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Movie Review

One of the finer things in life, for me at least, is that electric sense of anticipation in the lingering moments just before a band I love takes the stage. The hum of the amps. The gradual dimming of the lights. The palpable current of expectation pulsing through an arena jammed with jubilant fans.

There's simply nothing like it.

Or, at least, there never used to be.

With the IMAX debut of U2 3D, state-of-the-art, three-dimensional technology in this groundbreaking concert film invites fans of Ireland's premiere rock troubadours to experience a live show with an intensity, clarity and intimacy never before possible. Nine pairs of cameras captured U2 as the band commanded cavernous stages in several Latin American cities, including Buenos Aires, Mexico City, São Paolo and Santiago. A hundred hours of concert footage were compressed into a seamless, 85-minute espresso version of the band's longer live performances. It's a virtual tour de force that arguably transcends even a front-row experience. Even better than the real thing, one might be tempted to say.

From Bono's opening "Vertigo"-inducing volley of, "Uno, dos, tres, catorce!" to the closing acoustic strains of "Yahweh" 14 songs later, the cameras swoop, zoom and linger over the performers from seemingly impossible angles. Because of the highly polished 3-D effects, when Bono reaches toward the audience, it feels as if you could grab his hand. Shots from the crowd's perspective offer depth so realistic that several times I thought someone was jumping up and down was in the theater row in front of me instead of onscreen. Other views provide a remarkable, you-are-there sense of what it must feel like to stand onstage before 90,000 screaming fans.

Director Catherine Owens said of the experience, "There is no comparison compared with a traditional concert film seen in 2-D. One minute you are there onstage with the band, and the next you are at the back of the stadium. The best way I can describe it for the viewer is that it's like being on the wings of a bird flying around the concert stadium—it's really something else."

She's not exaggerating.

But enough about the show's techno-glow. What happens onstage? Much of the performance is exactly what you'd expect if you know anything about U2. Recent hits "Vertigo" and "Beautiful Day" quickly give way to The Edge's chiming, ethereal guitar work on Joshua Tree classics "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "With or Without You." While "Pride" and "One" flow together as fluidly as if they were from the same CD.

Deeper Matters of the Mind and Heart
For almost three decades now, U2 has crafted songs dealing with both spiritual and political issues. U2 3D reveals what happens when those two subjects collide.

As Bono finishes singing "Love and Peace or Else," he dons a bandana emblazoned with the word coexist. The "C" is formed by a crescent meant to represent Islam. The "X" is Judaism's Star of David. And the "T" takes the shape of a Christian cross. (This slogan also appears on the giant video screens that backdrop the stage.) The moment marks a decided turn toward political issues of war and peace, which the next three songs passionately grapple with ("Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Miss Sarajevo").

With images of warplanes onscreen and songs about bullets and religiously fueled violence pumping from loudspeakers, Bono offers a plea for peace among world combatants who adhere to the three religions symbolized on his forehead. That message is emphasized further by reworked "Miss Sarajevo" lyrics: "Is there a time for first communion?/A time for synagogue?/Is there a time to turn to Mecca?/Is there time to be a beauty queen before God?"

How one interprets Bono's images and words greatly affects how one reacts. Is he merely calling for world peace by asking us to follow Matthew 5:44's command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? Or is he reaching further by exploring the idea that Islam, Judaism and Christianity just might be so similar their differences should be ignored?

He repeats, "Jesus, Jew, Muhammad, it's true: all sons of Abraham." And, technically speaking, what he's saying is historically accurate. All three of these religions can trace their genealogy back to Abraham. But I can't help but think that some fans will feel led to add spiritual and theological ties to such a claim. Bono never suggests that all of these religious traditions lead to truth—a damaging universalistic message. But his lyrical linking of the religions and his use of the coexist slogan (which is not confined to U2 concerts, and in many people's minds represents equality of faith) may cause some to hear it that way.

Of note: As this segment of the concert concludes, a female voice reads several points from the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which condemns slavery, injustice, degradation and champions every person's right to "life, liberty and security of person."

More Mundane (But Still in 3-D!)
This concert movie is rated G, but I should note here, for parents of young children in particular, that it is still a rock 'n' roll show. Nothing Bono or any of his bandmates does or wears could be construed as suggestive or crude. (Bono planting a quick kiss on bassist Adam Clayton comes off as entirely brotherly.) But quite a few audience members have taken off their shirts—leaving men bare-chested and women wearing bikini tops and sports bras. A roughly animated segment during the closing credits includes line drawings of the earth morphing into a baby that in turn ends up in the arms of a breastfeeding mother.

I saw U2 in 2005. And while nothing can ultimately compare to being there, the up-close-and-personal nature of this film—not to mention its sheer size when shown on an IMAX screen—provides a perspective you could never get from a nosebleed seat like the one I had then. I found myself grinning and singing (quietly, very quietly) throughout U2 3D, even wishing they'd turn up the volume a bit.

So, from a U2 fan's perspective, it probably doesn't get much better than this—especially if you live nowhere near a big stadium. From a Christian perspective, Bono's provocative comments about coexistence and the interrelating of different religious traditions deserves further discussion and attention—exactly what U2 has been prompting for decades.


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