It’s better to see it on the stage. No, I’m not talking about “Les Miserables.” The spectacle that hits theaters today is “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D,” a moderately enjoyable film that lacks the awe-inspiring visual and aural aplomb of Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil’s live shows.
The film is a compilation of acts from Cirque du Soleil’s past and present Las Vegas spectaculars, including “O,” “Kà,” “Mystere,” “Zumanity,” and “The Beatles’ Love.” The international cast of super-skilled performers includes dazzling acrobats, contortionists, and trapeze artists who, under the Cirque du Soleil trademark, have redefined circus arts in ways that make them blazingly inventive and unique theatrical events. Director Andrew Adamson (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”), working with producer James Cameron, makes impressive use of 3-D technology. The movie was filmed in 3-D and rather than a gimmicky effect, it creates depth and perspective that does enhance the visual experience. But what’s missing is the magical atmosphere of being around polished street theatrics, the inventive use of original music performed by a live band and, in no small part, the breath-catching sense of danger and tension that makes watching the aerialists and acrobats of a live Cirque show such a thrill.
Most Cirque du Soleil shows do have a story line, usually a young person on a quest, and “Worlds Away” does, too. Acted without dialogue, the plot concerns a gamine (acrobat Erica Linz) who attends a shabby, real-world carnival and is so entranced by a handsome aerialist (Igor Zaripov) that she’s compelled to follow him, Alice-like, down a hole and into another universe. There, a bordering-on-creepy clown escorts her through show-stopping numbers from Cirque’s Vegas shows. The opening set from “O” features swimmers, acrobats, and contortionists in, on, and above water. A segment from “Kà” boasts Imperial China-influenced visuals, costumes, and makeup with acrobats performing gravity-defying stunts on a near-vertical platform. Less eye-popping is the “Whole Lotta Shakin’ ” number from the now-closed “Viva Elvis.” A segment from “Love” features the Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden” with troupe members suspended like chandeliers and dripping in white tendrils like floating jellyfish. “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” boasts a Sgt. Pepper-like master of ceremonies presiding over an assortment of Fellini-esque characters.
Some acts are physically astounding and technically well staged — the aerial pas de deux finale is especially good — but just didn’t hold my interest. The screen seems too small to contain the surreal cavalcade that is Cirque’s stock in trade. Of course, seeing Cirque du Soleil on screen beats not seeing it at all. “Worlds Away” offers a decent escape. But it fails to fully convey the thrill of running off to join the circus, for real.