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Eye-popping Cirque

Film lacks a coherence to match the acrobatic spectacle

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Cirque du soleil: Worlds Away has plenty of eye candy. But you'd expect that of any 3D film built around the hotdog acrobatics and seemingly magical stagecraft of the Montreal-based circus, now a global brand known for its imaginative yet rigorous integration of music, costumes, sets, story and performance.

What the movie lacks, unfortunately, is coherence.

As anyone knows who's followed Cirque du soleil's live shows over the years, the circus's hallmark is tightly unified theatrical packaging. In the best of its shows, the design components are so inseparable from the acts -- contortionists, aerialists, strongmen, clowns and other category-defying performers -- that the shows work as single unified wholes, not the hodgepodges of disconnected daredevil acts of a more traditional circus.

Typically, there's a theme with most Cirque shows: insects, as in Ovo; human evolution in Totem. The spectacle serves the larger whole.

The problem with Worlds Away isn't a shortage of spectacle. The 3D makes everything look amazing. The eye-popping costumes, the impossibly fit and sexy bodies flying through the air (or, just as frequently here, water) have never looked better. And there is a story in Worlds Away, albeit a flimsy one.

A young woman named Mia (Erica Linz) wanders into a rinky-dink circus, where she becomes infatuated with a handsome aerialist (Igor Zaripov). When the aerialist falls while executing a trick, and is swallowed by the earth below him, Mia follows him through a hole in the sand, entering a nightmarish world of gymnastic excess.

But the film, which has been cobbled together exclusively from Cirque's permanent live shows at various and sundry Las Vegas casinos, just doesn't make much sense. At times the aerialist seems to have been taken prisoner by some kabuki S&M cult; at others, he appears to be hanging out in this dream world willingly, toying with Mia's affections in a perverse game of cat and mouse.

One performance is choreographed to an Elvis song (taken from Cirque's Viva Elvis show). Other acts are set to Beatles music (from Cirque's Beatles Love show at the Mirage). They're toe-tapping and often visually astonishing, but weird, even if you take them as surrealistically as they are intended.

Parts of the film resemble a kung fu movie; others, soft-core porn, as in an aquatic tour de force put on by a scantily clad swimmer/gymnast whom we watch flipping and flopping in a large glass bowl that resembles a half-moon, like some kind of wet pole dance. That latter act is, admittedly, a show-stopper, but what does it have to do with anything?

Other beautiful touches -- a riderless moving tricycle and a rabbit head that turns into some alien creature before wandering off -- are random and unintegrated.

Plus, it's just plain distracting, especially in 3D, to see all the cables and hooks that make the stage shows possible. In front of a live audience, they disappear. On the screen, they're an all too obvious reminder of the mundane mechanics behind the magic.

If you've ever seen a real Cirque du soleil show -- not one patched together from assorted moving parts borrowed from a dozen shows -- Worlds Away is a bit of a disappointment.

As an introductory sampler for the uninitiated, it's not half bad.

-- The Washington Post

Other voices

Excerpts of select reviews of Cirque du soleil: World's Away:

"The technically well-made movie simply can't replicate the live experience of a Cirque show, and at just over 90 minutes, Worlds Away still feels long."

- Howard Cohen, Miami Herald

"It serves as a greatest-hits reel of the staggeringly gorgeous and superbly creative acts of the Canadian-born entertainment phenomenon cherry-picked from seven Cirque productions."

- Linda Barnard, Toronto Star

"The rare movie whose title serves as an accurate indicator of whether you will enjoy seeing it."

- Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice

"A lengthy 3D infomercial for the high-priced troupe's Las Vegas shows."

- Marshall Fine, Hollywood & Fine


Cirque du soleil: Worlds Away

Starring Erica Linz and Igor Zaripov



97 minutes

Three out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2012 D3

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