In 10 Words or Less
A sampler of Cirque
Loves: Cirque du Soleil
Likes: Cirque du Soleil DVDs
Dislikes: Not having seen more Cirque shows live
Hates: Being disappointed
When I was researching Cirque du Soleil shows in preparation for this review, I learned that Iris, the Los Angeles-based Cirque show devoted to the movies had closed after just two years of performances. Though there's been talk that it could become a touring show, it was another example of what I've always considered to be a problem when it comes to the performing arts: the lack of easily-accessible recorded archives. While I may live an hour or so away from the Great White Way, for most people a trip to a Broadway show is not easy or perhaps even likely. At the same time, I didn't travel to Los Angeles in the past two years and may never get to enjoy Iris. That's why I've appreciated the wealth of Cirque du Soleil shows available on DVD. I've seen more Cirque shows on video than live, but that's kept my interest in the shows I can get to see very high.
However, that's not what I wanted or expected from Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Apart. The first theatrical release from the company, delivered by Shreck director Andrew Adamson and visual pioneer James Cameron, didn't share its name with a stage show, so it promised something new, and as it began to unfurl, with a young woman (Cirque performer Erica Linz) visiting a run-down carnival on the edge of town, it seemed like that's exactly what we were getting, combining the beauty and storytelling of narrative film with the breathtaking artistry of Cirque du Soleil. But as she follows a high-flying trapeze artist down a surreal rabbit hole, it becomes clear that her story only serves as a through line for a best-of lineup of acts from several of Cirque's Las Vegas shows, including "O", Mystere, Ka, Believe, Zumanity, Viva Elvis and The Beatles' Love.
As noted before, that's not a bad thing, as Cirque features some of the most talented performers on Earth and pairs them with incredible costumes and music to create a feast of an experience. Here you get to enjoy the unique tilting/vertical stage of Ka, the beautiful water acts of "O", an excellent superhero-themed trampoline performance from the now-shuttered Viva Elvis and a heavily toned-down, one-woman water bowl routine from the troupe's adult show Zumanity. Though the woman and the aerialist move through the various acts to form a semblance of a plot, they all take place on their resident stages, so the sense that it's a movie rather than a recording of a performance is lost. Though having the acts perform in their native surroundings undoubtedly cost a fraction of what it might otherwise cost, the effect isn't nearly as creative or arresting.
Though there's a variety of shows drawn upon, to both positive and negative effect, the film goes very heavy on segments from Love, featuring a solemn "Blackbird", the imaginative "Octopus' Garden"/"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", a creepy "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", "While My Guitar Gentle Weeps" and "Get Back"/"Glass Onion". It even rolls the credits over "All You Need is Love". Anyone who saw the group's performance of "A Day in the Life" at the Grammys in 2008 knows how cinematic the show is, so with so much of Love on hand, why not go all the way and do a full film of that show?
I've watched many "concert films" of Cirque du Soleil shows, and though this one's a touch different, they all share some similarities. Though it's impossible to top the excitement of a live show, you're never going to get a better view of a Cirque performance than you will from one of these movies, as the close-up cameras let you see all the details of what's happening on-stage. But without the audience perspective you lose a lot of the sense of epic grandeur that's inherent in a Cirque stage performance. The choice to switch often to slow-motion also detracts a bit from the shows' kinetic energy, even if it does impart an added sense of artistry and drama. That's a big part of why Worlds Apart being a collection of stage performances instead of a true movie incorporating the talent and creativity of the Cirque du Soleil is more of a let-down than a spectacle.
Unfortunately, we did not receive the 3D version to review, but the 2D version arrives in a two-disc set (one Blu-Ray, one DVD), which is packed in a standard-width, dual-hubbed Blu-Ray case (with some promotional inserts) inside a slipcover that repeats the cover art. Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 Audio Description tracks and French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, while subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is gorgeous, which is a good thing, since much of the film is quite dark, owed largely to the cavernous stages the acts are performed on. The black levels are strong and dark, and the colors are vivid and appropriate, popping in contrast to the sets, with the Beatles numbers coming off especially well with their vibrant palettes. The level of fine detail is quite high, letting you see all the detail in the sets and costumes, not mention fine particles like the snow used in some scenes. Feathers and water droplets are particularly impressive in this transfer as well. Nothing stood out in terms of digital distractions, as the image remained crisp and clean throughout the film.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is one of those presentations that's going to make you want to crank up your system so you can luxuriate in the sound. While much of the credit for that goes to the beauty of the music, the delivery deserves recognition as well, as the music is excellently separated out amongst the surround speakers, creating a deep soundfield that washes over you, while the recording and presentation of the sound effects makes them explicit in the mix (the movement of fabrics in "Octopus' Garden" is quite in-your-face, putting you directly in the scene.) There's not much dialogue to be heard (this is Cirque du Soleil after all.)
The extras are far too brief for fans of Cirque du Soleil, starting with a short behind-the-scenes featurette, "Making Worlds Away," but it's more of a promo for the film, focusing mainly on the 3D aspects of the movie (twist that knife a bit more, Paramount.) Executive producer James Cameron and director Andrew Adamson talk a bit about the production and you get to see some of the 3D tech, but at just 2:26, you don't get to find out a great deal about the movie.
The other featurette, "A Day in the Life with Erica Linz" (13:24) is far more interesting, as it shows you the rehearsal and creative development of a Cirque act, with Linz and a few of her troupe-mates. It would have been nice to see the final performance in order to compare it to the rehearsal, but this certainly gives you some appreciation for what goes into creating the show, and the physical talents of the performers.
The only other on-disc extra is a commercial for Cirque's Las Vegas shows. Also included in the package is a code for an Ultraviolet stream and digital copy, as well as a DVD copy of the film (which does not include the special features.
The Bottom Line
After a promising start, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Apart revealed its true self: a sampler of performances from several of the troupe's Las Vegas shows, and as such, it's a bit all over the place, without a story or feel to carry it from beginning to end. While the acts are tremendous, as expected, for fans of their shows beginning to end concert films of each performance would have been preferable, while casual viewers are unlikely to be drawn in by this theme-less presentation. At least the Blu-Ray looks and sounds terrific, because there's not a lot of bonus content to enjoy. The strength of the acts and quality of the presentation is what gets this up to the level of a recommendation.