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To call Cirque du Soleil mere circus is to undersell the astonishing breadth and vision of the Canadian troupe-turned-entertainment empire. And to call Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away a movie – while technically accurate – is a wet willy to all those other movies out there toiling away at narrative logic, dramatic stakes, and identifiable characters.
I don’t mean characters we can identify with – I mean actual characters the audience can identify on sight, if not by name. This 3-D film offers up a kind of pupu platter of seven Cirque du Soleil shows, with little niblets of filmed performances from O, Kà, Viva Elvis, Criss Angel Believe, Zumanity, and The Beatles Love, strung together with the very thin connective tissue of an original story, penned by Shrek 2 writer/director Andrew Adamson. (James Cameron and Vince Pace engineered the 3-D design.) In the framing story, a circusgoer (Linz) falls in love with an aerialist (Zaripov) and chases him into a beautifully rendered but bizarro land wherein Elvis’ giddy trampoline parkour abuts, say, the terrifying, pogrom-like human Plinko set-piece from Kà. I have no quibble with the actual Cirque du Soleil shows – the dizzying acrobatics are the kind that make you talk back to the screen in gosh-wow disbelief, and the designs are just as thrilling, with influences extending from steampunk to glam rock, Busby Berkeley to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But when the nominal leads are dull as dishwater, and, minute-to-minute, the damn thing doesn’t make any sense, the glut of astonishing acrobatics has a deadening effect. Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away is fine to look at, but good luck feeling anything.