U2-3D brings moviegoers face-to-face with legendary rock band

Jay N. Miller

Ever been tempted to reach out and feel the stubble on Bono’s chin? You just might be if you see the new U2-3D film opening today at selected theaters, including the Simons IMAX Theater at New England Aquarium.

The new movie was created from more than 100 hours of film shot by 18 different 3-D cameras during the band’s ‘‘Vertigo’’ tour. Parts were shot in South America, but the primary footage is from the band’s first Buenos Aires show in Argentina. U2 also set up a day early in Buenos Aires, and performed a 10-song set in an empty stadium so National Geographic producers could get some necessary shots.

All that technical detail resulted in a marvelous concert film, running about 85 minutes long and including 15 of the band’s best songs. The show starts with ‘‘Vertigo,’’ and goes upward from there, so it’s safe to assume the filmmakers jiggered the setlist, but the final result is a stunning blast of U2’s cathartic rock.

Directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, the movie succeeds in conveying the emotional journey of a U2 concert, where love and peace and human rights and brotherhood don’t just seem like lofty words.

It is a surprise to examine the credits and learn how many different shows went into this one film, for the effect is so seamless you never feel like there is editing going on. The crowd shots are a particular pleasure, with many fans singing along passionately and some camera angles placing you right in the midst of them. The film also makes good use of the band’s massive stage set, letting you experience the same special lights and video effects as the live audience.

But the major reason to see this film, aside from the sound - which is superb and loud - is the up-close and literally in-your-face, if not occasionally in-your-lap, portrait of the band at work. Yes, you will see every hair on Bono’s chinny-chin-chin, but more to the point you will discover a new appreciation for his soaring vocal talents. He’s not just singing these anthems with power and commitment, he’s almost always right on the money with flawless tone and pitch.

In the same vein, fans can’t escape finding a new respect for The Edge’s scintillating guitar work, and the band’s sizzling rhythm section of bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. (Who knew Mullen was so big and buff before these close-up shots?)

That electrifying opener of ‘‘Vertigo’’ leads into a sweeping version of ‘‘Beautiful Day,’’ with Bono adding a verse in Spanish. ‘‘New Year’s Day’’ features some of the most engaging crowd shots, as well as Bono introducing his bandmates.

Subtitles enhance ‘‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,’’ and it is effective without being gimmicky. On ‘‘Love and Peace,’’ some of Bono’s hand gestures are converted into on-screen stick figures, but again, it all seems appropriate. By the time the band kicks into ‘‘Sunday Bloody Sunday,’’ that song’s marching tempo helps make it as imperative a plea for peace as any live concert version ever did.

‘‘Miss Sarajevo’’ had several unique features, including a Bono Spanish segment that had him singing an operatic sustain that is truly incredible.

The familiar sequence of ‘‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’’ and ‘‘Where the Streets Have No Name’’ was an emotional highpoint, and a backdrop featuring the flags of all nations on stadium screens was used flawlessly. The devotion of U2 fans was the most salient feature of ‘‘One.’’

About the only quibble might be the superimposed letters and words on the screen during ‘‘The Fly,’’ which did seem heavy-handed. Then again, maybe that song just isn’t strong enough to carry its presumed message.

‘‘With or Without You’’ is a glorious conclusion, although the coda of ‘‘Yahweh’’ seems a bit tacked on, just one last rousing moment. An encore seems imminent, but then the credits roll.

You can debate the sequence of the last six songs or so, but this is an unforgettable combination of sound and visual art, and it will win U2 new fans.


(G) Starring Bono The Edge Adam Clayton Larry Mullen Jr. At New England Aquarium’s Simons IMAX Theatre, Central Wharf, Boston. Tickets, $10.95-$12.95 at the box office or 4 stars.