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What exactly is the aim of U2 3D? It’s not the best concert film the band has made, and it isn’t a showcase of their best show on the Vertigo tour. Instead, it is a visual marvel that distracts from the music with undulating, tactile effects that will probably influence a new generation. It is also a film for those of us who don’t know the band very well, for those who don’t know what they are missing.

Over the course of a dozen songs from U2’s extensive catalogue, we are treated to a version of the concert taped in Argentina from nearly every perspective. We are among the masses of fans, hovering with bird’s-eye view above the band, sitting in the nosebleed section, and right in front of Larry’s drum kit. It is all gorgeous.

Simple fade outs layering one image onto another were one of the most stylistically pleasing techniques enhanced by 3D. Making use of the fog and colored lighting, the directors create ghostly images unlike anything comparable to 2D film. In more than one instance, guitarist, The Edge, is silhouetted in fog and begins to fade into the backlighting as another shot fades into view. Many times this style is imposed upon a frame of Bono singing, and the effect is stunningly smooth in time with the music. Rarely have I seen a concert film with better, smoother editing. We are spared the fast-paced choppiness that has dominated music videos and plagued would-be good concert films like Coldplay’s Live 2003 and U2’s previous film Live in Chicago, also from the Vertigo tour. The light is also left on the audience more often than other efforts, allowing us to see the bubbling sea of fans surrounding the catwalks. Without this light, we would miss the Argentinean plight of apparently un-air-conditioned arenas, where fans must rip their shirts off and twirl them around their heads to produce air currents.

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The 3D effects help create a few classic moments—in one, Bono raises the mic stand to his shoulder like a cannon and it appears to swoop over the heads of the movie theater patrons. The smirking bassist, Adam Clayton, seems particularly amused by the idea of being filmed in 3D and jostles the head of his bass into the camera on more than one occasion. The 3D is used to an unexpected mean—it doesn’t strive for shock or in-your-face action (but there are a couple welcome moments); it is a euphoric, almost soothing experience. I sense a tide is turning for at least music videos, and 3D will be the revolution. One song showcases this idea by throwing phrases at the screen and raining letters over the band during “The Fly,” an improved throwback to the live performances in U2’s Live in Sydney. If only 3D could be enhanced upon U2’s most visually arresting tour, Zoo-TV, where literally grabbing the camera and having his way with it was one of Bono’s trademarks.

In the scope of U2’s filmed concerts, the show ranks somewhere in the middle. Bono appears to be playing it safe, taming his highest registers down a few notes. It’s a far cry from U2’s best taped concert within the past five years, Live from Boston, where the front man’s strained voice lent to legendary, emotional performances where the audience alone reportedly carried him through it. The power and energy of “Where the Streets Have No Name” hardly be duplicated in that version, and probably never will be.

U2 3D is a great primer for those who like rock music and don’t necessarily know a lot about the band. Those who hate the band need not apply, as the movie is a concert film and nothing more. For the diehards, U2 3D is just another bone to gnaw on until the next tour comes along and we can see the band in person one more time. There is nothing quite like seeing U2 up close and in person, but the film does a good job trying to put you in that place.

Now Playing at the Beverly Cinema
Runtime: 1hr 20min – Rated G – Musical/Concert/Documentary