'U2 3D': It's Almost Like Being There

"U2 3D," in which U2's performances were shot, edited and presented in digital 3-D, offers the intimacy and detail not always possible at a concert.
"U2 3D," in which U2's performances were shot, edited and presented in digital 3-D, offers the intimacy and detail not always possible at a concert. (Associated Press)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

There may be no substitute for the firsthand experience -- jostling elbow to elbow, for instance, with ecstatic fans at a U2 concert. But "U2 3D," which renders the popular band in startling, three-dimensional immediacy, shows how closely technology can match that kind of natural high.

Billed by its producers as the first film to be totally shot, edited and presented in digital 3-D, "U2 3D" doesn't just reprise 14 great tunes from the band's Latin American tour of 2006. Co-directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington practically put us behind the mike with Bono. And when we're not experiencing that electric primacy, we're huddling with his devoted followers as they wave, sing and raise their cellphones in LED reverence. In many ways, watching the movie is better than concertgoing. We can enjoy that buzzy feeling of community without the fist-pumping biker obscuring our view. And we can pound our feet to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" without anticipating the post-gig trudge to Parking Lot Hell.

Most of all, we can enjoy the pristine, almost tactile quality to the images. (The print that begins showing today -- and that was used to review this film -- is actually presented in Imax format, but you can still witness the digital qualities. The film will expand to theaters with digital presentation capability next month.) In the analog dark ages, we experienced the likes of "Creature From the Black Lagoon" wearing those goofy, colored glasses that left us woozy and dizzy. But with digital 3-D -- and the polarized glasses we don for it -- we feel as though we're poking our heads through the window of another world. No more film scratches on the screen. No vague sense of nausea. Just direct access to this exciting para-reality.

Of course, we've sampled the potency of "3-dig" before, in recent Hollywood releases such as "The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D," "Beowulf: Digital 3D" and "Meet the Robinsons." But with "U2 3D," we can appreciate it on the virtual road. At times, the onscreen figures seem so tactile, we feel as though we could reach out and give the Edge an electric shave without our leaving our seats or him putting down his guitar.

Seen here in stadium shows recorded in Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Brazil, Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires, U2 demonstrates why it has remained at the forefront of popular music for more than 30 years. The songs, including "Vertigo," "Beautiful Day," "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "Where the Streets Have No Name," are some of the greatest of their time. And the band has always stayed abreast of the zeitgeist, in terms of its timely lyrics, bold production methods in the studio and technical wizardry on the road.

We see that latter quality in abundance: the digital "bead curtains" behind the band, which send out illuminated catchphrases, pictures of fighter jets and even the text of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And we see what a charismatic statesman Bono has become: a U.N. goodwill ambassador who has reached many with his anti-hunger and peace missions, an Irish singer who doesn't just entertain audiences with dramatic stage presence and soaring melodies anymore.

Here, he turns "Sunday Bloody Sunday," originally a protest against the slaying of Irish civil rights demonstrators in 1972, into a stirring anthem against all political injustice. There's something culturally compelling about watching these Latin audiences lip-syncing to his songs and cheering his political sentiments. From behind our glasses, we can almost feel the frisson of world peace waft over us like a subtropical evening breeze.

U2 3D (85 minutes, at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History's Samuel C. Johnson Theater) is rated G. It contains nothing objectionable.

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