About 40 minutes into Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away, I swear I saw a Lycra-clad Ming the Merciless brandish a paella pan brimming with something red. I thought I was looking at Amfortas' wound in a Las Vegas production of Parsifal. I blinked several times. Both Ming and his paella pan were still there. Ordinarily, one needs the assistance of street drugs or a kaleidoscope to experience a sustained hallucination like this. Maybe it was the 3-D glasses?
Worlds Away is from producer James Cameron and director Andrew Adamson, best known as the writer/director of Shrek. The 3-D film follows a female circusgoer (Erica Linz) who romantically falls for a hunky aerialist (Igor Zaripov) before she physically falls through a quicksand of lust and into a parallel universe. Once this Alice plunges into Wonderland, she strolls through tableaux resembling Cirque productions of O and Revolution before ultimately finding Mr. Dreamy.
This setup provides the trippy fun of Danny Boyle's Olympics opening ceremony minus the intentional laughs.
Despite its appeal, the movie lacks a judicious film editor, one who doesn't cut in the middle of the breathtaking, death-defying aerial moves by the Cirque performers. Inevitably, every time Adamson begins to involve the movie audience in the tumbling and wire work, the editor cuts to a different angle, breaking audience identification and concentration.
Like Martin Scorsese in his 2008 Rolling Stones Imax documentary Shine a Light, Adamson intends to bring the audience onstage with the performers. But rather than give the moviegoer a privileged perspective on a performer, it puts him or her in the shoes of a camera operator diving into the middle of a crowded production number.
At its best, Worlds Away is a parade of mostly attractive acrobats performing physically improbable feats. At its worst, it has the humorlessness of Ridley Scott plumbing the deeper meanings of an Esther Williams water ballet.
To this I will add one thing about the sequence where performers dance and tumble to the Beatles song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite." I liked it better when it was called Across the Universe.