"This image of 'the unforgettable fire' applied not only to the nuclear winterscape of 'A Sort of Homecoming,' but also the unforgettable fire of a man like Martin Luther King, or the consuming fire which is heroin."
U2 3D: A Musical Mona Lisa
January 17, 2008
Seeing U2 3D was sort of like attending a U2 concert without the headaches -- I didn't have to battle with my Internet connection for a ticket, I wasn't required to sleep on a sidewalk the night before and there was no need for a wristband or a number to secure my place in line. Basically, I just walked in. And I experienced a sensory explosion that was nearly as good as being there.
Aside from omitting the Arcade Fire cue to start the show, everything pretty much goes like clockwork. After the lights go out, the film begins with the "Everyone" chant that led us into each concert on the Vertigo tour. I got a tingle at the sight of Larry Mullen Jr (the first band member shown) and felt a surge of joy when Bono shouted "Uno, dos tres, catorce!" The energy was good, the camera was all over the place, and I was glad to see that the folks in front of me were throwing their arms up in motion with the music. But they weren't. And this is where it gets cool -- the people "in front of me" were virtual. Hence the sensation that I was enjoying a real show.
After I realized said people were part of the film, it became easier to focus on specific objects. For instance, I would've put my life on the fact The Edge's microphone stand was hovering a few feet in front of me and that Larry's drink was on a counter just across my lap. It really was that magnificent.
What was also wonderful was how the director eased the audience into the big shots. The first time Bono sings to you, I promise you your heart will beat faster because he comes at you slowly, in a meaningful way. The same is true for the eye contact you enjoy with the band members throughout the set. It's similar to what everyone claims when they see the Mona Lisa -- the eyes follow you.
Viewing a show from this perspective also allows more visual freedom to see all four men. When you're in concert, you can't help but focus on one person at a time, and let's face it, that person is usually Bono. In this case, you have no choice but to watch Adam Clayton rocking his bass line in "New Year's Day" or The Edge singing backup during "The Fly." It's an equal opportunity movie and the four stars have never been so fairly filmed.
That said, it also brings perhaps too much clarity to silly moments like Bono's "bird" move during "Beautiful Day," and his headband crawl during "Bullet the Blue Sky." If anything, it shows how something done in the moment feels spontaneous, but reflected upon later may appear ridiculous.
Most disappointing were the glaring omissions of live set standards, such as "Elevation" and "Until the End of the World." Both of those songs are consistently electric on tour, so it begs the question of why they weren't included. Also noticeably absent was the beautifully lit "City of Blinding Lights." I was anticipating the 3D confetti that would "fall" into my lap, but it never came.
The standout performances in this film are "Sunday Bloody Sunday," especially as Bono reaches out to "wipe your tears away," and a riveting "Miss Sarajevo," that could easily serve as an unofficial tribute to the late Luciano Pavarotti.
Also moving was seeing the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights scan along the screen in a different language. I've never been to a U2 show in a non-English speaking country, so it was especially meaningful to watch the reactions of fans and realize that the sentiment doesn't get lost in translation.
Above all, that's what this revolutionary film has achieved -- it's bottled an experience many describe as religious and reproduced it in a format that most fans have the potential to access. Those who have never seen U2 live will be overwhelmed by its effect; veteran concertgoers will salivate for the next tour.
The personal connection U2 is famous for shines in this three dimensional light, and that, coupled with a crystal clear audio accompaniment, results in cinema utopia.
If only it had been the length of an actual concert.
U2 3D opens in select cities on January 23. Join @U2 for special showings in Boston and Seattle on January 26. Visit our event page for details.
© @U2/Kokkoris, 2008.