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Upside Down

2012 | 113 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

Upside Down


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Theatrical release date

 15 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Technical aspects

3D (converted)

Box office




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Upside Down


Screenshots from Upside Down 3D Blu-ray

Upside Down Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 16, 2013

“Upside Down” is a stunning visual experience spoiled by a trainwreck of a screenplay. It’s an awful film that’s easy to watch, utilizing intense CGI artistry to manipulate frame activity in a way that’s rarely been seen before, out to manufacture a bizarre alternate universe of swirling gravity defiance and megacity juxtaposition. Dramatically, the feature goes nowhere fast, wasting the potential of the premise on tiring clichés and absurdly earnest characterizations. Perhaps writer/director Juan Solanas understood he had a clunker of a script, watching him gradually downplay the story in favor of elaborate visual effects. “Upside Down” is certainly something to see, but difficult to sit through.

Out there in the universe are two planets stationed next to each other, sharing a dual gravity. Ten years ago, young Adam (Jim Sturgess) from the Down World fell in love with Eden (Kirsten Dunst) from the Up World, with their brief but meaningful union broken by violence that left the girl with a case of amnesia. Now an inventor working on a miraculous beauty cream that employs pink bee pollen, Adam is eager to sell his findings to the TransWorld corporation, an evil conglomerate that’s sucking resources from the impoverish Down World to help fuel the wealthy society of the Up World. Accepting a research position at TransWorld, Adam is stunned to find Eden again, using his scientific skills to employ bricks of inverse matter and join the Up World without detection, trying to woo his lost love all over again. Befriending Up World lackey Bob (Timothy Spall), Adam can only remain in his alien surroundings for moments at a time, pushing him to crack the gravity code using elements of his skin cream, out to change the future of these planets and return to Eden’s embrace.

“Upside Down” opens with a physics lesson explaining how the two planets work positioned intimately together, suggesting right off the bat that the movie has bitten off more than it can chew in terms of comfortable exposition. It’s homework for a lesson that’s not interesting, positing a sci-fi premise that finds the two planets linked by a skyscraper that dips into both worlds -- the only link between the Soviet-esque misery of the exploited Down World and the privileged Up World, who run this unfair arrangement for reasons unknown. It’s a cartoonishly drawn class system that divides Adam from Eden (character names that lack subtlety), meant to mirror Earth and its troubles, commenting on the frustration of poverty and the relentlessness of corporate abuses. Solanas scripts with a magic marker, and while his ideas for gravitational complexity are appealing, his vision for parallel societies is disappointingly pedestrian, passing on a sophisticated dissection of cultural development to hammer home simple ideas concerning injustice and inequality.

The love story between Adam and Eden is even less convincing, finding the amnesia subplot ditched before it’s ever explored to satisfaction (a common problem with this sloppily edited picture), while the pairing of Dunst and Sturgess doesn’t provide necessary sparks, finding the lead actress looking understandably confused with the material. Sturgess also ruins the dewy intent with his excessive emoting, treating “Upside Down” like a silent film challenge, acting himself into a stupor. It’s animated work that’s overkill in a production already slapped silly by its science, requiring more of a delicate approach to communicate the anxiety of Adam’s infiltration and his desires to ditch his Down World prison of poverty, aided by Bob’s generosity (fueled by TransWorld employment bitterness) and his technical mastery.

What “Upside Down” does manage to share is a passion for its visual representation, with significant attention paid to the collision of worlds, necessitating special CGI and wire work to realize. Chase sequences tend to turn Adam into a gravity-defying superhero (opening the door to questions of physics and logic), but the basics of storytelling with such a strange mix of perspectives is handsomely rendered, infused with a painterly touch that turns planetary connections into powerful images of otherworldly tranquility, accentuating the soul mate bond between Adam and Eden.

Perhaps fans of sci-fi novels might be able to extract a little more life out of “Upside Down,” able to ignore its considerable shortcomings in the script department (the ending is simply ridiculous) and embrace its unusual mix of dystopian and utopian societies. It’s definitely a vividly arranged picture with exceptional promise. It’s a shame Solanas was so caught up in sharpening the scale of his film, forgetting to tend to its significance.

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jim Sturgess, Stella Maeve, Neil Napier
Director: Juan Solanas

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