Cirque du Soleil wouldn't accept Judge Clark Douglas despite his impressive ability to touch his own toes.
Our reviews of Cirque Du Soleil: Anniversary Collection (published February 8th, 2006), Cirque Du Soleil: Corteo (published April 24th, 2006), Cirque Du Soleil: Fire Within (published January 18th, 2005), Cirque Du Soleil: La Nouba (published January 18th, 2005), Cirque Du Soleil: Midnight Sun (published March 21st, 2006), Cirque du Soleil: Solstrom: The Complete Series (published September 21st, 2005), and Cirque Du Soleil: Corteo (Blu-Ray) (published September 23rd, 2008) are also available.
The adventure of a lifetime.
Note: This disc contains both a 3-D and 2-D presentation of the film. Only the 2-D presentation is being covered in this review.
A confession: prior to receiving this disc to review, I had never actually seen a Cirque du Soleil show either in person or on television. Of course I had seen little snippets here and there ("Oh look, people in colorful costumes doing acrobatics," I would think) and had heard countless references to the group in various areas of pop culture. Even so, watching the 2000 IMAX film Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man was the first time I actually had the opportunity to get an idea of what the wildly popular "dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment" group was all about. Journey of Man can be a bit eyeroll-inducing thematically, but the wonder of the physical performances on display more than compensates for that.
The film uses the journey of human life as a framework within which it can incorporate acts from previous popular shows. Our story begins at birth, represented by a group of synchronized swimmers clad in bright pink doing all sorts of lovely acrobatics underwater. Precisely how this is supposed to symbolize birth is a little vague (I fear the prominent combination of pinkness and wetness is meant to be taken at face value; especially given the moment at the end in which a child pops out of the water and arrives on dry land), but it's an attractive sequence nonetheless.
We continue into early childhood, in which a young boy is accompanied by two squeaking clowns which represent the child's instincts. This leads us into a very charming sequence in which acrobats in sequined yellow costumes swing from the trees with seemingly effortless grace. It's a bit simpler than some of the other acts that appear in the film, but there's a serenity to it I find very appealing. A little more puzzling is a sequence of adolescence, in which the boy travels the Grand Canyon and watches a muscular fellow spin some sort of hollow square figure made of pipes above his head. Puberty, man.
Next up is the discovery of love; a spellbinding sequence featuring a man and a woman (caked from head to toe in gray mud) engaging in some incredibly difficult slow-motion acrobatics atop a giant floating lily pad. It's meant to be hypnotic and it achieves that effect impressively. The final acrobatic sequence takes place in a mansion, as a lonely, middle-aged version of the man watches a group of performers enter his home and engage in an elaborate show. Somehow this culminates in the man learning some important life lessons, moving into old age, regaining his clown instincts and engaging in a massive group hug with children of every ethnicity. Okay, then.
The narration provided by Ian McKellan doesn't do much to help the matter, as even McKellan's rich tones are incapable of masking the cornball nature of the "journey of life" saga being offered here. I'm not saying such things shouldn't be done; I'm just saying that this little show isn't exactly The Tree of Life. Heck, it isn't even as insightful as The Lion King. Still, the acrobatic performances are the selling point, and they deliver well enough to merit a recommendation.
Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man arrives on Blu-ray sporting a very handsome 1080p/1.78:1 transfer. The film is nothing if not a visual treat, and fortunately those splendid visuals are presented with terrific clarity throughout. The Grand Canyon sequence does look a shade muddled at times, but that may be due to the manner in which it was shot. This is a sharp-looking feast for the eyes overall. Audio is a little more problematic, as the filmmakers made the unusual decision to give the music and the narration a very "live" feel—the recording echoes a bit and lacks the precision a studio recording would have had. I'm not sure of the reasoning behind this, but it's a bit distracting. That peculiar decision aside, the disc sounds superb. I can imagine some even preferring the airy quality of the music, as it might enhance the feeling that one is actually witnessing a live show. The track is vigorous and immersive; fully enveloping the viewer in a cacophony of lush melodies. There's essentially no sound design; just music and narration. There are no extras on the disc, though you do have the option of watching the film in either 2-D or 3-D.
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