now.


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