Some stories are not meant to be told on the big screen. They are too convoluted, detailed and heavy handed. You can usually tell right off the bat which films these are. About ten seconds into ‘Upside Down’ I told my wife that Juan Solanas was trying too hard and that this story would be better suited for a video game. When you have to introduce your movie through voiceover by explaining rules to understanding your story then you know you’re off to a bad start.
‘Upside Down’, conceptually, is pretty interesting, but the first half is somewhat of a chore to get through and the simplistic afterthought of a love story becomes somewhat sketchy as Solanas starts breaking his own ‘rules’ and pretty much throws his entire introduction out the window.
Why do you have to make things so complicated only to lazily uncomplicated them?
The story tells that of a poor kid named Adam who falls in love with a rich girl named Eden. The ‘Romeo + Juliet’ doomed relationship / Adam + Eve beginnings of creation aspects of this film are in full swing, and it becomes obvious by the films end that Juan Solanas is a dreamer and he wants us to be too. I’m cool with that, to an extent. Here’s the trick, Adam and Eden cannot be together, not simply because Adam is deemed inferior and it is forbidden but because they physically cannot be together. They live on twin worlds that are held together by dual gravity and so Adam walks on land beneath (or above depending on how you look at it) Eden. Adam (or should I say, Jim Sturgess) explains all this in the intro and quite frankly it is tedious and complicated and, as I mentioned, was trying too hard. The basic point is that if Adam goes to Eden’s world he’ll start to burn up and die.
Still, they meet as children in this place where their worlds come together and they form a relationship only to have a tragic accident separate them for years. Adam is determined to be with Eden, no matter the cost, and quite frankly that cost could be his life.
Alright, the plot is thin, despite all the complicated details. As I mentioned, Juan Solanas (who wrote and directed the film) is determined to create something unique and then he spends the better part of the second half of the film trying to skirt around his own creation. The ‘burning up’ aspect of transferring to the other world is a big hole in this plot because the time frame surrounding the ‘burning’ seems to change every time Adam goes over. One time he starts to burn after a few minutes, the next time hours, the next time it’s almost like he never burns. Then you have the ‘plot within a plot’ regarding conjoining their gravity, which is interesting but underdeveloped.
Couple this with the fact that the film feels about twice as long as it really is, and you have a bad thing.
But there is good here.
Set aside the poor scripting, the underdeveloped plot and the lackluster acting (why is Jim Sturgess squandering his potential by continuously playing the lovelorn Romeo?) and you have a richly textured fantasy world that is mind-blowing in execution. I’m serious when I say that these graphics are the best I’ve seen in film in YEARS, maybe ever. The dual worlds, hanging above (and below) one another are seamlessly created and strung before us, and the visual depth of these sequences are astounding. In fact, the whole technical side of this film, from the sets to the score to the beautiful cinematography are near perfection. I’ve never wished so badly that a film was better than it was, because I’d love to look at it again and yet the idea of watching it a second time makes me anxious.
I give this a D, saved by its visuals, and recommend it only for those who are interested in filling a personal ballot (since no Visual Effects ballot should be without it). As far as Oscar is concerned, this will hit nowhere, but it should be considered in Visual Effects, Score, Art Direction and Cinematography. Sadly, that’s not going to happen.