Cirque du Soleil’s Big Top Comes to the Big Screen
To describe a Cirque du Soleil show as an innovative acrobatic circus is akin to describing the Grand Canyon as a big hole in the ground carved out of rock by a river. What began in 1984 with 73 people is now a huge international enterprise, comprised of over 5,000 employees that will perform across 20 different touring and resident shows for close to 15 million people this year alone.
While there have been numerous filmed performances and documentaries focused on the making of various Cirque shows, there has never been a narrative film based on or involving Cirque performers or the shows themselves. Cirque du Soleil Worlds Away 3D represents the first attempt to bring the dreamy, epic spectacle of Cirque du Soleil performances into just such a story-driven feature film showcase. The project began in earnest when Shrek and Chronicles of Narnia director Andrew Adamson was approached by former Walden Media CEO Cary Granat, his collaborator on the first two Narnia films, to write and direct a Cirque-based feature film. According to the director, “We had to find a natural, cinematic way into the world of Cirque. I started thinking about the way Cirque live shows work. There is a very dreamlike quality about them. A thin thread of narrative that weaves in and out of each but allows these acts to exist within the worlds that are created. I thought this movie could do the same thing. I could find a narrative that threads these completely different shows together.”
The story Adamson came up with is centered on two people who meet in a real-world circus – a young girl looking to escape her life, who instantly falls in love with an aerialist, only to be dragged with him when he falls through the circus ring into another world. They spend the rest of the story searching for each other, traveling within the various circus worlds, ultimately finding each other in an aerial ballet dream sequence. The film integrates performances from “O”, KÀ, Mystère, Viva ELVIS, Criss Angel Believe, Zumanity and The Beatles Love. Each time the film peels back the curtain and steps inside, another Cirque world opens up. It is interesting to note that despite a director and producer steeped in animation and visual effects, the film’s only CG is in desert scenes where the two main characters travel between tents.
From the beginning, it was not the director’s intent merely to capture live shows. "What I wanted to do” says Adamson, “is take the audience to see these shows in a way that they hadn’t seen them before, to get the camera in close and give a different perspective of what these artists do and show that perspective in high speed, slow motion 3-D.”
Enter executive producer James Cameron. As Jacque Méthé, one of the film’s executive producers and Cirque du Soleil’s general manager, explained, “We knew that Jim Cameron was interested in Cirque. So I met with him. By that time we had started working with Andrew Adamson, who had come up with the basic elements of the story. Jim was excited by this and he came on board. He brought with him first and foremost his enthusiastic approach to handling challenges and his fabulous knowledge of 3-D. We needed someone who understood how to tell a story in 3-D. Andrew had a fabulous idea and a great sense of storytelling. So the combination of these two minds was very exciting.”
Executive producer Ed Jones described how Adamson and Cameron together made Cirque’s vision for the film come alive. “Jim Cameron is always going to push the technology to its fullest. When you have shows like Cirque, we wanted to have an immersive experience. We wanted to be in the middle of the shows, not as the audience watching the shows. Working with Jim and Andrew, their ideas and concepts, allowed us to do that.”