Upside Down (2012) - My movie review, minor spoilers.
Since this movie has the unusual distinction of being released in Asia months before it will be released in the U.S., I figured I'd put up a very early review. I've used the same format as JB's reviews.
SCIENCE FICTION / ROMANCE
France / Canada, 2012
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall
Director: Juan Diego Solanas
Screenplay: Juan Diego Solanas
Cinematography: Pierre Gill
Music: Benoît Charest
U.S. Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
With great trepidation, I went into the cinema to watch Upside Down a couple of weeks ago. On one hand, the trailer promised a visually spectacular blend of science fiction (which I love) and romance (which my girlfriend loves). On the other hand, there was an eerie lack of information about this movie on the Internet. As most readers here are aware, appallingly bad movies are often withheld from critics before they are released.
Further investigation uncovered that the film was supposedly still in post production, yet it was released in an unfinished state in Russia on 23 August 2012. Early reviews of the Russian version were mixed, but all seemed to indicate that the special effects were unfinished. The version that I saw was released on 27th September 2012 in Hong Kong and did not look unfinished at all. Perhaps more scenes are being added in post production, but what I saw was definitely a complete movie.
The premise of the movie that there are two separate worlds facing each other. The "floor" of one world is the "ceiling" of the other. Instead of seeing the sky, looking up gives you a fantastic bird's-eye view of the other world. People and objects always fall towards their own world. Accepting this physically impossible planetary setup requires some suspension of disbelief, but not any more than any other fantasy movie.
For several reasons both physical (falling hazards) and political (an evil mega-corporation that monopolises all inter-world communications), citizens of the two worlds are not allowed contact with each other. And that's where our star-crossed lovers begin their story on opposing mountain-tops.
Visually, the movie was spectacular. It was clearly inspired by the landscape-folding scene in Inception and invoked similar gasps of awe as in that movie. There are also a number of clever scenes involving gravity acting in unexpected ways. For example, how does one use a urinal in an upside-down world? Unfortunately, unless (or even if) you're Michael Bay, clever CG isn't enough to carry the weight of an entire movie.
The romance between Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) was perfunctory at best. One gets the feeling that Dunst's asking price was too high and the director had to minimise her screen time. After liaisons that supposedly spanned many years but only lasted around 10 minutes on-screen, the two lovers are caught out and are separated.
The story jumps forwards ten years. Adam is at work trying to perfect a miracle anti-sagging cream when he sees his long-lost love on TV. That's where he makes the decision to take his secret formula to the evil mega-corporation in the hopes that working there will allow him to reunite with Eden. After successfully entering the company and befriending a disgruntled employee from the "other side" (Timothy Spall), he begins secretly planning his dangeous trip to the upper world. In addition to border security that will shoot him on sight, the anti-gravity material that he uses tends to overheat and catch fire. And if anything goes wrong, he has a very long fall back to his own world. Every moment spent in the other world could be his last.
From the halfway mark though, the movie begins to unravel. Eden is afflicted with the mother of all cliches - amnesia. Although Adam's trip preparations are meticulous, he evidently has no idea what to do once he gets there. Given the dangers, wouldn't it make sense to plan in advance what to say during the limited time he had with Eden? Or better yet, why not use the phone?
Once the couple are reunited and resume their lack of chemistry, the expected chase/escape scene occurs. Rather than generating excitement, the string of improbably coincidental events were eliciting groans. A 10,000 foot fall into the ocean might be believable once, but several such falls onto various soft objects annihilates any credibility that the story once had. (Thankfully, there were no falls into garbage trucks). Lastly the ending left me wondering how the events that I just witnessed could have such a world changing impact.
There was much potential in this movie, but unfortunately the opportunities were wasted on such poor pacing and a substandard screenplay.
My Rating: **