Cirque du Soleil’s stage performances have always relied heavily on themes, but never has a Cirque Du Soleil message been so overt as in the new Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man Blu-ray 3D. Part of the allure of this recent 3D Blu-ray release is that the performances take place not on stage but in outdoor locations like forests and ponds. The Cirque producers leverage these real-world locales to discuss the meaning of life, as told through the lightning-fast life story of a child who becomes an old man. The result is an unorthodox show even by Cirque standards, but one that’s worth the 39 minutes spent watching it.
Throughout Cirque Du Soleil: Journey of Man, the performers do all the normal Cirque-style tricks such as trapeze maneuvers and slow-moving strongmen shticks, but in real-world environments such as countryside fountains and redwood groves. Generally these offer some nice dimensionality, though some scenes are clearly better than others when it comes to the 3D effects.
For instance, the film opens with people beating tribal drums in a cave, and the drummers banging the instruments look great. But the underwater scene immediately following that opening has nice synchronized swimmers but less-nice 3D effects. Part of the problem is that the swimmers move left-to-right rather than in and out, which doesn’t allow for much depth perception. The artistry is superb, but in terms of 3D effects, there just aren’t many to see. Then again, eye-popping 3D effects aren’t the reason you should see Cirque Du Soleil: Journey of Man. If you buy it for the 3D effects alone, you’ll only be marginally intrigued.
The sequence with the best 3D takes place in a redwood forest that, at least in terms of HD video, also seems crisper than any other scene in the film. In this scene, brightly costumed Cirque performers swing from trapezes in the trees while the camera captures their left-to-right motion. Again, the left-to-right action doesn’t lend itself to much depth, but for about one-eighth of their performance the camera is positioned underneath or above the trapeze setup, resulting in the “in and out” 3D effect you’d expect.
As the child born during the first scene grows older and continues his journey in the film (remember, the film is basically a parable), he encounters a desert that exhibits the film’s only instance of 3D crosstalk. It’s only for a moment, but it minimizes the impact of a couple’s sensual aerial performance. The bigger issue with the scene, and one that’s particularly obvious in the slow-moving strongmen scene following it, is that the performances in Cirque Du Soleil: Journey of Man are largely shot using a macro lens. While the wide-angle view is great at presenting a scene’s artistic composition, it doesn’t lend itself to the 3D depth one would expect from a Blu-ray 3D because there’s not an “up close and personal” view to distinguish any dimensional nuances.
The climactic scene in a museum foyer is the exception to this rule, predominantly because it features an acrobatic troupe that takes up the entire frame as well as the foreground and background. Not only are these performers remarkable athletes, but their breathtaking performance is a breath of fresh 3D air from the rest of the film, even in spite of its few 3D “gotcha” effects.
Throughout all these scenes, and culminating in this climactic troupe, the child born in tribal-drumming intro has reached his 70s or 80s and is reflecting on the “journey” he has taken through love, work, friends and family. The first-person narrator mentions the journey at key points in the film, but it’s not until the final scene that the producers’ message comes through so deliberately: love your neighbors, appreciate life and retain a childlike appreciation for life’s simpler pleasures. I’ve been to a half-dozen Cirque du Soleil shows in real life, and never has a theme been delivered so overtly. It’s not a bad message by any stretch, but it does take away somewhat from the final act. Enough to warrant not seeing the film? Not even close. If you’re remotely interested in Cirque du Soleil and own a 3D TV, Cirque Du Soleil: Journey of Man 3D is worth checking out.
Score: 7.8 — The 3D effects are understated for most of the film, and a 3D purchase, it does leave something to be desired. But, a few 3D gems do appear, and the artistic qualities of the overall performance can’t be denied.