Apr 1, 2013

[Movies] Upside Down (2012)

Romance movies don't always get mixed in with science fiction - you have to admit that the two movie genres are a tad different from one another. But every now and then the two come together and it can either be quite a mess or a beautiful new creation.

Upside Down is a most interesting movie that I feel was born out of an idea for a visual more than a story. And that may not be a bad thing - there are just those moments when the science fiction aspect to things sort of falters from an internal logic perspective. But that doesn't distract you from the core story that drives this movie - two lovers who are as separate as separate can be.

I don't think this movie has gotten a local release date as of this time, which is rather disappointing. I know I've seen a poster for the movie at least once or twice in the Coming Soon section, but that's about it. Then again, there's always the internet at large to help drive things alone and resolve such distribution challenges.


Synopsis: Upside Down is a French-Canadian romantic science fiction movie written and directed by Juan Diego Solanas. The movie was initially released last year in Russia and finally got a US release this month.

The premise of Upside Down is an unusual one. We have a binary pair of planets that had different and opposing types of gravity as the two orbit their sun in lock step. There are three rules about the gravitational nature of these two worlds:
1) Matter from one world is only pulled by the world where it came from
2) An object's weight can be offset by matter from the opposite world
3) After some time, matter from one world that is weighed down in the other world will burn

Beyond the rules, the two worlds are also separated by quite the class divide. Thus the upper world is rich and wealthy while the lower world struggles to survive. Thus the lower world provides raw resources and labor for the upper world in exchange for rather pricey electricity. The two worlds are linked by one massive building that belongs to TransWorld - a mega corporation that controls most interests. Otherwise, contact between residents of the two different planets are forbidden to interact.

Our protagonist is Adam (Jim Sturgess), an orphan in Down who lost his parents in an oil refinery accident. His only relative is his aunt, who is know for her seemingly magical flying pancakes created using pollen from pink bees that gather it from both worlds somehow. In his youth he meets Eden (Kirsten Dunst) from Up and the two form a friendship in secret atop mountains from each world that nearly touch. This friendship eventually grows into something else - at least until they are finally discovered and Eden appears to die. Thus Adam goes about his life as best as he can as he continues to research further into the secret of the pink bee pollen - until he one day sees on a TV game show that Eden is actually alive.

The movie's unique premise allowed the director with a lot of crazy visual sequences that rely on the unique gravitational constraints that the characters rely on. Thus little things like the shape of an overhang on the mountain or inverse ballrooms or even mirror image offices are all part of the visual palette of this movie. And the end result is indeed quite amazing, although I probably could have done with a little less lens flares. How does one generate so many lens flares in the shadow between the two worlds, right?

The movie isn't too heavy on the science when you get down to it. Assuming the existence of the movie's "dual-gravity", there are a lot of moments when the internal logic seems to fail. The biggest problem is how to define when exactly matter from one world starts to burn once it crosses over. Does it only apply to inorganic matter? Does it happen more when matter and its inverse matter equivalent are in constant contact versus stuff that you just bring over? But let's forgive all that.

One has to give a lot of credit to the core premise behind the romance angle that is central to the story. Adam is ridiculously determined to be reconnected with Eden and the lengths that he goes to in order to just meet her again are pretty impressive. He is quite the romantic hero who is prepared to offer pretty much anything in order to find his childhood sweetheart, and so you inevitably want to root for the guy. And that's a very good thing indeed since it helps drive the movie forward.

The ending could have been better though - it felt like it was a tad rushed compared to a lot of the more though-out visual sequences. And it's a shame that things ended on that note given the movie had been going rather well up until that point. It's not a bad ending in itself - it just could have used a bit more narrative build-up to get to that point.

Upside Down is definitely a unique movie and one that deserves to be seen by more people. I fear that the science fiction premise may turn away some potential movie-goers and with luck this review will help them realize that there's nothing to be afraid of. The movie still gets a respectable 4 world-jumping moments out of a possible 5.


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