REVIEW /// “… To the Small Screen – Worlds Away Comes home”

Never had a chance to experience a Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil performance live?

In December 2012, Academy Award-nominated director Andrew Adamson (“Shrek”, “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”) and visionary filmmaker James Cameron (“Titanic”, “Avatar”) offered moviegoers the next best thing: “Worlds Away 3D” – a cinematic journey like never before. But “Worlds Away” is not a film in the traditional sense, nor is it a concert-style presentation in the vein of past Cirque du Soleil video releases.

As the third theatrically-released offering from Cirque (“Alegria Le Film” and “Journey of Man” were released to theaters in 1999 and 2000 respectively), “Worlds Away” offers a cost-effective way of taking in the best of Cirque’s offerings in Las Vegas, albeit one that opens with an ostensible narrative: “Two young people journey through the astonishing and dreamlike worlds of Cirque du Soleil to find each other as audiences experience the immersive 3D technology that allows them to leap, soar, swim and dance with the performers.”

And now that adventure comes to the small screen in 3D Blu-Ray, 2D Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital downloadable formats.

FROM THE BIG TOP TO THE BIG SCREEN – A RECAP

Starring Cirque du Soleil strap aerialists Igor Zaripov (as “The Aerialist”) and former artist Erica Kathleen Linz (“Mia”) as a young couple who meet thanks to extraordinary circumstances, the film opens with Mia visiting a traveling carnival/circus (“Circus Marvelous”), complete with the bearded lady, sword swallower, and obnoxious barker that such a setting would imply. As Mia makes her way along the carnival grounds, numerous flyers (and the aforementioned obnoxious barker) invite her to take in a performance of the trapeze artist (Zaripov) whose nom de guerre, “the Aerialist,” proves irresistible to the young lady.

True enough, from the moment the Aerialist launches into his routine, Mia is captivated. But when their eyes meet he slips and falls, dropping right through the circus ring into another world. The show then takes a turn for the supernatural, as Mia, the Aerialist, and, by extension, us, embark on a trip through the fantastical worlds implied by the film’s title. “They spend the rest of the film looking for each other in these worlds that exist in a limbo state,” Adamson said of the film’s plot. “It’s a state that is kind of a space between life and death; a world between worlds.” Ultimately they come together in a dream-fulfilling aerial ballet.

Like the live shows, the film eschews dialogue, using only music and the marvelous expressions of the performers to move the narrative forward. Unique in scope, this immersive experience melds acts from the seven then-current live Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas — “O”, KÀ, Mystère, Viva ELVIS, CRISS ANGEL Believe, Zumanity and The Beatles LOVE — into a circus love story.
When Adamson chose acts from the seven live Cirque du Soleil shows to use in the film, he picked those that would lend themselves to the storyline of Mia searching for the Aerialist from tent to tent. Each time she peels back the curtain and steps inside, another Cirque du Soleil world opens to her. These worlds are:

“O” — “Water represents both life and the unconscious, the dream state and illusion because of its reflection,” says Pierre Parisien, Cirque du Soleil senior artistic director. “It’s sort of the unseen realm of spirits, of ghosts, and the flying boat is like The Flying Dutchman. They are trying to lure Mia aboard but she won’t go.” It is the first tent Mia visits after she falls into an alternate desert wasteland populated by six big tops, “six kinds of limbos,” says Linz.[FASCINATION NOTE: You'll see Synchronized Swimming, Duo Trapeze, Bateau, Fire, Contortion and Aerial Hoops from "O"].

KÀ — To Adamson KÀ was about spectacle, with a stage a quarter of the size of a football field that lifts vertically, spins around and changes. “What I wanted to capture wasn’t just the act and the performers but the ingenuity. Part of what Cirque du Soleil does so well is combine art and technology and presents you with this completely different imagery you’ve never seen before.” [NOTE: Wheel of Death, The Final Battle, Pursuit, and the Flying Bird from KA are shown here. The film also ends here as the two main characters perform an aerial ballet in the Forest scene.]

MYSTÈRE — “Mystère is highly acrobatic, the most acrobatic show we have,” says James Hadley, Cirque du Soleil’s senior artistic director for resident shows in North America. It is also the longest running Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas. Hanging from a cube in mid-air, an aerialist performs a ballet with seemingly effortless maneuvers, foreshadowing what is to come for the star-crossed lovers. [NOTE: Only the Aerial Cube is shown, much to our dismay.]

VIVA ELVIS — In the film, a mysterious self-propelled tricycle leads Mia to the Viva ELVIS tent, where performers dressed as super heroes fly off trampolines to the music of Elvis. [NOTE: Only the Trampoline - Got a Lot of Livin'/Lovin’ To Do - number is shown.]

CRISS ANGEL BELIEVE — Mia travels through six Cirque du Soleil tents that occupy a limbo state between life and death in search of love lost. The seventh element is not a tent but Cirque du Soleil’s very own peculiar White Rabbit, a dancing disembodied bunny head from CRISS ANGEL Believe, who makes a timely appearance, beckoning her to follow. [NOTE: And thankfully this is the ONLY appearance of anything related to BELIEVE in the film.]

ZUMANITY — “The act that we’re using from Zumanity is very small and contained, but it fits thematically well where we’ve placed it,” says Adamson. What first appears to be water on the moon transforms into a water-filled glass container from which a seductive contortionist entices the Aerialist to join her. [NOTE: Only the waterbowl act was performed for the film to "Nostalgie" from "O".]

THE BEATLES LOVE — The act built around the song Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite is “a circus-based theme,” says Adamson, “so it tied us back into the beginning of our opening circus.” Hadley adds, “Actually Mr. Kite, of all the acts that we filmed, probably has the biggest number of artists in one act.” [NOTE: A number of scenes from LOVE appear, such as Blackbird, Octopus' Garden, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, Get Back/Glass Onion, and While my Guitar Gently Weeps.]

And they were marvelously showcased to us on the big screen. How well to they fair on a smaller screen?

THE HOME VERSIONS – A REVIEW

“Far more than circuses featuring impressive acrobatics, Cirque du Soleil’s live and filmed shows are powerful presentations that seamlessly combine daring acrobatic feats, intense artistry, and simple, yet emotionally rich stories. Worlds Away is a stunning compilation of those acts, which are woven together by a poignantly romantic story of a young woman who falls into an ethereal world searching for a man she’s only glimpsed, but is destined to love. The film showcases everything from synchronized water ballet to martial arts-inspired combat, aerial silk acrobatics, contortionism, and the frightening Wheel of Death. Each impeccably choreographed presentation is absolutely breathtaking in its beauty and its seeming defiance of the laws of the human body’s capabilities. Viewers will leave the film feeling awed, uplifted, and completely inspired.”

That’s how Amazon describes Cirque du Soleil’s Worlds Away; on March 12, 2013 the film was released for home consumption in three different flavors:

o) 1-DISC: Standard DVD Format | $29.99 USD
UPC: 0-97361-70044-1; Catalog #: 17004
Includes: Just the film.

o) 2-DISC SET: Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy | $39.99 USD
UPC: 0-97361-70054-0; Catalog #:17005
Includes: The Film in 2D & 3 Special Features

o) 3 DISC COMBO: Blu-Ray 3D/2D, DVD, and Digital | $54.99 USD
UPC: 0-97361-70064-9; Catalog #: 17006
Includes: The Film in 2D & 3D and 3 Special Features

Since I’m not privileged to have a 3D television, I opted for the 2-Disc Blu-Ray/DVD Combo set (ISBN: 1-4157-6971-0) and reviewed the film and its special features in Blu-Ray.

The non-3D version of the film comes in a two-disc set (one Blu-Ray, one DVD), packed in a standard-width, dual-hubbed Blu-Ray case (with promotional inserts and a code to activate the “Ultraviolet” digital copy of the film “in the cloud”), inside a slipcover that repeats the cover art. Besides the discs and the aforementioned inserts, there’s nothing else of value to find (except a coupon for a small percentage off Cirque’s Las Vegas repertoire good until December 31, 2013). Audio options include English 5.1 DTS HD Master (which has to be heard to be believed), French / Spanish / Portuguese in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and English Audio Description (a descriptive narration of the film as the events unfold for those unable to see), while subtitles are available in English, English SDH (for the deaf and hard-of-hearing), French, Spanish and Portuguese.

The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is simply gorgeous, with strong and dark blacks and vivid colors throughout (highly required to capture the lighting essence of Cirque’s tableaux). Nothing stands out in terms of digital distractions (aliasing, or otherwise), as the image remained crisp and clean throughout playback. The only caveat is that the film’s scenes are not as engaging in two dimensions! (Or on the small screen.)

The special features weren’t all that special, or engaging, either.

For the Blu-Ray releases there are a total of three special features awaiting your discovery (there are none with the DVDs): 1) “The Making of Worlds Away”, 2) “A Day in the Life with Erica Linz” and 3) “Cirque in Vegas”.

In “The Making of Worlds Away” (2:26), the film’s creators ask, “What if you had the chance to leave the ordinary and enter the extraordinary? What would you discover? Who would you find?” Although the filmmakers wished for us to find love and adventure, ultimately there’s little to discover in this special feature. It’s more of a promo of the film than a behind-the-scenes peek into the film’s creation. However, Executive producer James Cameron and Director Andrew Adamson talk briefly about the production (“I have been trying to talk to the Cirque people for three years. Why aren’t we doing your shows in 3D? – James Cameron) and you get to see some of the technology that went into producing the film in its eye-popping three dimensions, but at just 2 minutes and 26 seconds you just don’t get to find out a great deal about the movie. Where were all those Trailer Addict Features and the great B-Roll footage and interviews with Erica Linz, Andrew Adamson and James Cameron? Where’s that “Inside Look” featurette and all the other behind-the-scenes clips posted to YouTube and Facebook? All of these should have been right here!

Interestingly enough, Mystère, which was largely missing from the final product (much to many a fan’s dismay), gets its musical due here in this small promo – at least three musical tracks from the show accompany the action on screen: “High Bar”, “Rondo/Double Face” and “Gambade.” Was this to appease the Mystère gods or we grumbling fans?

The second featurette – “A Day in the Life with Erica Linz” (13:23) – fares much better and is far more interesting than it at first seems. Here we’re shown a rehearsal and creative development of an act “worthy of Cirque du Soleil,” with Linz and a few of her troupe-mates: Pierre-Luc Sylvain (Aerial Strap partner with Erica in KÀ for 6 years), Kyle Deschamps (with whom Erica worked on floor exercises in LA), and Cheetah Platt (actor, aerialist, acrobat and instructor). Although it is an intriguing peek into the creation of such an act, we’re also taken through a brief personal history of the film’s main star: Erica Linz.

Like many young girls in the era in which she grew up, Erica idolized Mary-Lou Retton (An American gymnast and Olympic gold medalist, she was the first female gymnast from outside Eastern Europe to win the Olympic gold medal in the Gymnastic Individual All-around competition) and Nadia Com?neci (A Romanian gymnast, winner of three Olympic gold medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and the first female gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event. She is also the winner of two gold medals at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow), which led her to try her hand at gymnastics. But “competition didn’t float my boat”; she’d rather work the floor where she could be more expressive, and in her words “silly.” She began singing; that and gymnastics lead to the theatre, where she took on small roles in operas and Shakespeare plays as early as eleven years old. Later Erica discovered the circus arts, and following high school graduation, flew to Las Vegas to meet with Cirque du Soleil. Her audition was successful: she performed in Mystère for three years (From November 2001 through December 2004 as the Bébébé character, the female baby) before transferring to KÀ in 2005 (playing a character and performing Aerial Straps).

The act the foursome is rehearsing appears to be a combination of Acrobatic Dance (as seen first in Varekai then later Corteo), Banquine (but only slightly, as some of the catching and throwing moves are performed here), and Aerial Straps. It would have been nice to see the final performance in order to compare it to the rehearsal, but this certainly gives you some appreciation for what goes into creating an act, and the physical talents of the performers preparing it. Will we see this in a future Cirque du Soleil show? Who knows!

The third featurette – “Cirque in Las Vegas” – is nothing more than a sixty-second commercial for Cirque du Soleil’s shows in Las Vegas. The video showcases clips of each of the shows, wrapping them around the Cirque’s “Today I Am…=” advertisement campaign whereby “Whimsical” is Mystère, “Aquatic” is «O», “Playful” is Zumanity, “Epic” is KA, “Groovy” is The Beatles LOVE, “Mysterious” is Criss Angel Believe, and “Surreal” is Zarkana. Great clips but not enlightening to fans thirsting for more coverage of their favorite Las Vegas productions.

THE BOTTOM LINE – THE CONCLUSION

When all is said and done Cirque du Soleil’s Worlds Away was a marvelous distraction on the big screen – its 3D technology completely immersive to the point where you felt right there amongst the performers (you really can’t get any better than that “O” footage, can you?), yet sadly, the lack of 3D at home (for me anyway) and a much, much smaller screen diminishes the experience greatly. Couple that with a disappointing array of special features and you’ve got a rather lack-luster package in this Blu-Ray set.

Still, if you were a fan of the film (that “O” footage!), and don’t care about the extras that normally accompany a home video release, then I highly recommend the purchase. How else can you watch gorgeously shot footage of “Mystère”, “O”, “Zumanity”, “KÀ”, and “LOVE” from your home?