Cirque de Soleil: Journey of Man

(Keith Melton, USA, 1999)


These days, every technological innovation promises to take us into a new world. And for a few fleeting moments, these revolutions seem real: we experience new perceptions, sensations, information. But then the short-term thrill wears off, and the same old, futile world – with its dreary habits, conditions and limits – reasserts itself, as ever.

The French critic Serge Daney once compared this process to the simple business of putting on a new pair of glasses. At the start, “the world is suddenly beautiful, clear, hyper-real”. But then the truth sinks in: “Mediocre perception, routine daily life, small dreams, nondescript stories”.

This is also a good description of watching Journey of Man, an Imax 3D presentation. With the miracle goggles on, the film at first seems wondrous. The brilliant performers of the Cirque du Soleil soar as if weightless and pose as if in defiance of gravity. The natural world beckons to us in its luminescent, infinite depths.

Pretty soon, however, the story kicks in. It is a birth-to-death parable, stopping at the stations of Innocence, Beauty, Lust, Greed, Compassion and Wisdom. An Everyman plays with the circus clowns and, miming the sonorous tones of Ian McKellen, spells out the mythic significance of these 3D visions.

It is, in short, a huge, corny, predictable bore.

The Imax process has the power to return us to a state of awe before the screen. It is a pity, then, that so little of its immense potential has been so far realised, and so few artistic risks have been taken. Let’s see 3D movies by Tim Burton, Julio Medem, Lars von Trier or Raúl Ruiz – then we would really know the fun of a brave new world.

© Adrian Martin December 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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