‘The Chemical Brothers: Don’t Think’ movie review: a mind-bending concert experience

Don’t Think couldn’t be a more appropriate title for The Chemical Brothers’ debut concert film, a mind-bending trip that rewards total switch-yourself-off immersion. 

Adam Smith’s film perfectly captures the experience of a Chemical Brothers concert with few pretensions of providing anything else; in doing so, it joins the ranks of Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense (Talking Heads) and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz (The Band) as one of the best concert films ever made.

Non-fans take note: this is a visually and aurally assaultive experience that will leave even diehard electronic music lovers dazed and confused. Don’t Think wastes absolutely no time leaping into the fire, and within minutes we’re launched full-throttle into the concert experience, as the crowd roars, the laser light show begins, and Another World fills the speakers.

Some 20 songs soon follow, including favorites like Do It Again, Horse Power, Swoon, Hey Boy Hey Girl, Escape Velocity, and Galvanize. There’s little room for a breather, but Don’t Think is at its best during Star Guitar, one of the Chemical Brothers’ more mellow songs, which lets up on the laser light show and allows for an extended crowd overview.

That crowd is the audience at Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival, where Don’t Think was filmed from a dizzying array of vantage points last July. While Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons are just barely glimpsed from behind their setup, the Fuji Rock crowd is the star of the show, staring up at the stage, lost in the music and visuals, mouths agape in excitement, fear, awe. We can relate.

Director Smith turned loose a number of cameras into the audience, including one physically attached to a young girl who wanders around the concert grounds in an altered mental state and serves as our de facto guide. Many of the shots of the stage show are filmed from within the crowd, enhancing the ‘you-are-there’ experience.

By the time Don’t Think reaches its title track, the film has put us in a trance. “Don’t Think. Just let it flow.” 

While the Chemical Brothers’ music lends itself to the world of cinema (they scored last year’s Hanna, and their tracks have been featured in Black Swan, among other films), the duo has been adamant about preserving the concert experience: Don’t Think is the first time one of their psychedelic shows has been (officially) put to film. 

It couldn’t have been done better; director Smith, who has produced the stage show for almost 20 years, has just about perfectly made the transition to the cinema.

Of course, Don’t Think isn’t ‘just’ a film; like a live Chemical Brothers concert, it’s an experience that involves you and your surroundings (and your state of mind). It’s being released through extremely limited theatrical screenings that will generate an appropriately packed-house. 

In the US, it was screened for only one night (February 1); the Czech Republic will see only 20+ screenings of the film through the next two months, including one more in Prague (at Kino Aero on March 14).

I caught Don’t Think at Bio Oko on March 2, and from a front row balcony seat, had a great overview of the action. The first 15 or so rows of the cinema had been removed, converting Oko’s ground level into a dance floor: 100 or so cinemagoers watched the film on their feet, and a few danced the whole way through it. Beer was served on the sidelines, and at least one joint was lit inside the cinema (before being extinguished by eagle-eyed staff).

Oko’s 4K digital projection was excellent, and the 7.1 surround sound was perfectly mixed and appropriately thunderous, giving a surprisingly accurate representation of the concert experience. If other cinemas are able to present the film this well, you’re in for something special.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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