Across the Universe


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

It's not difficult to describe this movie. It's a remake of Hair with Beatles songs substituted for the original songs. Oh, nobody had admitted that officially, but it's pretty much the same movie. In case you've forgotten Hair, it's a Vietnam-era musical with singing and dancing hippies, singing and dancing draft physicals, etc. Love stories are interwoven with the snapshots of the hippie-era cultural landscape. There isn't much more you need to know. The main difference in the new films, besides the new Beatles arrangements, is that Across the Universe has the benefit of hindsight. Over the years, some memories of events and people which were vivid at the time have faded, and our images of the late 60s have coalesced into a few shorthand images: Peter Max posters, Vietnam, Jimi Hendrix, Bobby Kennedy's assassination, psychedelic images, lava lamps, Janis Joplin, draft notices, Ken Kesey, Kent State, free love, Che posters, Timothy Leary ... and the Beatles. Across the Universe populated its scenes with those images and characters. Bono plays a Ken Kesey clone. There's a Jimi clone, and a Janis clone, and mention of a "Dr. Geary."

The film received about a 50% score at Rotten Tomatoes, but not in the usual way. More often than not, such a score is the result of many middling reviews which might have gone either way with a bit of a nudge. In this case the score resulted from some passionate "yeas" and "nays." Roger Ebert, for example, gave the film his highest rating (****), saying:

"Julie Taymor's Across the Universe is an audacious marriage of cutting-edge visual techniques, heart-warming performances, 1960s history and the Beatles songbook. Sounds like a concept that might be behind its time, but I believe in yesterday. I was drowning in movies and deadlines, and this was the only one I went to see twice."

On the other side of the ledger, The Guardian gave the film its lowest possible rating (1 star out of 5), and Premiere magazine said:

"A few folks I've heard have defended this film on account of its having its heart in the right place. I don't really know where its heart is, quite frankly, but I know for sure said heart isn't doing its job of pumping blood to the brain very well."

And James Berardinelli wrote:

"The songs are a bigger distraction than the visuals. With only a few exceptions, most of them are out of place. They are shoehorned in simply to increase the film's Beatles music content. The expected approach in a musical is for the songs to advance the story. In Across the Universe, the narrative pauses roughly every seven minutes so the characters can break into song, then resumes when they're done. This approach makes it impossible to identify with the characters or be interested in their circumstances. And, while the singing is of variable quality, most of the dance numbers are amateurish."

I suppose those reviews may tell you as much about the reviewers than about the movie. It isn't my kind of entertainment, so I couldn't wait for it to end, but the film has gigantic positives: director Julie Taymor is brilliant at staging bold, ambitious, often symbolic visual set pieces and she used 33 Beatles songs in whole or part. Enough people found that entertaining to earn the film very high ratings at Yahoo and IMDb. The film also has gigantic negatives: it's virtually humorless, it's too similar to Hair, and everything about its non-musical content is either patently obvious, completely superficial, or a 60s cliché used as a short cut replacement for actual thinking. And none of the Beatles songs are originals, so people will have varying reactions to the new cover versions. I believe that your appreciation of the film will depend how you weigh each of those characteristics. If you want to be dazzled with an often surreal visual extravaganza set to Beatles songs, and you don't care that the songs are performed by others, it's your kind of movie, as it was Ebert's. If you're looking for an authentic look at the 60s told in music, just re-watch Hair, which was written by real Age of Aquarians.


* two disc special edition

* Commentary with Director Julie Taymor & Music Producer/Composer Elliot Goldenthal

*  Two live performances of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite"




It was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture, Musical or Comedy.

2 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
4 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
1 Guardian  (of 5 stars)
52 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
56 (of 100)


7.9 IMDB summary (of 10)
B+ Yahoo Movies


Box Office Mojo. It was an arthouse success story. It never reached as many as 100 theaters, but it stayed around for thirteen weeks and grossed $24 million.


  • Evan Rachel Wood showed one breast in natural light and her bum in posterized or rotoscoped images.
  • Some others provided distant underwater nudity.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is difficult to rate. It's one of those A/F kind of movies, depending on what kinds of things you like.