10 Years Ago: ‘U2 3D’ Doesn’t Rattle, but It’s a Great Encore
With the first drum thump and guitar crunch of U2's “Out of Control,” from their 1979 EP Three, it was clear the Irish quartet wasn’t going to spend its career banging around Dublin bars. This band was going to be huge. That promise was fulfilled over and over again from the 10-times-platinum The Joshua Tree to the redefining enormity of the Zoo TV tour.
But even U2 outdid themselves in January 2008 with the release of U2 3D.
A band as epic as U2 made the perfect subject for the first-ever digital 3D concert film. Shot on the Vertigo tour in 2006, the movie captured 14 performances, including “Beautiful Day,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” And the film came with the band's usual political statements. As fun and groundbreaking as the movie was, U2 3D was also a bit of a let down.
When the band took to Red Rocks for 1983’s Under a Blood Red Sky, camera crews captured four boys overflowing emotional energy as they transitioned from clubs to amphitheaters. The band took a snapshot of its infatuation with America in 1989 with Rattle and Hum, a document that recorded their evolving sound and embrace of their new status of “biggest band in the world.” U2 3D didn't come at a milestone moment for the band. It did, however, compile an awesome set of performances.
Filmed in South America and Mexico on the tour’s final leg, the movie came out at a time when 3D technology was still in its infancy. Maybe that's why directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington used the technology so sparingly. For the first two-thirds of the film, all we get is singer Bono, bassist Adam Clayton and a few lucky fans in the crowd reaching out off the 2D screen. Only in the encore is the 3D affect really mind-blowing.
But U2 don’t need cutting edge technology to put on a compelling concert. And while it didn't create anything close to the buzz of Rattle and Hum, the movie was generally adored by fans. It peaked at No. 19 at the box office in the U.S., and took in more than $26 million worldwide.
Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an astonishing 93 percent approval rating; USA Today said the film was “even better than the real thing” (a nod to the title of an iconic U2 song), Richard Roeper labeled it “spectacular” and The New York Times said the film was “the first IMAX movie that deserves to be called a work of art.”
So no, it’s not Rattle and Hum, but it remains better than 90 percent of concert films, which is about what you’d expect from U2.