The actual concept is not bad, but the execution and delivery are
280Anyone who has seen any of the Cirque du Soleil shows over the past thirty years – either the touring productions or the fixed venue spectaculars in ‘Vegas and New York cannot fail to be impressed by the technical wizardry and sheer talent of the performers. It is true to say this is the circus re-invented, without the animals, cheesy magic acts and easy to guess illusions, but with stunning gymnastics and acrobatics and of course, the occasional sinister clown thrown in along the way. Previous video productions have always sought to capture Cirque from “The best seat in the house” preserving the 4th wall when required and leaving the production as close to the live show as possible.
Couple this sort of spectacle with the combined talents of director Andrew Adamson and 3D guru James Cameron and surely, this would be the most impressive Cirque outing to date? Unfortunately not, as it fails to hit the mark in quite a number of ways. Instead of just filming one of the current shows, Adamson chose to write a fairly contrived back story and then shoehorn in highlights from a number of the then current fixed venue productions from Las Vegas (where there are eight shows to choose from) and New York.
Entering their thirtieth year, all is not well in the world of Cirque, with one of their shows closing early in Las Vegas due to low ticket sales, performers laid off from some of the other shows and the scale of the touring shows cut, with the removal of family accommodation and schooling perks and more shows slotted in to the schedule. The recent tragic death of Sarah Guillot-Guyard, an aerial silks performer in the Las Vegas show Ka has further added to the company’s woes, particularly as they are noted in the industry for putting safety above all other matters in the design and running of their shows. Guillot-Guyard is credited as a performer in this release, and so even though her role was quite minor, it remains a tribute to her memory.
The story told in Worlds Away is in fact, very simple. A young woman – Mia (Cirque regular Erica Linz) visits a run down, touring circus and falls in love with its star performer - The Aerialist (another Cirque performer Igor Zaripov). He performs daring stunts over the circus arena, but then distracted by her gaze, falls from his perch and is pulled into a circus underworld, dragging Mia in with him. She wakes to find herself alone in a strange insubstantial land of circus big tops, each containing a different show, through which she searches for her lost love. He is also searching for her, so that they can perform one last show together in an act of aerial passion, thus demonstrating their undying love for one another, or something like that. And that’s it really. The circus tents each showcase one of the Cirque shows and we get to see a slightly modified version of one or more of their acts, with the stars kind of shoe horned in, with varying degrees of awkwardness.
The opening scenes were shot in New Zealand, using a small touring big top and a bunch of slightly freaky looking performers in a bizarre vaudeville pastiche. It’s all a bit underwhelming though, and Mia looks very out of place in her white crinoline dress amongst denim clad country folk and gaudily dressed performers. The transition to the circus underworld is well executed and the subterranean big tops suitably creepy. At this point, I still had high hopes for the movie, as it was beginning to tell a story. Unfortunately, we then entered the first of the tents and it went downhill quite rapidly from this point on.
Adamson and Cameron took a creative decision to portray the shows as if live, with all safety wires and rigging in view. From the perspective of the paying audience in the venues, this is not an issue, as the wires and rigging are hidden in the fly tower above the stage and the lighting reduces their impact within the performance area as well, but once you cross into the performance space and start positioning cameras looking at angles the audience will never see, it starts to look untidy and some of the magic is lost. Ka famously features a huge moving stage section that can rotate and tilt to become vertical. A number of scenes from the production are featured here, and having seen them from an audience perspective, the illusion of performers defying gravity is not tempered by their support harnesses. However, position a camera in the pit below the “wall” facing directly up into the flies and the hoists and truss become a distraction. I understand that the production team wanted this to look like the real show, but trust me, you are nowhere near as aware of the mechanics of the production when your eye is firmly focussed on the action of the stage, not the speaker hangs, lighting fixtures, tab tracks and other clutter that is usually hidden from view.
In fairness, some scenes work better than others in terms of the story, with the two Beatles sections feeling particularly coherent, while the Elvis trampoline section fails to deliver, because the tie in between the Elvis music and the suited superheroes has no context outside of that particular (and now closed) show as a whole. The scenes from “O” combine acrobatics with synchronised swimming, giving an almost ethereal quality to the performance and again, this kind of fits into the landscape better than the higher energy numbers from Ka. A number of the clowns and props make an appearance, some of them helping the star crossed lovers, others more of a hindrance, but it helps to break things up nicely. What might have worked best would have been for these characters to have been the guides through this strange land, but this does not appear to have been considered by the writers.
Therefore, we end where we began, with a somewhat hodgepodge of acts ripped from their natural environment and strung in an apparently random order to tell a tale.
The funny thing is though, I will be keeping this disc handy, because as a demo disc it works rather well. It provides short hits of immersive viewing without make you feel that you are missing much by skipping a few chapters here and there. On that basis, it should get quite a high score, but taken as a whole, it just does not gel or enthral in the same way that even other video productions of Cirque shows do and this is just plain disappointing.
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