Two people separated by an ocean, that's Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess), with she in America and he in Britain. Little do they know as Lucy waves goodbye to her sweetheart as he goes off to war, and Jude decides to pack in his job in the Liverpool docks and set sail on a ship around the world that they will become very significant in each other's lives. Jude wishes to track down his father, the G.I. who got his mother pregnant then fled back to the States, so when he reaches there he jumps ship and sets off to a university where he knows his father works...
Across the Universe was the film equivalent of those stage musicals which round up as many songs by one artist as they can pack into two hours, then shoehorn them into a story that they hope will provide some unity to the tunes - other than their source, naturally. It met with a mixed reaction as veteran writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais allied those famous Beatles songs to a portrait of the social upheaval of the sixties, and in truth the results were less than satisfying. The main trouble was that in trying to be specific, the film came across as hopelessly contrived.
Everyone who has heard the music of Beatles has their own images that spring to mind whenever it is played, whether it be the place and situation they first heard it, or some echo of pop culture, but here the cast trilled their way through a selection of hits and album tracks that suggested the Fab Four's oeuvre was in fact show tunes. It's not helped by a narrative that strains visibly to incorporate the music, most obviously in the manner in which characters are given the names of people mentioned in the original material: Lucy, Jude, Prudence, Jo-Jo, Ivana Holdyourhand, and so on.
This quickly becomes ridiculous, and after a while you're counting the minutes until the songs the characters' names appear in turn up, with Prudence locking herself in a cupboard so she can come out and play, for example. It's only a matter of time, you'll be thinking, before Lucy gets shot into the sky with some diamonds to accompany her. Lucy and Jude meet because Jude befriends her brother Max (silver hammer not pictured) while at the university and he takes Jude back home to meet the folks. From there they head off to New York so they can become involved with civil rights protests and for Max, the Vietnam War.
All the way through this is an almost constant barrage of Beatles, although for some reason there is no reference to the reality of the band within the fiction of the film, so where all these songs are meant to be hailing from is something of a mystery. At least those onscreen can hold a tune, but the sole thing separating this from the seventies Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band debacle is that Across the Universe is painfully sincere throughout, as if what they were doing was singing hymns in church. Eventually the whole enterprise really begins to grate, with guest stars like Eddie Izzard and Bongo from U2 showing up to put yet more "not as good as the original" spins on another classic. That grinding, relentless respect is what finally does the film no good, and even the most fun numbers are drained of their sparkle by its po-faced quality.