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Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Village RoadshowPictures/Warne Bros.
Reviewed by Larry Jakubecz 

By now, everyone knows Jupiter Ascending as being the blockbuster-sized saga that was all set to open in mid-2014, but got pulled at the last moment, ostensibly so that the studio could spend more time on the copious special effects. Or so it was claimed. And so, a lot of money had been wasted and it was moved from a Summer berth to a slot in the dead of February, and in the meantime, a lot more money was thrown at it.

The inside word was that the film was also in need of some structural fixes. In any case, it's arrived. Rather than give you a detailed review (because, frankly, I don't think I followed it closely enough to do so), I'll share some impressions that should, at least, serve to inform you to make a smart movie-going decision. No spoilers are possible.

It's not too early to say, Jupiter Ascending may be the most relentlessly amazing-looking movie we'll see this year. It is an awesome and endlessly ornamental mess which erupts with visual splendor/overload. Truly, the overwhelming amount of design eclipses the story, so much so that I missed whole chunks of plot. (This was also due in no small part to the presentation-- more on that later.)

So, how about that story? Well... Jupiter Ascending pulls every sci-fi epic cliche in the books. There are too many sources to reference-- see Ender's Game, Citizen of the Galaxy, Cinderella, even the Wachowskis' own The Matrix, but with a gender flip (appropriately ironic). It's clear that the Wachowskis have a special love of sci-fi epics from the late '70s and early '80s, because that's how Jupiter Ascending plays, like an homage to an older teen world view-- all fun and little logic-- though visually bested by today's top-notch special effects capabilities.

Oh-- the story? Um... Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a toilet-scrubbing cleaning woman who is visited by aliens and told she's actually a princess on another planet. That much I got. There are also beyond-rich siblings-in-power who have selfish political aspirations and an unquenchable thirst for even more money (as in all classic sci-fi setups, it's just like life on Earth). The various worlds and space ships are populated with mixes of what appear to be human-animal hybrids, including dragons. Or lizards. Does it matter?

Her rescuer/protector is Cain (Channing Tatum), who roller boogies through the skies on anti-gravity jet skates. Somehow, it actually looks cooler than it did in the trailers. He's also a hybrid... which I only really got afterwards when someone commented on Tatum's wolf-hybrid character. (I thought the pointy ears were because he's an alien. Thanks in part to the badly-mixed dialogue, I apparently missed a lot. Sigh.) Eddie Redmayne's Balem has a self-important gravitas that walks the knife-edge of caricature, and speaks in a rough, stylized hush that occasionally bursts into a scream. Again, classic space opera, but he's no Ming the Merciless. And, if you thought the political machinations were hard to follow in the last three Star Wars movies... you're on your own with this one.

Years ago, I never imagined I'd find myself wanting to see LESS blockbuster FX-- I've always loved big special effects movies-- but lately, more is proving to be... just MORE. These everything-and-the-CGI-kitchen-sink action sequences have GOT to let up! There was so much cutting, I really couldn't tell you who was fighting/saving/running away from whom. Frankly, it left me alternately exhausted and bored. Which-- I dunno, maybe I'm off the mark here-- sounds kinda wrong. Some scenes feel like they just hacked out whole chunks of possibly-useful information.

I wonder what the film was like structurally before it was pulled last summer. If all that down time really was used for upping the SPFX ante, it shows! (I spotted a Frank Gehry building on an alien planet-- surprise! Gehry is listed in the credits!) And, one of the tiny gems embedded in this movie: a perfectly-cast cameo by a once-familiar comic icon. See if you catch him.

The impossibly-prolific Michael Giacchino's score is terrific and sweeping. Even a casual film fan will catch many of its influences. It cribs from The Planets, of course, and Star Wars... but, as always, Giacchino gives the whole thing his own stamp. I didn't notice any clear themes (man, do I miss actual themes!), but it should make for a good listen on its own.

Oddly, Jupiter Ascending does seem like the logical progression from Speed Racer through Cloud Atlas. For what it's worth, the Wachowskis do know how to make a big popcorn movie. And now I'd like to see them pull it back.
A lot.

Until then, this is a movie in service to an art book.

* * * * * * *

It's worth mentioning that the screen was filthy and the sound presentation a flattened mess. The film was shown in 3-D, and I have to believe that the effectiveness of the process was affected by the layer of quite-visible dirt dulling the screen surface. (This is actually the second theater in the last few weeks where I noticed obvious neglect.) So, here's where I get to make an appropriate (and pathetically necessary) rant. Movie theaters: CLEAN YOUR SCREENS AND CALIBRATE THE SOUND!! For paying audiences' sake, showing films is all you do! It's called a MOVIE theater, not a CONCESSIONS theater. I don't care if you spend millions on the lobby-- I take the trouble to leave my house to see a movie, and if you can't at least wipe down the screen once in a while, people will eventually catch on, stay home and you lose revenue. And your entire industry will bitch and moan and blame streaming video or the economy or anything other than yourselves. It's all so old. So, do everyone a favor and just do your jobs. Jeez!


© 2015 Larry Jakubecz/Celluloid Dreams


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