What You’ll Like:
- Stunning visuals and directorial cinematography
- Awe-inspiring performances
- Good operatic soundtrack helps build the atmosphere
- Sweet and subtly paced love story
What You May Not:
- Some annoying music tracks break up pacing and overall artistic merit
- Technical visual distortions are disappointing and distracting
- Tends to run somewhat low on steam after a little while
- Will mostly be appreciated by fans and not necessarily casual viewers
What You’ll Remember:
- Absolutely marvelous final act
Originally founded in the mid-1980s by a couple of acrobatic street performers in Canada, the now world-renown Cirque Du Soleil “circus” act (the term being almost insulting at this point) gained significant momentum in the 1990s and 2000s, and quickly began playing live shows on nearly every continent on the planet by its 4,000+ employ, generating over $800 million in annual revenue; perhaps its most famous staple venue being in Las Vegas, where it would perform for an audience of over 9,000 every night. There is absolutely no denying that through its other-worldly talents in acrobatic death-defying feats and high-scale production values in effects, music and stage sets, Cirque Du Soleil is undoubtedly one of the most famous entertainment performance companies the world has ever known. While many of its seekers may not immediately be able to afford their more affluently priced live shows, a good number have at least the several video and soundtrack options readily available to them, its most recent arriving at the very tail end of 2012 with 3D filming help by Hollywood directing legend James Cameron in Cirque Du Soleil: World’s Away. Yet just to note, this review was not done viewing the 3D version of the film but only the standard 2D version.
For those wondering how exactly a performance act (no, I won’t call it a “circus act”) gets translated into film form, it should be stated that this is is neither a completely live running show recorded to film nor a straight forward story featuring just small bits of performances; it is in fact a mesh of both that begins as what feels like your typical movie, establishing a story with a couple of characters, but then quickly delves into more or less constant stage performances working as sort of skits, that are mostly presented in order to back the story of our immediate character plot. A plot with virtually zero spoken dialogue but just presented through an artistic flow of well captured pantomiming.
World’s opens up with an attractive young woman walking into a town fair that is set at night in a grassy field in what seems like a forest in the middle of nowhere, and from the start the tone of the film is immediately apparent. World’s sets itself as a story of wonder and enchantment when the young woman makes her way into one of the tents and begins watching a show of your typical old school basic circus act, but featuring a main showing acrobatic act with an attractive young Russian man known only to us as ‘The Aerialist.’ The young woman, who we will know as only Mia, is engrossed by the act, until one misstep in a stunt that causes the man to fall down into the sandpit below. It then begins to suck him right in as Mia runs to save him, but then only being sucked in herself. From this, the very loose story of World’s is simple – the two are transported into another realm where circus shows are presented in various enormous and beautifully epic tents, and Mia wanders this world in order to find and hopefully save the Aerialist. The part of the young woman is played by mainstay Cirque De Soleil acrobat extraordinaire Erica Linz, who right from the start and throughout the film establishes such a sweet and comforting presence that the viewer wouldn’t mind the film primarily focusing on her the entire way through. The role of the Aerialist is played by actor Igor Zaripov, who puts on a good enough performance in being captured by these circus henchmen but comes nowhere near as likable as Mia. Initially, Mia comes into contact with a semi-quirky but helpful mime, who seems to have a small place in this fantastical circus netherworld, but knows it well enough to take Mia around, keeping her safe and helping her to find the man she is there to hopefully save.
What follows here is a series of acrobatic stage performance acts by Cirque regulars, backdropped by a flowing and sometimes soaring and epic operatic orchestral soundtrack, setting a dark but pleasant atmosphere which helps the acts stand out that much more. For anyone wondering, these stage acts set to film are perhaps exactly what people will see at live Cirque shows, but the benefit here being that since it is put to film we are treated to a good series of soaring and establishing shots, showing us that these actors even for the film are “doing their own stunts” by not filming with any safety nets or harnesses at all, but performing for film just as they would for audiences on a live stage. Despite the great viewing angles, watching any live show of such epic proportions would always be better and more captivating live as opposed to your living room, and such becomes a bit too apparent with World’s and some of its soundtrack and directorial choices.
While World’s initially sets itself up with more pleasingly gloomy settings, an intriguing love story and some incredibly beautiful visuals from the circus netherworld as well as the crisp and lush stage set cinematography, somewhere at about the 40-minute mark do things tend to lose a bit of steam. Sure, some of these performance skits are better than others, as would be expected, but after a little while a few of these sets begin to work a bit too awkwardly, where the camera simply cannot get a good position in order to showcase all the acrobatic action. The one biggest culprit of this is one act featuring a number of acrobats on a near vertically set rectangular stage, where something of a battle is taking place between some of the evil circus henchmen who captured the Aerialist and some good, I guess I can call them clowns, there to save him from his shackles. As the performers climb up and down this rectangle stage, doing their various leaps and bounds to simulate the battle, the camera changes angles too often, mostly due to any angle it gets cannot display what is happening properly enough, to the cause of the stage itself being too strangely set. Granted it’s also not one of the more interesting performance set pieces in World’s. Following this act, we get less acrobatics and some performance sets where we are no longer not being treated to jumping, leaping, or even curling in superhuman agility, but instead moving and dancing on ground level in what feels like a gimmicky Superbowl halftime show. What makes this section of the whole film worse is the 60s and 70s classic rock Beatles choice of music. While the first half of the film featured primarily beautifully dark settings and some gorgeous slo-mo water dances set to wondrous orchestral work, the shift to more eccentric rock n’ roll and floor dances feels like it takes the viewer out of the engrossing experience, especially for such an ethereal world the film is supposed to be set in. It not only doesn’t fit right, but after a few minutes starts to become somewhat annoying. Even one skit performance featuring an underwater theme with some amazing jellyfish props begins to present as a saving grace, yet is mostly ruined when Paul McCartney’s voice is heard singing to an upbeat rock song. These directorial choices just stray too far from the enchanting and wondrous experience the audience was set up for initially; one of discovery and hope where a young girl was taken out of her comfort zone to a place of zero familiarity. Yet thankfully, when things seem to get too far ahead, Mia pops in and constantly saves this film from becoming too carried away with itself. As the viewer you become grateful when things quiet down and we see her entering a new set, still searching for the Aerialist whilst making new discoveries. Even for a character who only speaks two words throughout the entire film, Linz is beautifully charming, and that comforting presence she owns as stated earlier is easily what makes this film ultimately work as a story. She is a fantastic actress who even without words gradually shows how she is falling more in love with this Russian performer even though the two have never actually met. Thus we finally get to see such love displayed during the epic grand finale. While I don’t want to give too much away, the act is absolutely riveting, and one of the most captivating and beautifully choreographed and shot performance set pieces I’ve ever seen. It works because it gets the film to once again harken back to the slower and more sweepingly filmed beauty that World’s began with, not to also mention being backed by the best musical piece of the entire film. It’s simply joyous to watch and one wishes it would last perhaps another 10 minutes.
World’s definitely knows what it’s doing, and with the visionary aid of James Cameron, makes this one of the best looking stage act films in existence. There is a magical flair to complement mostly everything, and some of the ideas presented here are greatly unique to showcase that. Yet even with such valiant efforts on Cameron’s part, World’s will still most likely be best appreciated by those who are already familiar with what Cirque has to offer, and not immediately by the casual viewer who may find the constant acrobatic acts a bit repetitive. Since this is directed with such a profound and ambitious vision, those who also do not have a fond appreciation for the visual medium of film as an art form may come away disappointed. Yet anyone else will mostly like enjoy what is presented here, despite what could be subjectively viewed as flaws therein.
Next to nothing, disappointingly so, with only three pieces total, two of which just feel like TV spots; the first being a very short and shallow “behind-the-scenes” feature of a mere two minutes. The second being just a TV commercial for the Las Vegas Cirque show. Thankfully, we also have an all too short 13-minute real behind the scenes showing featuring actress and Cirque acrobat Erica Linz, where we are privileged to set foot into the rehearsal gym with her and three of the male performers. We get a good glimpse at their first rehearsal before film production begins as they practice several dances and moves, and she explains in some great detail as to what exactly they are doing to prepare. This also works as a sort of very brief autobiography by Linz as we get to know her as a person, her background as a performer and how she got into the gig of Cirque. It also doesn’t hurt that even in real life she is an absolute down-to-earth sweetheart, who seems extremely friendly and just an all-around fun person to work with and perhaps even be in company with. Would it have hurt to see in better detail the actual filming process, meet other acrobats and perhaps some bloopers?
Graphics and Sound:
Initially World’s looks fantastic and one of the more superb digital transfers ever put onto blu-ray. During most of the film’s introduction things are perfectly balanced; vibrant colors are never too lustrous as they never overtake any scenes, and balance the darker images meticulously, not to also mention the very sharp level of detail and overall smooth cleanliness of the film’s look work to complement its theme. It is a grand disappointment however, that about 15 minutes in during the scenes laden with deep blacks are some pretty obnoxious distortion effects present. This unfortunately goes on through most of the film at random spots, but it is gracious as these scenes last no longer than a couple of seconds. Yet even so, with such a film genre as this as well as its calibur, it is vital that all the scenes look sharp with minimal distractions, but these distorted portions tend to stick out like sore thumb. If most of the great looking scenes look stellar in high definition, there is no excuse as to why some shots were just left out or forgotten when transferring this film digitally. Some work so to even take the viewer out of the experience. In the sound department however, things are mostly good but to picky fanatics may come off as a tad disappointing. While at the film’s start the volume, bass and voices are perfectly clear, whole and rich, the music itself could stand to be a bit more surrounding and comes off as a bit too low, never taking charge of scenes they are really supposed to, especially in a film where the music is the primary audio communication used to translate the story themes and moods to the audience. Yet while this is still a small complaint, even later in the film the general volume seems to get a bit too low, requiring the setting to perhaps be put up a few notches. Overall in this technical department, the movie does well but gosh does it deserve so much more.
There is no denying the visual marvel that is World’s Away, nor can one hold back credit to the sheer and incredible talents of the actors, who can pull off some of the greatest physical feats known to man; with such speed and agility it is near miraculous that any accidents are so rare and perhaps even non-existent, and a gigantic testament to the physical abilities of mankind in general. One cannot help to not only take their hats off but also rise up in a standing ovation to the jaw dropping talent of these performing athletes. Still, as a film, there are a significant amount of directorial choices that simply do too much to take the viewer out of the experience of a film that should have been so much more captivating than it was, instead pandering to modern audiences who seemingly prefer to forsake a fully engrossing art form of majestic humble beauty of such an artistic nature for some cheap gimmicky gags in the form of upbeat Beatle’s pop music and floor dances. Thankfully this does not fill the entire film, even if it is one that has a more narrow audience that it perhaps was hoping for. Truly wanting to love this film so much more than I did, I’d have to give Cirque Du Soleil: World’s Away a very strong and solid 2.5 aerials out of 4, and add 1 full aerial if you’re a hardcore fan of the Cirque performance company. Give this one a rental or get it at a discounted price as it’s a great visual treat, and what works here, works extremely well and becomes wholly endearing to the more open-minded viewer.