Despite being free from the stage in the film medium, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away (2012) clearly feels imaginatively tied to a stage setting. According to the featurette, that’s precisely where they wanted to be. They wanted to put us “right in the show” so that we see the wires and the danger. That’s too bad really. You’d think one of the most imaginative stage production companies would bring some of their copious vision to film. Doubly so when James Cameron is executive producer. So what we get is the filmed version of a variety of Cirque du Soleil shows strung together with a minimal plot—then again, considering Cirque du Soleil, the plot is considerable by comparison.
Writen and directed by Andrew Adamson, Worlds Away follows the journey of Mia (Erica Linz) and The Aerialist (Igor Zaripov). Mia goes to a local circus and catches the eye of a particular performer, The Aerialist. During his performance, when they lock eyes, he loses his concentration and falls into another world. Mia follows him into this dream world and experience grand visions of physical feats and awesome apparitions.
If you’ve never seen Cirque du Soleil, this movie will absolutely blow your mind. These incredibly talented people perform beautiful and death-defying acrobatics that will amaze you. If you have seen Cirque du Soleil, you will be thoroughly entertained by seeing these feats close up and at every angle they could put a camera. What didn’t happen, as I alluded to above, is anything particularly new to the film medium, which is what I expected. There was a middle ground that Adamson and Cameron failed to perceive that would have kept the element of reality (which heightens or reveals the sense of danger) while also capturing more fully the dream-like environment Cirque du Soleil projects in the stage productions.
One example where I consciously thought that they might have made something perfect. The Aerialist is being held by some fiendish fellows and then some benevolent folks come and try to save him, shifting a battle onto a massive tilting stage. Eventually, the stage is almost vertical with the cast attached to ropes at the midsection. The filming purposefully (but only occasionally) captures the event as though it’s happening horizontally so that each ‘jump’ seems extraordinary (a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)). Awesome. What would have made it awesomer would be if they lit and filmed the scene in the vertical-as-horizontal. So long as they still had the ropes involved, the audience is sharp enough that they wouldn’t somehow forget why everyone can jump super high and perform their own slow-motion. Creating that gloss and closeness of perspective would have heightened our own inclusion in that dangerous element.
But that’s something people can disagree with. What they can’t disagree with is the occasional cut-aways to a stage-eye view of events. These are massive set-pieces, to be sure, but unlike the stage production, this is not a pat-on-the-back moment for the tech guys. In a movie, the tech guys are doing their best when the audience is wholly unaware of their existence.
But what am I saying? This stuff looks amazing. Like an idiot, I watched the whole thing on DVD without realizing (and actually thinking “Gosh, this doesn’t look that great for a Blu-Ray”). But I put in the Blu-Ray and saw, based on a couple scenes, that there was some not inconsiderable improvement. But this isn’t Life of Pi (2012), don’t expect that (though it is precisely what I did expect), just expect a visually amazing set and performance. It ain’t what it could be, but it sure is a hell of a lot.
There are some special features on the Blu-Ray worth mentioning. “Making Worlds Away” is a very cursory making of, but did disabuse me of the idea that they did this in front of a live audience which I feared when the credits included the curtain calls of the assorted shows. “A Day in the Life with Erica Linz” is very much worth the watch. It has a far better claim to the title of “Making of” than does the former featurette. Very interesting.
It’s all available on Blu-Ray.