Upside Down

Directed By: Juan Diego Solanas

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, and Timothy Spall

Originality is something that's desperately missing from movies these days.  Everything is a sequel, a remake, an adaptation, or a true story.  This is a sad state of affairs for cinema today, but the blame cannot be totally hoisted upon the shoulders of studio execs in Hollywood.  We as moviegoers share a good chunk of that blame as well.  We buy into it.  Of the highest-grossing movies of 2012, every single one of the top ten films falls into one of the aforementioned categories.  Originality simply doesn't pay anymore in the film industry.  Regardless, it's always refreshing to see something new and different.  That's why I'm happy to see the utterly creative romantic fantasy Upside Down finally arrive in theaters.

Somewhere out there in the universe, there's a solar system with two planets of opposite and equal gravity known as Up and Down.  They have opposite yet equal gravitational pulls, a phenomenon known as double gravity.  In these two worlds, it's possible to fall up and rise down.  All matter is confined to the gravitational pull of the planet from which it originates regardless of where it actually is.  To visit the other planet, one can offset his or her weight with inverse matter from the other planet.  After so much time in contact with it, however, the inverse matter will become combustible and burn. 

The people of Up are rich and live comfortable lives, while the people of Down live in poverty and misery.  Laws are in place strictly forbidding travel between the two worlds, and the people of Down are continuously oppressed by the people of Up.  An interplanetary corporation known as TransWorld is taking vital resources from Down and selling it back to the people at a steep price.  One such resource is oil.  When a TransWorld oil refinery explodes in Down, Adam (Jim Sturgess) loses his parents.  Now living at an orphanage Down Below, his only family in this world is his great aunt whom he visits on weekends.  While there, she introduces him to flying pancakes made using pollen from pink bees, the one species not impacted by double gravity.

While visiting his great aunt, Adam begins wandering off into the mountains where he meets a girl from Up by the name of Eden (Kirsten Dunst).  They become lovers and frequently visit each other on the twin mountaintops of their planets for years.  However, Adam and Eden's romantic bliss comes to an abrupt, tragic end when TransWorld learns of their violations and launches an assault.  In the process, TransWorld soldiers capture and kill Adams's great aunt, and Eden falls to her doom.  Ten years later, Adam, one of the working poor of Down, learns that Eden is somehow still alive and now works for TransWorld.  He's been working on a face-lift cream with pollen from the pink bees his great aunt showed him and will use that to work his way into TransWorld and try to rekindle his long-lost romance with Eden.

With one of the most original concepts in ages, Upside Down had virtually unlimited potential.  While I thoroughly enjoyed this romantic fantasy film, this could have been the next big science fiction movie had it been done correctly.  This creative sci-fi fantasy film from director Juan Diego Solanas is visually stunning with some of the most impressive visuals of the year so far.  It's an utterly enchanting romance as well.  Like the best sci-fi movies, it even serves up a healthy dose of social commentary.  The problem facing Upside Down, however, is that there are some big gaps in the plot.  I’m also not a fan of the antagonist.

Juan Diego Solanas shot one gorgeous film.  I have to give it to him.  The visual representation of having twin worlds with equal and opposite gravitational forces is just beautiful.  It's one of the most spellbinding images I've seen on the big screen in ages.  Solanas creates these dual futuristic urban worlds made dazzling by the golden sun that brightens both of them.  He creates a world with grand landmarks and impressive skyscrapers.  Most importantly, he turns Upside Down into a visual rollercoaster on which you'll lose track of what's up and what's down.

As breathtaking as the film's visuals are, the romance in Upside Down is just as enchanting.  Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst share a classic starry-eyed romance that's complicated by their lots in life.  Eden won the birth lottery, and Adam lost.  They live on two different worlds and in two different realities.  That doesn't matter though.  The Cloud Atlas star and the original Mary Jane Watson have solid chemistry on screen to the point that you'll be rooting for love to be stronger than gravity.  

As beautiful as shots of Up and Down together are, Solanas creates this juxtaposition that's most evident when we see them together.  Up is rich, and Down is poor.  Seeing the two worlds on camera together makes this abundantly clear and actually symbolizes the socioeconomic inequality we face in the world today.  It's a powerful parallel to the real world.  Take the United States for instance.  Our inequality creates two different realities, two different Americas.  There's a rich one and a poor one.  With the rich and poor having starkly divergent views and experiences in this nation, they might as well be living on two different worlds.  We're just Up and Down with no double gravity.

As much as I enjoyed Upside Down, there are plenty of opportunities to have made this film better, particularly having a better plot and a more concrete antagonist.  There are too many gaps in the film's plot whereby we as an audience are left making assumptions because we're not informed viewers.  This is original material, so filling in the gaps and developing a full backstory are paramount to telling a good story.  Solanas just can't have major things happening without us really knowing why.  The audience needs to be informed to the extent that we can interpret these key plot developments in the appropriate context.

The film's antagonist is really TransWorld, a corporation full of greedy execs from Up bent on making profit at the expense of the entire population of Down.  They apparently have a great deal of influence over the governing bodies of the two planets (which are never introduced).  This kind of antagonist is a bit too amorphous for my taste.  There's no individual executive to whom we can point.   The film needs a more personal villain whom we can identify.  It would give this conflict between the two worlds more meaning.  Just give us one rich guy from Up.

Upside Down has its flaws, but it's a solid movie on the whole.  With one of the most creative and ambitious stories I've seen in quite some time, this film really dazzled me.  It has a whole lot of potential upon which Solanas does not capitalize.  Upside Down gets a strong 0.06% rating.  While I would like to recommend that you sip on one of those inverted blue cocktails from Cafe Dos Mundos, all you need is a glass or two of some Chardonnay.