Fans of Cirque du Soleil will undoubtedly turn out for the group’s first feature, a predictably stunning piece in purely visual terms, enhanced by 3D effects that, in Brian Turnbull’s sensitive cinematography, aren’t overly intrusive but still register. But “Worlds Apart” doesn’t offer the sense of danger their live performances promise, and it overstays its welcome considerably. It also comes across as less imaginative than one might expect.
Writee-director Andrew Adamson has tried to impose a plot trajectory on the material drawn from seven Cirque productions, but it’s a pretty feeble conceit about the search by a young damsel (Erica Linz), who’s just wandered into a circus, for the handsome aerialist (Igor Zaripov) she fell in love with at first sight. He obviously reciprocated, since on spying her in the audience he fell from his trapeze and was literally swallowed up by the sand of the Big Top; and she followed him to the nether world, where he’s been taken captive by a bunch of acrobatic savages.
To be honest, this first part of the extravaganza—after the “real world” prologue—is reminiscent of the “Wild Boys” video that Russell Mulcahy directed for Duran Duran many years ago. Of course it’s periodically interrupted by scenes of the sweet heroine wandering around under the guidance of a tuxedoed ringmaster (played by Lutz Halbhubner, who, with his downturned lips, looks oddly like a white-faced Max von Sydow). There are lots of individual episodes involving various groups of dancer-gymnasts, none of which seem to have much meaning beyond eliciting gasps and applause from viewers; but they’re certainly impressively athletic, even though the absence of the immediacy provided by live performance does mute one’s response, even when somebody’s dancing atop a whirling wheel. Some of the sequences involve synchronized swimmers doing the equivalent of Busby Berkeley routines, which should especially please older viewers for reasons of nostalgia. A few even go underwater with attractive results, and one takes its inspiration from samurai movies. And some of them emphasize strange imagery, like a fellow reading a newspaper who doesn’t notice that not just his paper but his clothes and shoes suddenly catch fire, that appears to have no rationale behind it at all, except to show that it can be done.
All of this is delivered with swooping camera moves, lighting effects and electronic stage devices (not to mention abundant bungee cords), as well as musical background—a lot of it consisting of Beatles songs (though Elvis Presley pops up, too). It’s basically a pop ballet, spruced up with acrobatic effects, that’s better when it relies on familiar tunes than when (as is usually the case) it uses the bland symphonic score of Benoit Jultras, which sounds like bad Tchaikovsky. Eventually, of course, the lovers get together for a pas de deux that sends them into the air together to do lots of twirls and ersatz pirouettes. It’s fine, but would be far better if the music were less generic.
As a ballet, “Worlds Apart” is hardly a “Nutcracker” or “Swan Lake,” not simply because the score is so weak but because it depends on movements often less dance-like than even those you encounter in many modernist “classical” works. As a spectacle it certainly has a good deal to offer, though less than the Cirque does in live performance. As a movie it’s eye-catching without ultimately amounting to much more than a pleasant but innocuous diversion.