Talk about non-truth in advertising. When the advance trailer for Upside Down first turned up online, its parade of eye-popping imagery promised a moody and enigmatic, Inception-like immersive experience. While there was a lot of potential in this tale of young lovers separated by planets having opposing gravity pulls, the facile romance at the film's core brings to mind the paperback books your mom might pick up between the canned beans and mayonnaise at the local Costco. Not exactly a mind-blowing prospect, eh? Those who approach this film as a romance with sci-fi elements and not the other way around, however, may find it mildly diverting (and the visuals still astonish).
Upside Down is the singular vision of the Argentinian-French filmmaker Juan Solanas, who directed and wrote the screenplay. If you're feeling charitable, that fact might serve as a thin excuse for the cavern-sized plot holes and lapses in basic logic the film frequently indulges in. It all centers around an imaginary universe with two neighboring planets, so close that the cityscapes on each surface are visible from the other side, sharing the same orbit. One planet is a grimy ghetto, a poverty-stricken dump of overworked souls which includes our scrappy hero, Adam (heretofore this shall be referred to as Adam's Planet). The residents of Adam's Planet depend on the resources and power of those living on the surface directly above them. Their only connection is a massive skyscraper built by a conglomerate known as TransWorld. TransWorld mostly serves the needs of the pampered folks on the upper-class world (heretofore known as Eden's Planet), depleting the natural resources of Adam's Planet in exchange for doling out paltry amounts of power to the have-nots above them.
Upside Down consumes lots of precious minutes setting up the two worlds' basic concepts (for instance, an object that spends too much time in contact with its opposite world will burst into flames), but the main crux here involves the endlessly curious Adam (Jim Sturgess) attempting to get in touch with Eden (Kristen Dunst), the girl from the other side whom he met (and fell in love with) at a spot where the two planets nearly touch. Their friendship goes back to when they were children, when pint-sized Adam, exploring the snowy vistas near his aunt's house, noticed a blonde girl on the mountain peak directly above (isn't that how most couples meet cute?). Adam manages to find a way to get Eden to his planet so they can frolic and make out, but their puppy love comes to a cruel end when lawmen from Adam's Planet interfere, causing Eden to fall to (what Adam believes is) her death. A decade onward, Adam is shocked to find Eden alive and well, working at TransWorld. Using his invention of a beauty cream made from gravity-resistant pollen, Adam approaches TransWorld with the idea of marketing his creation to the people of Eden's Planet. Hired on as a researcher/office grunt, he then conspires to make his way up (down?) to Eden's Planet with the help of Bob (Timothy Spall), a sympathetic co-worker from her world. Trying to safely mingle with the inhabitants of Eden's Planet comes with a host of problems, however, not the least of which is Eden possessing no memory of her life prior to her nearly fatal fall. Though Adam's obstacles in getting back with Eden seem insurmountable, he's determined to give some truth to Upside Down's opening query: "What if love is stronger than gravity?"
Putting its paperback romance elements aside, an offbeat project like Upside Down requires a planet-sized suspension of disbelief. It constantly falls short in this regard, however. The script delves into dozens of ways of pointing out how the two worlds cannot physically intermingle, yet examples of just that are constantly shown (including the shot from the trailer of Kirsten Dunst drinking an upside-down cocktail). Indeed, the completely unexplained components of this topsy-turvy universe number large enough to make Isaac Newton's head explode. How two planets can generate gravity without spinning on an axis is never adequately explained, and where these worlds get adequate amounts of sunlight is also left in the ether. When torrential rains pour on Adam's Planet, do the clouds also shower on Eden's Planet? And how can Adam spend an hour-plus on Eden's Planet without his blood rushing to his head? At one point (also depicted in the trailer), Adam makes an impulsive exit from Eden's Planet by leaping into the ocean and letting the gravity on his own planet pull him upward, to land in the water on his own planet. He'd likely be killed in such a scenario - but, hey, the power of love overcomes everything, right? Right?
One not-so-terrible aspect to Upside Down is that Juan Solanas brings a unexpected, quirky European sensibility to the proceedings - especially in the set pieces where the two worlds intersect. It's funny that one of those spaces is the mundane "Floor 0" at TransWorld headquarters, a massive fluorescent-lit office filled with an expanse of cubicles on the floor and ceiling. Reminiscent of Jacques Tati's Playtime, it looks cool and all, but any potency it has as a critique of capitalism kind of gets muddled in with everything else the film attempts to accomplish. The other set piece where the two worlds join is the fantastical upside down theater, a hilltop building converted into a tango dancing floor and swanky nightclub on Eden's Planet (or perhaps its a kitschy themed establishment, a la The Rainforest Cafe). This setting also provides some eye-popping visual fodder for the trailer, but its function in the film is also something of a enigma filled with mysteries of its own (like, how did those upside-down dancers get up there - did they drink too many upside-down martinis?).
Upside Down loses most of its credibility as sci-fi epic, and it mostly doesn't work as a romantic drama, either. As Adam, Jim Sturgess comes across as too dorky and childlike to adequately convey his undying passion for Eden. Kirsten Dunst does a decent job of putting across Eden's grounded likability, but the faraway qualities in her performance (her character is afflicted with amnesia much of the time) seem too detached at times. Together, the two lack that crucial chemistry required for something even as silly as this to take off. At least the British actor Timothy Spall adds some lighthearted gusto to his role as Adam's opposite-world office mate Tom. His camaraderie with Sturgess meshes much better than anything Sturgess and Dunst can muster.
The Blu Ray:
Millennium Entertainment's Blu Ray edition of Upside Down comes with two versions of the film - 3D and non-3D - on a single disc in a standard-sized Blu snap case with a metallic paperboard slipcover. This review concerns only the non-3D edition of the film.
As bad as this film can be, plot- and everything else-wise, it does have some gorgeous photography which is given a great transfer on Blu. The 2.35:1 image is lushly colored and sharp without looking overly fudged with. Light levels look fantastic. While many scenes sport that unfortunate bluish tint so popular in current films, at least the mastering preserves a lot of the depth in the source image.
The immersive quality of Upside Down also applies to the soundtrack, which is presented here in a spacious 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix. The center channel of pristine sounding dialogue is cleanly integrated with ambient sounds around the edges, an effect that is especially noticeable during scenes with fire, rain and other effects. The disc also does right with unobtrusively weaving sound and dialogue with fine original scoring from French composer Benoit Charest (The Triplets of Belleville). English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also available.
Millennium has supplied the home video edition of this film with about 70 minutes worth of behind-the-scenes material, produced in typical fashion but containing a few interesting factoids. The 29-minute Making of Upside Down mostly speaks with the leading actors, also delving into the conception of the film and the making of some of the set pieces mentioned above; director Solanas narrates History of the World (2:46), an animated storyboard for an alternate opening sequence (thankfully unused) outlining the history of the two planets; Solanas also talks the viewer through previsual mockups for three key scenes from the film: Office (3:01), Sage Mountain (2:51), and Final Shot (2:55). Preliminary Sketches, Storyboards from the film's tango sequence and a deleted forest scene, Previews and 17 seconds of footage showing Solanas and actor Jim Sturgess goofing off together round out the extras.
According to the Internet Movie Database's "People who liked this also liked â€¦" feature, fans of Upside Down also enjoyed The Vow, P.S. I Love You, A Walk to Remember, and The Notebook. That ought to give people with a casual interest in the Blu Ray edition an idea of the priorities with this dippy tale of separated lovers dressed up as a sci-fi epic. There's a unique, visionary work from director Juan Solanas buried in here somewhere, but chasm-sized lapses in basic logic render the story ridiculous. At least the special effects look nice. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.