Too much self-promotion, too much repetition doom 'Cirque'

Erica Linz, left, plays Mia and Benedikt Negro plays Le Vieux in 'Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away,' from Paramount Pictures and James Cameron.

Photo by Cirque du Soleil

Erica Linz, left, plays Mia and Benedikt Negro plays Le Vieux in "Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away," from Paramount Pictures and James Cameron.

There was a time when Cirque du Soleil had the element of surprise, pulling into your town under cover of dark, with no Wikipedia or YouTube to make sense of what you were about to see. "Where are the elephants?" you said to yourself, before the mix of performance art, acrobatics and music absolutely blew your mind.

From the big top to the big screen, Academy Award-nominated director Andrew Adamson and visionary filmmaker James Cameron invite audiences on an all-new 3D adventure ...

Rating: PG for some dramatic images and mild sensuality

Length: 91 minutes

Released: December 21, 2012 Nationwide

Cast: Igor Zaripov, Erica Kathleen Linz

Director: Andrew Adamson

Writer: Andrew Adamson

More info and showtimes »

Twenty-some-odd years later, the troupe has become the "Law & Order" of theatrical entertainment, spun off so many times that it's hard to know where it starts and ends. The film "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" highlights both the strains of the franchise and the willingness to promote the brand at any cost -- including a coherent narrative. It's a big promo reel, and not a carefully disguised one.

There are good filmmakers attached. Andrew Adamson, who directed "Shrek" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," is behind the camera. James Cameron produces. But the project was doomed the moment someone decided to include each of the seven (?!?) Cirque productions that were running in Las Vegas when the film was shot in 2011.

The imperial battle fantasy "KA" must co-exist somehow with the dreamy water-themed "O," an Elvis-inspired production, and a show that mines the Beatles catalog. It's a ham, ice cream, deep-fried banana and octopus sandwich of a movie.

"Worlds Away" begins with one conventional scene, of a young woman (Erica Linz) meeting a handsome young aerialist at a circus. They look longingly at each other for a few moments, before falling through a giant quicksand portal, and straight into a pamphlet from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

A scene from 'Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away.'

Photo by Cirque du Soleil

A scene from "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away."

Cameron's attention to technical detail is an asset. The visuals are sharp and the 3-D above average. But the performances are shot with edits that are too quick, camera angles that are too close and a frustrating slow motion that makes degree of difficulty much harder to ascertain. The best moments come when the camera pulls back and lingers, allowing context for the various feats from an audience point of view. These scenes are few and far between.

Other problems are comparatively minor. The Cirque du Soleil makeup was never meant to be seen from a few inches away -- clowns who look interesting at a distance are intensely creepy up close. Igor Zaripov is physically impressive as the aerialist, but with no plot, spinning shiny things in front of Linz is what passes for courtship.

There may be a way to replicate the thrills of Cirque in a movie theater, but this isn't it. Until further notice, Cirque du Soleil is best experienced live.

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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