January 24th, 2008
While the subject of countless concert videos and films over their 30-year history, U2's most iconic performances can be boiled down to three endeavors.
1983's "Under a Blood Red Sky" showcased U2's hunger, their youthful idealism, and a raw sound just finding its balance. 1988's "Rattle and Hum" captured the band getting used to their newfound world dominance, while also presenting an unstoppable live act gearing up for the best years of their lives. And now "U2 3D" has been added to the list.
Comfortable in their rock overlord boots, U2 puts on a mighty display of confidence in this swirly concert film. Shot in 2006 on various stops of the worldwide "Vertigo Tour," "3D" is an experience that will overwhelm the faithful and enchant the newcomers. It's U2 larger than life; a perspective they've been after for years and now can achieve through this mighty IMAX presentation and set list of hits galore. There's a surefire magic in watching Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., and Adam Clayton perform that "3D" appreciates; it slaps the audience in the front row for a well-rehearsed corker of a show that hits all the U2 basics while providing unsettling intimacy far beyond the limitation of previous cinematic concert efforts.
Directed by Mark Pellington and Catherine Owens, "3D" might surprise some the way it refrains from making a monster visual splash. The cameras seem almost reluctant to put on a true three-dimensional show, patiently covering the band as they maneuver around the massive stage and boogie down the runways that penetrate the enthusiastic crowd. It's a slight twitch of disappointment that is quickly erased by the enormity of this picture, which is smart enough to occasionally just sit there and passively take in the endless sea of people: the throng of fans packed like sardines singing along with their whole body to the hits. "3D" plays these moments like Christmas morning, and when they arrive, the visuals immediately result in goosebumps and the unavoidable dropping of the jaw.
The 3D is used effectively throughout the film, but one moment stands out as downright spooky. During a robust performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," the camera comes in tight to Bono, who brings the frame in and cradles it as he would an old friend, singing only to us, while Edge works the backing vocals in the surround channels. It's one of those magical cinema moments you just can't get at home.
As expected, Bono and the boys milk the new depth of field with their theatrics, turning in Broadway-quality performances as they articulate every last beat from the heart. Those prone to motion sickness when it comes to Bono's over-the-top prancing and displays of performance art should be advised the man is now armed with 3D, and he's not afraid to use it.
Also front and center are the band's political pleas and general optimism for the unification of humanity. It just wouldn't be a U2 concert without indefatigable hope for the future. I'm thrilled it remains in the film.
With a set list that includes "One," "Vertigo," "Beautiful Day," "Pride (In the Name of Love)," and a stirring stand-up-and-cheer rendition of "Where the Streets Have No Name," (14 songs in total appear in the picture), "U2 3D" is able to soar on the pure exhilaration of a band blitzing through their catalog and having a grand old time. The 3D only adds to the experience, allowing the performance to surround the audience and nestle them gently in the middle of a band finally meeting a screen size that matches their mammoth legacy and substantial skill.
My rating: A