I can’t believe the news today: U2 has reinvented the concert film with the dazzling U2 3D, which sets an awesome new standard for rock flicks with an all-engulfing sensory bonanza.
The new 21st-century 3D technology, which requires you to wear bulky clear goggles handed out at the theater, has helped pump up otherwise routine blockbusters like “Beowulf,” but it turns out to be ideally suited in recreating the feeling of the blowout stadium concert.
Filmed in 2006 at a stadium in Argentina in front of 100,000 worshippers, this concert features 14 (far from all) of U2’s biggest hits, blasted forth with all of the band’s exhilarating stagecraft: giant video displays featuring both band action and arty figures such as a lonely cartoon office drone marching wearily in place to “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” Bono and the others venturing deep into the audience on walkways, bold (yet vague) politics. Nobody ever comes back from a U2 concert saying, “Actually, I disagreed with their stance on peace and unity.”
Bono dances like an Irishman, which is to say that he can’t dance. Unlike Mick Jagger, his body movements are blocky and earthbound. But like Jagger, his only rival for the title of rock’s greatest showman, Bono has an absolute feel for extravaganza, kicking the air during the opening tune, “Vertigo” and later donning a white Samurai bandana with the Muslim crescent, the Star of David and the Christian cross arranged to help spell out a mysterious word that will appear on the massive video screens: “COEXISTA,” with the crescent serving as the C, the Star of David as the X and the cross as the T. Marvelous. Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. wears a red star, as if to signify he’s a Communist thrown into a Nazi concentration camp. What does it mean? Who cares?
The cameras zoom and roam and fly, among the band members and into the crowd where pretty girls sit perched on unseen shoulders waving their arms in the night air. At times several images are stacked atop of each other-there’s the screen seen in the stadium, the frontman, the atmospheric red fog coming out of the wings and the delighted crowd, all of them overloading the senses and creating the kind of beautiful hallucination that leaves you buzzing and ringing after the best concerts.
In the early days, during the Reagan years, U2 seemed like an angry leftist band of Irish revolutionaries, its very name (a reference to the U.S. spy plane) seemingly a mockery of the West in the Cold War. But who can argue with sentiments like “It’s a beautiful day”?
In 1987, “Bullet the Blue Sky” played as an anti-Reagan harangue. In this film it’s an antiwar statement that samples the Civil War/WW I (and “Dr. Strangelove”) song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and concludes not with blame but with a wish for the troops that replaces the “children who run into the arms of America” coda: “Johnny safe home,” says Bono. That’s not Kubrickian irony, that’s seething youth mellowing into middle age.
Similarly “One,” seemingly an intimate song about exhausted love, has now expanded into a stadium-pleaser about world peace and working together. “The difficulties of our past will not prevent us making a better future,” Bono said in introducing the song, putting an almost startlingly optimistic spin on the song. But stadium concerts are about partying, not gloom, and “U2 3D” is a smashing party given by the world’s biggest band for the price of a movie ticket. Its only drawback is that, at less than 90 minutes, it’s far too short.
Rated G/85 minutes
Kyle Smith is a film critic for the the New York Post. His website is at www.kylesmithonline.com.