Who Needs Hannah Montana?

U2 finds a new dimension

For most Sundance festivalgoers, the opening-night film was In Bruges, a hitman slice-of-life story directed by playwright Martin McDonagh that stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleason, and Ralph Fiennes. It’s scheduled to open in Austin in a couple of weeks on Februray 8. For me, still in Austin, the opening-night film was U2 3D, which press-screened on Wednesday night at the IMAX Theater at the Bob Bullock History Museum. The feature-length film is premiering on Saturday at Sundance, but it is also due to open at the Austin IMAX next Friday, January 25. For me it served as my kickoff to Sundance.

And what a kickoff – not only for a celebration of film but for the new year as well. It’s certainly the most fun I’ve had a movie in a long while. It may also be the best concert film since Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense.

Filmed in Argentina during U2’s Vertigo tour, the concert itself is packed wall-to-wall with the band’s hits. However, it’s not the music alone that makes the film great. Admittedly, I have not even been much of a fan of the group before now, yet in the context of the film’s arena-rock setting, the band’s idealistic fervor takes on a shamanistic glow.

U2 3D is a landmark film for its creative use of the medium. For once 3D is being used not for wowwy effects and startling nature photography but in a way that complements and enhances the performance. It helps that the arena rockers are equal to the magnitude of the 3D format. Co-directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington never overuse the novelty, so that a key moment in which Bono outstretches his arm to the audience arrives with true astonishment. Their inclusion of the audience in the foreground in a large portion of their shots creates the illusion of being at the concert yourself. Suddenly someone stands up in the row in front of you, or you find yourself watching the girls perched on their boyfriends’ shoulders or others watching the cameras watching them. U2 3D allows us to see and become part of the live audience like never before. The filmmakers also use the 3D to provide an in-depth sense of the band in space as they work the various platforms and runways of the set and interact with one another, physically and musically. But they also exist in isolation, almost as holograms of themselves for our privileged viewing. With news earlier this week that Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones concert film, Shine a Light, has been chosen as the opening film of February’s Berlin Film Festival, it’s starting to look like 2008 could be a better-than-great year for the music documentary.

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U2 3D, Sundance, U23D, Mark Pellington, Catherine Owens

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