You could make a case for U2 as the most overdocumented rock
group in recent history. Not only does ample concert footage exist from each
period in the band’s evolution (starting with 1983’s Red Rocks video, Under a
Blood Red Sky, which established the band as a premier arena act), but the band
even had its own theatrically released rockumentary, Rattle and Hum, back in
1988. Some two decades later, the band has a somewhat longer-toothed demeanor —
there’s nothing in U23D that’s as fiery as Bono’s famous “Fuck the revolution!”
declaration (directed at the IRA during a performance of “Sunday Bloody
Sunday”) from Rattle and Hum, and the band slides easily into a formidable but
ultimately comfortable groove. If you’re looking for moments of real excitement
or spontaneity in performance, well, you’ll certainly have to look to a band
with a less rigorously choreographed sound-and-light show.
If there wasn’t anything going on in U23D besides
musicianship, I wouldn’t be writing about it. This is an extraordinary concert
film because it does what I wouldn’t have thought a concert film was capable of
doing any longer — it shows you something new. I’ve never considered 3D more
than a gimmick (even that recent high-water mark of the genre, Beowulf, had me
wishing I could remove those damnable plastic glasses by the halfway point) but
the depth effects in U23D are astonishing. During the first few numbers,
co-directors Mark Pellington and Catherine Owens (the former is an accomplished
music-video director who made Arlington
Road, the latter an Irish artist and U2 confidante for many years) revel in using
cameras placed inside the audience. The effect of seeing the backs of
crowd-members heads, their hands and fists jabbing into the air, and the
startling splash from bottles of water whipped aloft, is galvanizing.
Things only get better as the movie progresses, and
different points of view are composited on top of one another on screen. It’s
the kind of visual that shouldn’t work in 3D, where juxtaposed images of
dramatically different scales tend to confuse your eyes, which are trying to
focus on a type of moving image that they never encounter in reality. But
something significant has happened behind the scenes, since the film’s
editorial team can layer images and cut between angles with apparently reckless
abandon. What’s more, the subtle differences between left-eye and right-eye
points of view have been left intact, meaning that familiar cinematographic
effects like lens flares, or light washing across the frame, get a
dimensionality all their own — watching a concert filmed this way is like using
binoculars instead of a telescope. The result is an enveloping kind of
cinematic space that I’ve never seen before. I hesitate to use hyperbole to
describe the effect, but “magical” is a word that comes to mind. I immediately
wanted to see a Wong Kar-wai film shot in stereo, where layered images on
different depth planes could suggest memory versus experience, or could
juxtapose the actions of lovers separated by time or space but reunited in a
single (doubled?) frame.
The stereographic effects go deliriously over the top in the
band’s encore performance. “The Fly,” from U2’s too-much-information period, is
accompanied by a snowstorm of typography cascading down, in front of, behind
and around a singing Bono. Creative on-screen uses of words and letters are
hardly a new idea in the realm of music video, but you have to see it to
believe how arresting the effect is in 3D. U23D is, among other things, a tech
demo for next-generation 3D cinematography, and tons of money was doubtless spent
both behind the cameras and in post-production to make sure that each shot was
tweaked to produce exactly the desired effect without inducing viewer fatigue. So
this is clearly a best-case scenario for 3D production, and I remain skeptical
that a large proportion of films will actually benefit from the technology. (Pixar’s
nearly flawless Ratatouille, for instance, would have exactly nothing to gain
from being rendered in 3D.) But this is a truly exciting production — not just
a dazzlingly unique concert film (how rare is it for a reviewer to legitimately
deploy unique as an adjective?), but
an exuberant glimpse of things, maybe, to come. B+
9 Replies to “U2 3D”
Just saw this and all I can say is WOW.
I loved it. I got the same feeling I got before seeing U2 come up on stage live, and when Bono introduced Adam, The Edge, and then Larry, I let out a big WHOOP for The Edge. People looked at me a little funny (in their glasses), but then politely applauded for Larry. Everyone was into it.
Blue Rock provided Editorial for the film, and a friend of mine fixes the Avid’s when they eff up. It was thrilling to see his name in the credits, because normally, he’s just my Brazilian Barbecue friend.
When “The Fly” started, my reaction was pure joy. I actually thought the concert was going to end after “One,” but “The Fly” took the very emotional, stirring, sometimes preachy concert to a more fun, modern place. Modern, but nostalgic too I guess, since that was their ode to the 80s.
I gotta go see it again.
You’re a huge U2 fan, so what did you think of the performance? (Compared to others captured on film/video, I mean.) I thought it was a bit wan compared to other recent footage. This isn’t meant to be a knock on U2, who I think can be thrilling in concert — but I found their performance in this film to be a mite flat. I do assume you disagree, so what were your favorite “emotional, stirring” bits?
Definitely that whole “Fly” performance for the nostalgia factor, but I thought the trio of songs “Love and Peace or Else,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” were done really well, what with Bono’s headgear reading “Co-exist.” There was a moment in the middle of Sunday Bloody Sunday when the whole concert seemed to slow down and Bono’s face got REALLY close and everything seemed quiet, and then Bono delivered his message of peace. That was well done. So was the message of human rights leading into “Pride.” I liked Larry coming out and getting more interactive during Love and Peace or Else. I LOVED Bono’s military march while he was playing the drums on said song. Perhaps my favorite moment, which really snuck up on me, was when they slowed the concert down and did “Miss Sarajevo.” I thought it was beautiful, and felt like I was at the opera. But no, I lie, my favorite moment was “Where the Streets Have No Name” – great energy, and great interaction with the crowd.
Maybe you’re right about the energy, although only because U2 has so many great past performances – “flat” wasn’t the word I was looking for. I thought more “preachy.” That’s why changing gears and revisiting all that was fun and good and different and experimental about the Zoo TV tour was so welcome. In terms of energy and interactivity, The Elevation tour was cool because they got so personal by coming out on stage with the lights ON and LEAVING them on for the first song. Bono and Edge also had this very staged but incredibly cool number for “Until the End of the World” that was just as great or better than their 3-song “Co-exist” thingee. The Vertigo tour directed by Hamish Hamilton was also good, but I thought the 3D was better in terms of cool technology AND performance.
…But nothing rivals the energy and electricity of the Zoo TV tour. With that tour they managed to be campy, thought-provoking, intimate (by switching gears in the middle of the concert and heading out into the audience to perform without any of the theatrics), BIG, fun, and rock and roll stars. God, I love that Zoo TV broadcast from Australia.
Hi Bryant, loved your reveiw and you speak for many of us…but I think it is only fair to the film and to those responsible for this extraordinary work for you to put the directorial emphasis on Catherine Owens first as she has been given the main credit for this project and its direction by all involved including the band. She is not just an Irish artist and band confidente but has been the visual content provider for the band for most of their touring life, giving us fans many of the incredible visuals on the band stage screens. Mark Pellington is totally cool and definately is worthy of his mentions but even he has noticibly given the mantle to his co-director. ciao
Hi, Angel. Thanks for the note. Everyone involved with the film seems really happy with Owens’ leadership.
I had actually tried (for Film & Video, which I edit; you can see our coverage here) to get an interview with Catherine Owens to help shed some light on her co-director credit with Pellington, but had no luck.
Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful review – and this from someone who reviewed Rattle and Hum for a magazine back when it came out! :-)
One dimension I’m interested in hasn’t been addressed (here or elsewhere, that I can find) and that is age appropriateness. We’re thinking of taking our 5-year-old (who fancies himself a future rock musician!) and wondered if there was any language or anything else to be concerned about. We don’t want to have him start saying “Fuck the revolution” in Pre-K!
He’s done well at other IMAX 3D movies and we think he would be enthralled.
Hey, Gamewatcher. Thanks for the note.
If your 5-year-old can handle the sheer spectacle of the thing — not just the intense depth effects, but also the high-decibel volume that this thing begs to be played at (and, well, just general rock-and-roll swagger) — it’s absolutely age-appropriate.
In fact (if you can believe this) it’s rated G. If Bono dropped any F-bombs during these shows, they didn’t survive the final cut. The most disturbing thing is probably just the characteristic intensity of “Bullet the Blue Sky”. But if you reviewed Rattle and Hum back in the day, you already know what that’s like.
We were told the movie actually was Not Rated, not G – so that’s why I was concerned. I figured it was probably OK since National Geographic put it out but wanted to be sure.
I’m making a mix of the songs I know are in the film to get him better acquainted with the music ahead of time. He’s heard Bullet the Blue Sky and loves drums, so that should be OK. I might show him select excerpts from Rattle and Hum too.
You really “get it”! All of those “shouldn’t work in 3D”, (but do), moments you identify have been given a new treatment that we call “Stereoscopic Depth Balancing”. Using proprietary “3ality” software, we can dynamically align and reposition (in 3D space) multiple layers of imagery. In addition, we can “hand off” changes of depth from near to far and back again, smoothly guiding the eyes from scene to scene. The result is comfortable viewing through disolves and quick cuts, and an 84 minute movie that doesn’t strain the eyes or induce headaches.
You can read more about the process and equipment at: