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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Until the Real Thing Comes Along
by Donald Levit

Among the most popular touring bands and applauded for a commitment to social causes, U2 is well served in the inaugural digital-3D, multi-camera, real-time concert record, U2 3D. Building beyond ‘80s hard rock/heavy metal self-absorption and punk’s posed nihilism, the Dublin four continue to emphasize volume over lyrical audibility, though mass non-native-English-speaking audiences at stadia in Mexico City, São Paulo, Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires knew the words to sing along or on their own.

Attraction and then reaction to the eighty-five eardrum-unfriendly minutes in multi-channel 5.1 surround sound, will vary with inclination towards the performers, their product and, arguably less, their message. What is unique and makes this rockumentary worth seeing as innovative history -- if only to become a footnote -- involves its immersion in the newest technologies, a trajectory U2 has followed, too, for much of its career.

Touted as the future, the three-dimensional effects depend on expertise and the logistics of transporting and placing eighteen Sony F950 CineAlta digital cameras and SR recording decks and tons of fiber optic cable with a crew as numerous as 140, plus recreating and 3D-editing animated show sequences. The yeoman work is admirably handled by specialized full-service production 3ality Digital, which participated in the development of a more flexible, portable 3D camera with sports and media’s Modell brothers and dry ran the equipment at NFL games and a Super Bowl.

Commonly 3D, stereoscopic cinema has actually been around for some eighty years, over a century for stills. As a novelty the system had some success in the 1920s and was briefly revived in 1952-54 with Bwana Devil, House of Wax, Kiss Me Kate, Fort Ti, Dial M for Murder and a couple of cheapies, then petered out except for early ‘70s porn flicks, in the apathy of moviegoers who had to don cardboard polarized glasses even while holograph-laser research promised virtual visual reality for an indeterminate tomorrow.

Selected from in excess of a hundred hours’ digital 3D footage, sixteen February-March 2006 days near the windup of the band’s Vertigo tour, the fifteen numbers included are, except for some later false-feeling foreground lettering, uncluttered and faithful, as close as the flat screen can get to “the palpable thrill of actually being at a U2 concert.” There are the real smoke pots and narrow spotlights, busy electronic backdrop and giant video screens for those 80,000 Buenos Aires youth in the upper tier of Río de la Plata Stadium or at the far end of its soccer pitch, and two performance runways curving to circles within the audience.

Above all, there are the lads themselves, close and unringed by security, shortish hair, unfrilled in black jeans, tee shirts, maybe a jacket, watch cap or fisherman’s hat, but minus the posturing forced sexiness of oodles of pop singers. Not to disrupt the flow, photography avoids the customary graininess, and, if after initial effectiveness a bit too frequently played for the three-dimensional foreground effect, audience arm-swaying is tastefully minimized. Spots of color seem summer stars in the black reaches of the famous outdoor venues, and even the swarms of pale digital camera LCD screens are more technology-for-music comment than distraction.

Mid-to-long-range shots reflect performer-fans interaction, while in places overhead brings intimacy, so that one viewer was struck by what seemed a cup of iced tea on the keyboard of also drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. Some of the ”intimate close-ups” are from songs for which front man Bono Vox offered the band for a “cameras-only show.” Making no big deal of Bono’s comradely kiss with bassist Adam Clayton, medium-close views show the band at work, enjoying themselves, working the willing audience.

The U2 sound is less overpowering than when they first took Ireland and then the world a quarter-century ago now, and there some separate melodic guitar riffs from Dave “The Edge” Evans and Clayton.

Humbuggers may cavil that sincere, socially concerned lyrics -- often indecipherable but aided by obvious effects of backdrop -- are not what attract or long affect the young. But that misses the point of this coming together to have fun. Permanent effects are a different, and debatable, affair. More cogently for film, one wonders how long this generation will put up with wearing special glasses, let alone managers with having to collect these sturdier plastic ones. (To relive a ‘Fifties moment, turn around to catch row upon row of close-set lenses reflecting back the big screen.) Then, too, U2 3D is limited to exhibition where digital 3D projectors are installed, including IMAX 3D. Smart money says that the objections are too insurmountable for this to be around long, though technology may remedy that. In the meantime, fans and the simply curious will want to catch this One-Hit Wonder. 

(Released by National Geographic Entertainment; rated "G.")

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