Reel Matt

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Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away

Film #167


Two young people journey through the dreamlike worlds of Cirque du Soleil to find each other.

Year 1, Day 168

BEFORE: I’m back in the theaters again for a screening of the upcoming Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away. I have never seen a Cirque du Soleil show in person but from what I hear, you see some amazing things. While I’m sure I’ll be amazed at what I see, I don’t know how it will fare in the medium of film compared to a typical live performance but time will tell.

AFTER: I said I was prepared to see some amazing things. Turns out I was wrong; amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it. For large chunks of the film my jaw was open in shock at what was happening on the screen as I hear gasps of awe from the rest of the audience.

When looking at this as a film though there are many pros and cons, some of which overlap. A great example is the performance itself. There’s no doubt that the performers in Cirque du Soleil are crazy good at what they do and at many times seem to defy the laws of physics and nature. But Cirque du Soleil by its very nature is a stage show; something to see in person in real time with no editing or visual effects. To see a show like this on film it takes away some, not much but some, of the awesome factor. In my imagination, seeing a Cirque show live would give be an adrenaline-pumping, edge-of-your-seat, and nail-biting experience as the performers risk their lives and have only one try to nail the stunt; if they don’t, well the show must go on. With the film part of this experience is lost and you have to settle for a jaw-dropping, visually stunning display of pure discipline, practice, and talent.

While being a film takes away a certain aspect to the Cirque performance, there is also an additive effect as well. Being able to see the performers close up and in slow motion is something that just is not possible with the live stage show where you are probably sitting a couple hundred feet away. Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Apart really gets you up close and personal and even makes some of the routines even more impressive. The trapeze routines are a great example of this, especially the one in the beginning. As the Aerialist (Igor Zaripov) lets go of the trapeze to grab a hold of a dangling chain, you see his hands fumble around trying to get a grip. In real time you wouldn’t see a struggle with the transition from one piece to the next. But on film in slow motion, there is a moment of suspense as you wonder if he will succeed in grabbing the chain or will his hands continue to move around never clinging on.

Another example of this divide between live performance and film is the story. First of all I should explain that Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Apart is a medley of a bunch of past Cirque shows including Mystère, O, Zumanity, Kà, Love, Delirium, and Viva Elvis (possibly more, these are just the ones I remember from the credits). At the beginning of the film I just want to see crazy and amazing performances and thought having Mia (Erica Linz) as this spectator going to a circus did not work. Throughout the film as well I kept thinking, “We don’t need to see Mia’s gaze at the spectacle going on, just let us see it ourselves.” At the end though, when I discovered that this was actually a compilation of multiple shows, Mia’s character made sense. I still think this connecting plot could have been handled better but compared to my thoughts in the beginning, I grew to enjoy it a little.

Before I wrap up here I would like to comment on the presentation. Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away was shown in 3D and it was used very well. The 3D gave depth to some of the performances and made the routines even more amazing and jaw-dropping. There were a handful of poorly shot scenes, in terms of 3D that is, and I would say it ranks somewhere in the middle amongst recent releases (e.g. The Hobbit, Rise of the Guardians, et al.). Something I found very interesting was how poor it looked in comparison to The Hobbit in 48 fps. Not in terms of the effect itself (read: depth and overall look) but in terms of the visual quality. After seeing the HFR the standard 24 fps in 3D looks very blurry and stuttering in comparison to a crystal clear and smooth image. It may have looked natural the entire film instead of feeling sped-up at the beginning, but looking at them both I’d rather go with the 48 fps and deal with an adjustment period for the speed than not need an adjustment period and see a subpar image.

Coming from someone who had never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance before, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away was a fantastic experience. Despite some differences and setbacks due to the nature of the film medium I still think the essence of the performance came through. It was an awe-inspiring and mesmerizing spectacle that had me captivate for most of the film. If you’re like me and have never seen a Cirque du Soleil show before, I’d say this film is a great gateway into this area of entertainment. If you have seen one of their shows before, especially one of the ones featured in this film, I think you’ll find some new areas of entertainment that you haven’t seen before. I can’t help but think though how much more impressive it would be to see it live.

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away opens in theaters December 21, 2012.

RATING: 4 out of 5