'Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away' (PG)

A greatest hits of set pieces from seven Las Vegas Cirque productions — including The Beatles LOVE, Mystére, KÁ, “O” and Zumanity — Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away takes a Whitman’s Sampler approach to pairing crystalline 3D technology and the popular Cirque brand name.

But the technically well-made movie simply can’t replicate the live experience of a Cirque show, and at just over 90 minutes, Worlds Away still feels long. Gone are the thrills and sense of tension as aerialists and acrobats defy tragic missteps, such as a scene of burly acrobats leaping on the outside of a spinning and rotating Ferris wheel contraption.

To justify the film’s existence, director Andrew Adamson (Shrek), who also wrote and produced, offers a chicken broth-thin storyline in which doe-eyed Mia (Erica Linz, in her first feature film) serves as the thread to stitch seven Cirque shows into a whole that makes sense. When we first spy Mia she stumbles upon an outmoded circus, spots a buff Aerialist (Igor Zaripov), and falls in love at first sight. At least, this is what Adamson wants his audience to believe. When Mia manages to catch his eye while he’s mid-air, the Aerialist breaks concentration and plunges to the sand below, which gives way and sucks him under. Startled — we think but can’t quite tell from her blank expression — Mia gets too close to the vortex and gets pulled in, too.

Here, she enters a parallel universe where she meets a rather irksome clown (John Clarke) and a cute, oddly charming rider-less tricycle who guide her through the maze of the seven Cirque shows in pursuit of her elusive paramour.

But Linz, a 10-year Cirque veteran aerialist, has few expressions at her disposal, and the film contains no dialog. If she’s not furrowing her brow ever slightly, she wanders about with a blank expression, clutching a poster of the Aerialist, as fantastical, surreal images and Beatles and Elvis songs bombard her. The overriding emotion we’re left with is a sudden urge to shout at the screen: “React!”

Benoit Sutras’ score doesn’t help matters; it is the bland, elevator-style world music variety. The sudden arrival of glorious Beatles songs in remixed surround sound like Octopus’s Garden, Glass Onion and Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite jars us out of our premature golden slumbers. The accompanying visuals include such striking images as an undersea world where Cirque cast members float like jellyfish and a limber female gymnast writhes seductively in an oversized brandy glass. Producer James Cameron (Avatar), who shot several of the scenes while perched 70-feet in the air, captures the sense of vertigo as the aerialists and acrobats soar below his perch.

Director of photography Brett Turnbull also wisely avoids gimmicky use of the 3D cameras and uses them instead to enhance close-ups of the performers and to subtly pull audience members into the acrobats’ world rather than thrusting them off the screen into our laps. We’re so close we can almost smell the puff of chalk that flings off hands gripping mid-air, and the water certainly looks inviting in numerous aquatic settings. The camerawork feels natural and unforced, one of the primary achievements of the enjoyable if not essential Worlds Away.

Cast: Erica Linz, Igor Zaripov, John Clarke, Lutz Halbhubner, Dallas Barnett.

Writer-director: Andrew Adamson.

Producers: Andrew Adamson, Martin Bolduc, Aron Warner, James Cameron, Vince Pace.

A Paramount Pictures release. Running time: 91 minutes. Dramatic images and mild sensuality. Opens Friday Dec. 21 at area theaters.