'Upside Down' is your typical love story that sadly can't match the beauty of its visually impressive world.
Review Vital Stats:
Service: Direct TV
Download Type: Rental
Picture Quality: HD
Loves: Clever concepts, beautiful visuals
Likes: Stunningly crafted cinematic worlds
Neutral: Films with plenty of visual pizazz but very little emotion
Hates: Wasted potential
How do they decide which is up and which is down?: Was it a coin toss?
A clever enough gimmick can sometimes be enough to carry the weight of any film, but it can never make up for the lack of story or well written and developed characters. Many filmmakers have great ideas, but rarely are they able to construct a great story with great characters to bring those ideas to life in a meaningful way. Well, perhaps meaningful isn't exactly the right term. Let's just say that sometimes the idea can overtake the narrative in a way that leaves the overall experience feeling somewhat empty, or emotionally vacant when it is all said and done.
Such is the case with director Juan Solanas' new film, Upside Down, a visually stunning piece of cinematic art that was clearly made to dazzle our eyes but not so much our minds. Using a love story as old as time itself, a boy from the slums who falls in love with a girl from the wealthy district whom are both destined to be together despite the many obstacles thrown their way, its narrative structure clearly isn't the driving force behind why this film was made. It's the world, or in this case, worlds, that this classic story of love conquerors all inhabits that is meant to take center stage, which it does, much to the films eventual downfall.
Visionary films are a difficult breed of film to critique, especially if the vision itself is as intriguing as the one Solanas has come up with here. The Universe of Upside Down actually encompasses two different worlds which just so happen to be right next to each other, or better yet, right above one another, or on top or below the other. Imagine if you will, two worlds (neither of which is given a name, so we have no idea if this is supposed to be Earth or not) and those two worlds are directly next to each other, where the tops of their highest mountains can literally come in contact with each other because of how close these two worlds are to one another. That is the high concept of the film from which everything stems.
You must throw out all forms of known logic and science, because it has absolutely no place here. The idea that two planets can be that close to one another is absolutely absurd, their gravitational pulls would rip each other apart. The science of the film is pure fantasy, laws of physics have been completely re-written. If you accept that fact, that everything you know to be true about how our own world works does not exist here, it will make the film that much more enjoyable and easier to digest its outlandish ideas.
How do things work for these worlds then? There are three basic rules that govern both worlds. First is that all matter is effected by the gravitational pull from its planet of origin. Be it a small stone, a pebble of sand or even a person, their gravity never changes no matter which planet they are on (relationships between worlds isn't very economical if you can imagine). So if you throw a stone up towards the world above it, it won't get pulled into that planet's gravity, but instead come right back at you.
Second is that a world's gravitational pull can be offset by matter from the opposite world. Say you want to go visit someone on the other world but don't want to worry about being upside down the whole time or even worse, falling back down to your planet and dying. So what you would need to do is acquire matter from the world you are visiting, a brick or even a pair of weighted shoes, find a way to attach it to yourself and voila! You can now freely move about the other world without worry. Well, there is a little to worry about.
That leads to the third and final rule, which is that any foreign matter from the opposite world will eventually combust, taking you along with it. There is no exact time frame given for when this happens, but according to how it works in the actual film, it seems to happen just when it is most inconvenient. But that's it, those are the rules that make up the two worlds of Upside Down. If it seems like their are still some lingering questions, just wait.While the film never contradicts itself in regards to those particular rules, it does leave a large gaping open door for countless other inquiries that quite frankly, were obvious and distracting.
Such as how could their be one building leading from planet to planet but that building isn't effected by the two rotating worlds? Wouldn't it snap apart when they aren't lined up anymore? Do the planets even rotate or are they at a fixed position the whole time? If they are at a fixed position, how can people meet up from both worlds at different points? Do they share the same oxygen? If someone consumes water from the other planet, or any kind of consumable, wouldn't that cause their body to combust after a while? Do people count as matter? If so, why don't they combust?
For every clever idea the film has, it creates a new conundrum that can't be explained, thus nullifying the cool idea. The underlining love story, which for better or worse is the crux of the film, is both bolstered by this highly imaginative and beautiful fantasy world and also crippled by it (during a romantic kiss between the two lovers you shouldn't be thinking about how their blood doesn't rush into their heads). With its laundry list of unanswered questions, you are constantly questioning how it all works.
By clearly outlining a handful of rules and omitting the answers to obvious followup questions, the film just begs to be picked apart, which is just a dam shame because this is a film to soak in, to get lost in its exquisite beauty, to let our imaginations guide us through as we take in all of its visual splendors. Instead we look at those beautiful cloud formations and wonder how there are never any catastrophic atmospheric weather patterns that occur. Everything is so peaceful and serine, which just seems odd.
Successful films of this ilk usually get by and pass scrutiny because the story is strong enough to keep our interest and leave our questions until the end. That is the one major failing of the film though, its inability to create any sort of connection to the two main characters, our two lovers from different worlds breaking all the rules to be with one another. If we were to actually begin to care for Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden's (Kirsten Dunst) plight, then we wouldn't care how the gravity actually works or if the planets rotate. The questions would be there but they would be insignificant to our connection to Adam and Eden (wonder if there is some biblical meaning behind their names?...hmmm).
As the stakes continue to rise for the both of them as they try to find any way whatsoever to be together, it is near impossible for us the audience to really care since we never know what it is that made them fall in love, what their connection is. It's strange that we follow the two of them from childhood to adulthood, seeing that they love each other, but we never truly find out where that love comes from, the film simply fails to make that connection for us. It ends up feeling hopelessly manufactured just to move the story along to the next vista and thus lets the air out of the tires for the whole project.
To make matters worse is a horrible Hollywood style ending that wraps things up way too neatly, even for a fantasy like this. Not to give anything important away, but where the film ends seems highly unlikely given the amount of resistance from both worlds about intermingling with each other. For the amount of change shown in the end it wouldn't be too far fetched to think a war of some sorts would have occurred (or will occur) before such a drastic alteration to their way of life was made.
But that is neither here nor there, it's all nitpicking and over analyzing at its finest, but the film cries out for such scrutiny. Upside Down is a film of immense beauty but frustratingly little substance. The visuals will entrance you all the way to the end when the sudden realization hits that you really just don't care what is happening and who it is happening to. Just like a beautiful woman, it's easy on the eyes for a while, but soon you will need something more than just a pretty face to keep your interest.