See Romeo Do Some Social Climbing (Quite Literally) In ‘Upside Down’

[17 July 2013]

By Jose Solis

Fiction feature films demand that we suspend our disbelief, but in a time and age where all the information in the world is at our access during virtually every single moment, it’s becoming harder and harder for the movies to impress and surprise us in the way they once did. Sci-fi movies, which have always had the advantage of basing their theories on elements out of the reach of regular people, are suffering more and more because of this and Upside Down is a perfect example to showcase this phenomenon.

The film takes place in an unknown part of the universe, where a young man by the name of Adam (Jim Sturgess) introduces us to his strange planet; one where dual gravity exists, meaning that there’s another planet right above it—practically touching it—but the matter of each planet is pulled towards its own center which creates a unique visual given that the planet above Adam’s world is literally upside down. Ignoring the fact that by now clever audience members have given up on the film based on the notion that the planets’ proximity would most likely make them crash and explode, the film gives us something even more ludicrous: a Romeo and Juliet-like love story.

While Adam’s planet is poor and predominantly working class, the planet above is extremely wealthy and quite prosperous. The lower planet produces oil, which the upper world buys and then resells to them through electricity at exorbitant prices. If this wasn’t bad enough, citizens from both planets are also punished if they attempt contact with someone from the other world. Of course through a random act of chance, Adam meets Eden (Kirsten Dunst) a girl from Up that falls in love with him and, once they’re discovered and separated, haunts his dreams for the rest of his life.

Partly inspired by Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, director Juan Diego Solanas sets the stage for what will become a tale of social climbing (quite literally) as Adam spends most of the film trying to find Eden and attempting to end the inequalities between both worlds. If the convoluted scientific concepts haven’t made you abandon the movie midway, Solanas hopes that we’ll stick around to see if the lovers succeed, but he makes everything so implausible (not only from a scientific point of view) but from an emotional one, to the point where we end up not caring about whether any of the characters makes it or not.

Upside Down features incredible visual moments and usually every little detail is a wonder to behold, but there is only so much that urinating upside down can do for a movie and once the novelty wears off we are left with a clichéd tale that attempts to use every stereotype in the book to win both our hearts and minds. The actors do their best to deliver their lines with conviction and passion, but they are betrayed by the lack of depth behind them. For example, we never truly believe Adam really loves Eden, but the movie is too cowardly to turn his love for her into pure greed. It’s a shame that a movie with such earnestness feels so contrived, if only because it could’ve taken a darker turn and been much more fascinating.

For example, we also have the perverse dynamic between both worlds, one that perfectly mirrors the historical relation between North and South America. It might seemed that Solanas attempted to address this, if only because his father is the great political filmmaker Fernando Solanas, and we do feel the film’s Argentinean touch in random scenes that recall the country’s dark political past and its most famous musical genre. Yet every one of these references is lost among an amalgam of visual complications, Solanas created a marvelous world to behold but forgot to infuse it with any soul.

The presentation of Upside Down is astonishing, with a 1080p transfer that retains all the beauty of its cinematography and design. The Blu-ray set includes the 3D version which is serviceable to say the least. While not as impressive as other tridimensional movies, Upside Down is the usual reminder that we don’t need an added dimension to convey unique worlds within movies, Solanas could’ve easily trusted his DP and altogether skipped the 3D conversion.

Bonus features include a 30 minute making of, deleted scenes, an extended opening sequence in which we learn more about the worlds, several storyboard featurettes, a feature on the visual effects and how they looked before and after they were completed and previews of upcoming features. In all Upside Down is visually memorable but a sadly missed opportunity to bring politics, or at least a great romance, back to science fiction.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/173409-upside-down/