I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil twice in person, and during each show, I was pretty impressed with the performance’s ability to keep my attention over a period of time. I appreciate the willingness from the show’s creative minds when it comes to implementing a storyline, but like most Las Vegas entertainment fans, I go to see the stunts and to be entertained by humans doing things to their bodies that their bodies aren’t really meant for. There’s a great majesty and grace to it all, which easily transfers to Blu-ray disc in “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away,” a thoroughly attention keeping film that flips and twists its way onto your HDTV.
It’s hard for me to believe that Cirque du Soleil has been around since the mid-1980s. Granted, it didn’t really take off until it made its presence felt in Las Vegas (which, if you ask anyone in the entertainment world, isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do), but just over a decade after its founding, the cultural, musical and visual acrobatics these shows have become ever so well known for haven’t missed a beat. The company’s revenue in 2012 was said to be nearing the $1 billion mark, which suggests its popularity hasn’t held steady, but instead has expanded over time, all the more impressive that a regular priced ticket on the Strip will usually run you no less than $75…and that’s on a weeknight!
Not everyone can make their way to Sin City, I suppose, so “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” might be a nice middle ground that will still satisfy. I won’t be dishonest: something really is lost in the translation from seeing this stuff live to seeing it on Blu-ray, but HD is mighty kind to “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away.” This title was initially marketed to the 3D fans out there, and while my in-house tech isn’t yet that capable, the film is still entertaining and captivating. I can only imagine it IMAX…
There’s a little bit of a plot, but it’s about as bare bones as you can get. Somewhat surprising, considering creative names like James Cameron (executive producer) and Andrew Adamson (director) grace the cover art. Given the titles these filmmakers are associated with, you’d expect a bit more than a young woman stumbling into an unsuspecting carnival only to see an acrobat miss a stunt and fall into a new world right alongside. But as you’ll soon discover if you watch, that new world is what reigns supreme, and once it steps on the gas pedal, it doesn’t really slow down.
I didn’t notice it at first, but “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” blends together some of the more notable acts in the Las Vegas performances, including Love, Zumanity, Criss Angel Believe, O, Ka, Viva Elvis and, last but not least, Mystere. This might disprove the old “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” adage, but whether or not you subscribe to this mindset, you can’t deny the sheer impressive ability the film’s performers bring to the table. Can you imagine performing, as a contortionist, on a two and a half foot in diameter lily pad with water, fire and about 10 other distractions all taking place around you? How about flying through the air, a good 40 to 50 feet up, into a swinging ship, after having dropped from this same ship and supported back into your place by some simple looking yet amazingly strong fellow acrobats? There are moments where what you see defies gravity, logic, and even your plain old imagination. But that’s the fun part, isn’t it?
When I see Cirque du Soleil, be it in person or in this context, I can’t help but think of those behind the scenes. They’re putting their necks on the line in a variety of ways as well. I shudder to think what a handyman’s mind experiences as he tightens bolts, secures ropes or connects parts of a stage’s elaborate contraptions together. There’s an especially nerve racking scene where two acrobats are situated on either end of a rotating cage that whips them around at an increasingly high speed. Their solution is to hang out outside the cage as it spins faster and faster, occasionally jumping rope (while it’s moving clockwise, mind you) or walking 360 degrees around their holding area. To them, it’s merely another day at the office. To me, it’s suicide.
On the one hand, “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” is a difficult film to watch. It has a small, darn near non-existent plot, and it doesn’t really have much of a script to lean on (there is quite a bit of very well timed and placed music, however). But if you’re looking for a great exercise in art direction, cinematography, costume design (and durability), lighting, sound and visual effects, you’ve found it. Why watch people battle with one another, using sticks, intense arm gestures and countless mid-air kicking motions, at a 180 degree angle when you can watch them do so at a 90 degree angle? Seeing this stuff only makes one a little bit more curious about how authentic it is, but there’s little doubt in my mind it’s more authentic than your average street magician or stand-up comedian.
You have to get over the weird factor here, too. “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” takes some liberties with its characters (there is makeup galore happening here, and more than a few bare chested males crawling over several sultry ladies dressed in skin tight attire), and given the fact that it’s somewhat suggestive, it might turn some less liberal audiences way. But given that it received a PG rating (and, c’mon, when was the last time you watched a movie not made by Disney that landed a PG rating) and is really out to make you sit back in your chair and say, “Wow,” you might as well enjoy it if you’re able. I did. And I’d do it again with little hesitation.
I enjoyed “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” far more than I expected, and it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised now and again. Whether or not “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” has long term value is up for debate, but you’d have to battle with me quite a bit to convince me it isn’t a bit of a treat for your eyes and ears. It’s different, and at the end of the day, that’s okay.
I’ll tip my hat to Paramount on this one, as the film’s 1080p High Definition 1.85:1 video transfer is ever so crisp. “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” features many shots where video screens displaying images are recorded, and everything comes thorough extremely well, exhibiting a profound vividness I didn’t expect but very quickly came to appreciate. The camera angles are also pretty well chosen, and allow viewers to see close-ups of specific elements to each act while not sacrificing the other impressive visuals taking place just a few inches (in some cases) away. The film’s colors are eye-popping throughout, and it’s softly lit for the most part, with brightness taking center stage when it needs to and darkness holding its own otherwise.
Since there isn’t much dialogue to lean on, it’s up to the music, which is, as stated earlier, very well placed, timed and selected. I really appreciated how it flowed together pretty effortlessly, and my only criticism is that there are a few acts where the background noise I remember hearing when I saw Cirque du Soleil acts in Las Vegas just didn’t come along for the ride. When performers land on their contraptions or scamper along the stage, there are footsteps and impacts that only enhance the experience. Even though there are moments where these don’t come forward, “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” still boasts a very strong English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that pushes the atmosphere and mood where it needs to via its musical selections. Other audio options are French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1s, while subtitle selections are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
There’s a “making of” featurette juxtaposed with “A Day in the Life with Erica Linz,” who plays Mia, that unsuspecting female who only thought she’d be getting a few cheap smiles at a carnival. I suppose fans might find these appealing, but I wanted something more at the end of the day. There is a standard definition DVD included with the combo pack, as well as a digital copy. And, maybe coolest of all,you can score 20% off select tickets to Cirque du Soleil touring shows and permanent productions in Las Vegas.
A Final Word:
“Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” has quite a bit going for it. Watch it with your partner when you want to watch a movie but can’t think of anything else, or when you’re looking to redefine entertainment in a context you might not yet know exists. It’s a fun adventure that becomes all the more exciting once you remember that what you’re seeing is extremely authentic. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you were in Vegas?