Saturday, February 16, 2013

Upside Down

Right Side Up

I'm all for science fiction, with filmmakers and writers coming up with something innovative and unique worlds to spin their respective tales in. But sometimes they try too hard in explaining their vision and set the rules they want those in the same sandbox to play in, and these inadvertently get to trip everything up, that they no longer make much sense, and instead provide those gaping plot loopholes in which you have to accept wholeheartedly, since there will be no explanations for these gaps at all.

And so, Upside Down by Juan Solanas is exactly that, where the plot device, ideas and backgrounds work if they didn't get explained to death. But it had to provide three "laws" from the get go that immediately sunk whatever goodwill you want to extend in order to enjoy the film. It showed us two planets side by side to each other, and that these planets are unique because they have dual gravity, which abide by the rules of matter being in one gravity, will always be pulled by the same, that weight can be offset by matter from the other world, known as inverse matter, and that inverse matter will burn when it's in contact with matter from the other side.

All's fine and dandy, except when you seriously think about it, how can the two worlds be connected to each other by virtue of a Tower of sorts, which serves the conglomerate known as Transworld where the richer Up world is exploiting minerals from the Down world, thereby creating an instant income gap that's as wide as the planets are apart. This fixed connection meant no rotation on their own axes, otherwise this Tower would break, and if no rotation, how do we explain sunrises and sunsets? Worse, how can light even penetrate through to the lands, especially deep within, when skyscrapers are everywhere, suggesting that the individual worlds are actually flat. But this contradicts its opening scene...

So put that astronomical logic aside, and focus instead on the love story. It's a Romeo and Juliet epic where two lovers are star-crossed, and each time they managed to transcend their constraints, the calvary arrives without question and starts shooting at them, condemning them to stolen kisses and glances, and another convenient and inconsequential plot development where one of them had to suffer from temporary amnesia due to a fall. And conveniences are what Solanas enjoyed most in his film when he discovered he'd soon be found out, that the logic he placed didn't become the opportunity for a special tale to be told, but an albatross around the neck.

Jim Sturgess plays Adam, the man from Down who falls in love with Kirsten Dunst's Eden from Up, whom he met when they were young kids atop their respective mountain peaks, and breaking multiple rules just to hang out together. They separate for more than a decade, before Adam conjures up a plan, with the help of others, to try and infiltrate to the Up world by using inverse-matter, strapping a whole lot of them in a vest, and hidden in various parts of his clothing, so that he could anchor himself on the right side of gravity when in the other planet. But the law says that inverse matter will burn up, so in between his hour long dates with Eden, he has to disappear ala Cinderella before his entire body combusts. So he can't really hold much of a conversation for too long, or partake in whole day activities with his lady love.

But the narrative sometimes forgets this, and opts to signal his time is up in the most random of ways and durations, even as far as montages go. The only good out of this is following Adam's flight from lady love, coupled with fantastical imagery as he transits from world to world, especially when racing against time. Stripped out of its science fiction elements, this is a tale of obsession and sacrifice for love, plain and simple, without those unnecessary rules to play by. The special effects will set to wow, especially when it remembers that Adam has a specific career requirement in the development of an anti-ageing cream, with a key ingredient that will be crucial to the plot.

Jim Sturgess and Kristen Dunst didn't need too much time to make it believable that they could be lovers separated by distance and social standing. The film tries a feeble attempt at condemning the status quo of a class system, so the potential got wasted. The leads serve as eye-candy, while on the other hand had enough acting chops in them to make you fall in love with them as well, and appreciate their plight. But Solanas' handling of the story, and film, left too many gaping narrative gaps that would short change the audience, especially its ending when the director felt that pulling the plug on a tale he has no idea how to finish, would be the best move. And thus condemned the entire film.

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