A bona fide high-wire act, “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” delivers towering thrills through its candy-colored 3D ode to the titular outfit’s astounding acrobatics. The only thing missing from exec producer James Cameron’s three-ring circus is the sense of danger that comes with the daredevil troupe’s live perfs, as even the slightest misstep obviously would never have made the final cut of this impeccably polished pic. Upbeat buzz among Cirque fans and newbies alike should result in a long-legged holiday run for Paramount, even though, at 91 minutes, the ultimately eye-straining extravaganza leaves one feeling that slightly less might’ve been more.
Working best as pure audiovisual spectacle akin to the classic climax of “The Red Shoes,” writer-director Andrew Adamson’s compendium of highlights from seven Cirque productions strains to deliver a story through its use of a doe-eyed audience surrogate (Erica Linz) who wanders into a carnival, falls in love at first sight with the hunky Aerialist (Igor Zaripov), and dances only near the end. Yet this clunky framing device seems a small price to pay for the pic’s uncommonly surrealist vibe, rendered through a kaleidoscopic combo of circus, samurai, yoga, ballet and Busby Berkeley influences, plus a stirring medley of Beatles tunes.
Playing straight woman to Cirque’s cast of screwball gymnasts, the diminutive Linz looks fetching, but spends most of the film silently staring at the crazy movement all around her. The minor intrigue over whether and how Linz will get into the act is eventually resolved in an aerial pas de deux with Zaripov that’s lovely to behold but decidedly lacking in sexual heat, as befits a film designed to attract a more family-oriented audience than that for Cirque’s steamier stage work.
Some of the troupe’s most spectacular feats of derring-do take place on what looks like a giant pachinko board suspended from on high. One death-defying acrobat somehow balances atop a spinning Ferris wheel-like contraption, while another hangs from a giant umbrella. In an undersea segment set to the Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden,” troupe members make like floating jellyfish.
Impressively, “Worlds Away” hardly rests on the Cirque members’ freakishly limber contortions alone, as moody lighting, sweeping cinematography, elaborate sound design and Adamson’s judiciously sparing use of digital effects combine to create a fully immersive experience. Brett Turnbull’s exceptional 3D lensing generally declines to thrust the acrobats into the viewer’s lap, focusing instead on a depth of field so minutely mapped that background swirls of fog and splashes of water begin to appear as carefully choreographed elements on stages of their own.
All technical elements of the mammoth production are topnotch. Music is expertly mixed, although a lone Elvis Presley tune has found its way in among the pic’s string of Beatles songs.