This month marks a whopping ten years since Across the Universe—a.k.a. The Beatles movie that isn’t actually about the Fab Four in the slightest. Though it’s a bit polarizing amongst diehard Beatles fans, the film (directed by Julie Taymor) can definitely be credited with creatively reinventing the band that changed music, alongside visuals that are…incredible, to say the least.
In honor of the film’s tenth anniversary, we reflect on the musical numbers in the film.
The film opens on a grayer than gray beach, on which a brooding Jude (Jim Sturgess) breaks the fourth wall and asks, “Is there anybody going to listen to my story?” in a slower rendition than the Beatles’. The setting, coupled with Sturgess’ expression straddling the uncomfortable line between sullen and seductive, prepares the viewer for a heap of drama. And that’s exactly what this movie gives.
Dana Fuchs’ Janis Joplin/Grace Slick-esque vocals master the dark folksy quality of the original, whilst serving as the voiceover for a black-and-white montage of Lucy and Jude protesting the Vietnam War. This is punctuated by a not-so-subtle stream of metaphorical angry ocean waves.
“Hold Me Tight”
Evan Rachel Wood’s smooth voice is a welcome addition to the Beatles’ legendary repertoire, and though “Hold Me Tight” hardly scratches the surface of her abilities, it serves to call back to the Fab Four’s actual vocal style. This scene also showcases the dichotomy between Lucy’s bright, clean, predictable world and Jude’s grungy existence.
“All My Loving”
Sturgess channels the cheeky and charming nature of the song as he bids adieu to his soon-to-be-forgotten girlfriend, along with his native England, paralleled with Wood being parted from her army boyfriend.
“I Want To Hold Your Hand”
T.V. Carpio’s Prudence, like Wood, is one of the most skilled singers in the film, and her masterfully measured vocals, along with the poignant moment when she walks through a slow-motion football practice, perfectly conveys the longing that might be lost in the rapid versions of this serenade.
“With A Little Help From My Friends”
Ironically, the attempt to “not sing out of key” is misguided, as that’s exactly what Anderson does, for that line no less. Unsurprisingly though, this number is when Jude, Max (Joe Anderson) and co. smoke up and Max gets a bit too cozy with a poster of Brigitte Bardot. What this campy rendition gains in substances, it lacks in catchiness and, well, actual substance.
“It Won’t Be Long”
The problem with this version is the obnoxious “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeahs” that aren’t courtesy of Wood, as well as a few harsh minor keys — even though Wood hits them all and makes them sound pleasant.
“I’ve Just Seen A Face”
Third time must be the charm, because it’s when Sturgess croons to this exceptionally jolly version that he finally hits his stride, only helped along by the neon lights of the bowling alley, and the instruments infusing a particularly Celtic flare.
“Let It Be” (Carol Woods, Timothy T. Mitchum)
The film undergoes a sharp tonal change with this gospel version of the classic song, and it’s almost hard to imagine that it was ever intended for anything else. Punctuating it with the demise of an innocent boy hits home even more than that of Lucy’s boyfriend, who was KIA.
“Come Together” (Joe Cocker, Martin Luther McCoy)
Though Cocker’s cameo is…awkwardly placed, his husky voice, accented by the neon city lights and the musical equivalent of a flash mob (which is, well, very musical), offers an interesting opportunity for the choreography. The key changes also work well for the rock anthem.
“Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”
Fuchs channels Slick and Joplin once again in this number, not least because of her massive curls. Though it’s understated insofar as production value is concerned, this rendition is a fitting tribute to the original.
“If I Fell”
So, from here on out, it might not be necessary to talk about how beautiful and charming Wood’s voice is. Watching this sequence is a bit slow, even for a serenade, but narratively, it’s memorable simply for resulting in Jude and Lucy’s first kiss.
“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
Easily, this number is among if not the most visually stunning in the film. From a trippy Uncle Sam reaching for Max from his “I Want You” poster to the creepy-beyond-belief army of G.I. Joes and the drafted men carrying the Statue of Liberty, this number is essentially a fascinating ballet routine, to say nothing of the song itself.
“Where’d she come from?” “She came in through the bathroom window.” Though this pun and not-so-subtle reference to an Abbey Road song are only noted in Prudence’s introduction, it’s might be more noteworthy than the actual number. OK, maybe not, but it does combine the main players’ vocals in a flattering way and end during a protest highlighted by Salvador Dali-esque masks and puppets.
“I Am The Walrus” (Bono, Secret Machines)
U2 minus The Edge plus lights that are almost as trippy as the lyrics = this number.
“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” (Eddie Izzard)
If you’re watching this sober, well, maybe fast forward, because your head is going to hurt when you watch the group’s hallucinations and catch Izzard as a maniacal ringleader/Sacha Baron Cohen lookalike.
If trippy pop culture isn’t your thing, well, you probably stopped listening to the Beatles well before Yellow Submarine. Still, you might want to fast-forward these next few numbers. The silver lining: the water used in the water sequence is bluer than Gatorade! Cool.
Jude draws Lucy like one of his French girls.
The perfect version to dance to when you’re either on a date at a bar or fighting with your S.O. but still want to inspire sexual tension.
“Strawberry Fields Forever”
Though this is among the most memorable numbers in the film, it’s not the vocal cover that’s so striking but the cinematography, which includes shots of bleeding strawberries and footage from Vietnam projected onto Lucy, Jude, and Max’s faces. Really, though, it should be a crime to waste that many quality Whole Foods strawberries.
The change in key sadly changes this call to arms to an angsty cover, marked by a harsh bass line and Jude’s decision to trash Lucy’s workplace.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
This scene is performed in an intimate setting, which really complements George Harrison’s raw lyrics and the equally vulnerable status of the film’s lovers.
“Across The Universe”
Despite the fantastical nature of the song and Sturgess’ relaxing vocals here, the song is unfortunately cut off by Fuchs’ “Helter Skelter” reprisal during an impassioned protest which leads to Lucy’s arrest. Thankfully, this eventually leads back to “Across the Universe,” though this portion is no longer a solo of Sturgess’ but the group work of a youthful chorus. Body-painted dancers move atop the water and then fall back into it, looking, again, like a piece of surrealist art.
“Happiness Is A Warm Gun”
Upon Jude’s return home, he’s not doing so well — then again, this song wouldn’t be used if he was. Max is, at least, alive, and the choreography involving multiple Salma Hayeks is, at least, clever.
Though the scenery here is beautiful, as is Wood’s voice, the cover is far from particularly interesting to watch or hear.
Surprise: The character was named Jude for a reason! Even once we arrive at the legendary postlude, the film doesn’t quite do the song justice, although it gets close — especially with Anderson’s “Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy, Judy” proclamation.
“Don’t Let Me Down”
This does have a perfectly Woodstock vibe, thanks to Fuchs, but it’s McCoy’s voice that really brings the song home.
“All You Need Is Love”
Sturgess’ best vocal performance by far, this song is of course the purest one to conclude the film and bring peace and love to all of ‘Murica. There’s also an interesting overlay of Jo-Jo singing “She Loves You” for about a moment — but that’s not what you came for nor what you leave with.