Upside Down threw away so much potential that it could have been a cult classic but instead we get a jumbled screenplay and finished product that seems to be missing some key scenes. It also doesn’t help that our two protagonists are barely together early on making Adam’s journey so hard to follow because it’s not immediately obvious why he is so enamored with her.
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Romance, Drama
Millennium | R – 107 min. – $28.99 | June 25, 2013
Directed by: Juan Solanas
Writer(s): Juan Solanas (screenplay), Juan Solanas, Santiago Amigorena and Pierre Magny (adaptation and dialogue)
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall
Theatrical Release Date: March 15, 2013 (limited release)
Features: Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Storyboards
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.35
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
THE MOVIE – 2.25/5
I’m certain the 5+ production companies and numerous producers who put up the $60 million price tag were hoping for a high concept version of Inception (meets The Fountain) but instead Upside Down is a tattered mess. Sure, it is a great concept and ideas but the screenplay is a mess.
The story opens with a ridiculous narration by Jim Sturgess, with a distracting inflection and seemingly channeling Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge talking about *love*, outlaying the law of physics present in the movie and how two planets have locked together over each other (?) and on this other planet, they have double gravity. However, there’s a balance between the two and residents of the one cannot visit the other. The entire scheme is apparently run by GGAC (The Generic Greedy Assholes Corporation). See, they mine certain materials and are able to produce cheap energy on their side but sell it back to the bottom-dwellers at so expensive of a rate, the people cannot pay for it. And from time to time, valuable material called anti-matter drops from the upper crust population but this is of course illegal and the law enforcement cracks down hard on those folks.
We meet a boy named Adam living in an orphanage after the death of his parents. But the orphanage allows him to spend weekends with the only living relative, his aunt. It’s never explained why he’s not living there full-time as when we see the aunt, she seems relatively young and takes good care of the kid. Adam enjoys wandering the area and finds some kind of vortex where the peaks of mountains in the bottom world comes close to upper world. When he throws a paper airplane to the upper world, it is discovered by a girl named Eden.
Without much of a word, we fast forward some time and Adam (JIM STURGESS) and Eden (KIRSTEN DUNST) are more grown up and having typical gooey-eyed romantic conversations. Using a rope, Adam is able to get Eden into his side (using some kind magic bee potion or some BS like that) and the pair prances around the forest until the law comes for them, guns out and shooting. Before Adam is able to get Eden back to her side, she falls a good distance and we see blood coming from the back of her head. The law takes Adam’s aunt into custody (as she created the potion), never to be seen again, and burned her home to the ground.
Fast forward ten years later, and Adam is living in a dingy apartment, like everyone else down below I suppose, and works at some kind of manufacturing center, developing new technology using scraps recovered from up above. One day Adam sees Eden on television, taken from a signal up top, and all those feeling come flooding back. Even though he’s got no real plan and being down below cannot get in contact with her, Adam is determined to at least try and see if that love can be rekindled.
Adam’s only passage way is to work on the “0” floor where bottom workers and top workers are together. His in was a make-up cream that shaves years off the face but needs work. This also grants him access to the valuable anti-matter material which is necessary to get up top but has a nasty side effect of burning into flames if not kept at a specific temperature. Although everybody is pretty much clinical, Adam is befriended by an up topper named Bob Boruchowitz (TIMOTHY SPALL), a pleasant fellow and the two strike up a quick friendship doing favors for one another such as Adam getting stamps for Bob available only below and Bob getting a tailored suit from above.
With the pieces together, Adam sets out to go to the upper world and after making contact, discovers Eden received more than a bump on the head ten years ago, but all-out amnesia, not being able to remember anything from her childhood. So what’s to become of our star-crossed lovers? Will the GGAC foil his plans and stop at nothing to… do something to him?
I’ll make this plain and simple: Upside Down had an incredible concept and some impressive visual effects, unfortunately somebody forgot to work on a functional and competent screenplay. Setting aside the terrible narration and Sturgess’ peculiar accent/inflection, it seemed as if this 100-minute sci-fi/romance was missing at least 45-minutes of material to connect the stories and characters… namely our two leads!
One of the glaring issues going against the film is the fact Adam and Eden barely spent 10-minutes together before being torn apart and we’re supposed to accept Adam will go through heaven to hell and back for this woman? Why? Other than the fact Eden is a lovely looking woman, there’s nothing magical about her to make the audience care about Adam’s journey and ultimately what happens to him once he achieves his goals. Certainly some of the blame can be placed on the casting process of getting Kirsten Dunst in the role, but I find it hard to do so as her character was so underwritten, outside of a select few great actresses (Rachel McAdams among them), I don’t think the movie would turned out better with a different actress.
For his part, Jim Sturgess was perfectly fine in the main role… well, outside of the narration, of course. It’s not as meaty of a part as it should have been but he does as much as possible with very little to work with. It’s hardly a master performance but like Dunst, it’s difficult to lay the film’s problems at his feet.
Where Upside Down goes, well, upside down, is with the direction by Argentinean born Juan Solanas making his biggest feature debut after helming a few other French-financed movies. Although the film had a relatively hefty, and surprising, $60 million budget, it seemed like a steep price for what was supposed to be high concept (not unlike The Fountain which was far better and more emotional). I have to assume the numerous French production companies didn’t want to pony up more money because it’s obvious, at least I hope it is, that there were scenes cut out making for a horribly editing picture that made for an unnecessarily confusing narrative. Now THAT I lay at the feet of Solanas as he also wrote the script.
I’ll briefly touch the subject of physics, which is not my strong suit. I would be willing to place the idea of two planets interconnected together in the “suspension of disbelief” category but when your main character wistfully narrates the rules of the game and the rest of the film sets out to ignore and/or contradict anyway, it makes for a hard pill to swallow.
Even now, days after viewing Upside Down, I have to shake my head and just the amount of potential for something special flushed down the drain. Seeing the poster, this could have met the high standards of others in the genre like the aforementioned Fountain or even the highly praised Gattaca, but instead it’s a mess of a film and what’s left over are some impressive visual effects and decent performances from Sturgess and Timothy Spall in the comedic relief slot.
It’s truly a damn shame.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.0/5
This release comes with a semi-glossy slip cover.
Behind the Scenes (25:10) – This is a decent BTS featurette with interviews by the filmmakers/cast talking about the origins, story and showing how some shots were done.
Deleted Scenes (1:45) only has a couple of unfinished scenes that were removed.
History of the World (2:46) is the original title sequence in storyboard form with commentary by Juan Solanas.
Juan and Jim (0:17) is some silent B&W footage of the two on the set. Not entirely sure what the point was including it, but it’s there…
Preliminary Sketches shows off some artist conceptual drawings.
Tango Storyboards (1:41) are the boards, along with the actual scene for the dance sequence featured in the movie.
Missing Forest Storyboards (1:51) is a sequence that never got filmed.
Sage Mountain Previz (2:51), Office Previz (3:01) and Final Shot Previz (2:55) are pre-visualization sequences for key scenes in the movie.
VIDEO – 4.25/5
Presented in its original 2.35 theatrical aspect ratio, Upside Down looks splendid on DVD. The darker scenes show little to no signs of artifacting and the color array looks well balanced. Although it is only a standard definition transfer, it’s should prove satisfactory for the home viewing audience.
AUDIO – 4.25/5
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also quite good showing respectable range from the dialogue scenes to the few action sequences which really come through loud and clear. As with the picture, this audio track, albeit standard, serves quite well for any audio system.
OVERALL – 2.75/5
Overall, Upside Down threw away so much potential that it could have been a cult classic but instead we get a jumbled screenplay and finished product that seems to be missing some key scenes. It also doesn’t help that our two protagonists are barely together early on making Adam’s journey so hard to follow because it’s not immediately obvious why he is so enamored with her. The DVD at least does have notable video/audio transfers and the features, albeit superficial, offers a goof selection to watch.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman