As a band, U2 has gotten more collective shit, coupled with equal amounts of praise, over the past few years than any other band currently still releasing albums. Bono alone is on many a "worst douchebag" list, and yet it is undeniable that no band has taken bigger risks by being at the forefront of new technology before it is cool, hip, or approved by the general masses.
In the '80s they made wearing your heart on your sleeve, both politically and spiritually, successful. In the '90s they took rock stadium tours to new heights with their massive stage and light productions, and even bigger remote-controlled satellites and TV screens. In 2004, U2 were the first to collaborate with Apple on their own signature iPod (you couldn't escape their ad campaign if you tried) and now, with their latest venture, U23D, the first live-action movie shot, produced, and exhibited solely in digital 3-D, they're making history once again.
U23D is made up of nine different concerts shot in various parts of South America during their Vertigo tour, where the filmmakers took over 100 hours of footage and dwindled it down to a concert that lasts a little over an hour and a half. The result is astounding.
Remember that first time that you rode the Back to the Future Ride at Universal? Remember how insanely thrilling and surreal it felt? Take that same feeling, multiply it by a million, then throw in the thumping of Adam Clayton's bass (who, for my money, is the star of the show here), the pounding of Larry Mullen Jr's drum kit, the electricity of Edge's guitar and the nothing-short-of-theatrical performance by Bono himself and you will begin to get a general idea of just how fucking incredible U23D really is.
Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, longtime U2 collaborators, along with the hundred or so cameramen who worked with them in each city, shot scene after scene and song after song from a variety of angles that have never before been seen with 3-D technology. From the very beginning you're a part of the crowd at the concert — there is no distinction between the theater that you are sitting in and the stadium that they are standing in — and when Bono stretches out his hand toward his audience, he is reaching out to you as well.
At times being that close to Bono and the gang was actually somewhat frightening (something that I never thought I would say), but all of this was masked by what has to be one of the best audio experiences (not being as skilled an audio geek as I'd like this is the best I can do) that I have ever had in a concert film. The music is crisp and clear and sounds so unlike any time that I've ever seen U2 in concert — where mass screaming or massive, blaring speakers tend to often ruin the clarity of the music being played onstage. If you've never had the privilege of seeing them in concert (which definitely should be on your list of "Things to Do Before I Die"), U23D is truly the next best thing.
U23D is being distributed by, believe it or not, National Geographic, and although it's currently playing in limited release in select cities, it will go wide to an IMAX theater near you February 15.
Directed by: Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington
Starring: Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge and Larry Mullen, Jr.