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Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under a night sky with signs predicting she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars, but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people's houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along – her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos. (From Warner Bros. official synopsis)

 Jupiter Ascending
The Wachowskis’ post- Matrix career has been nothing if not interesting. Instead of retreating to familiar places and cocooning their talents with surefire hits, they’ve continued taking big chances with unusual, uncompromised, and very expensive projects. Following two not particularly beloved Matrix sequels (I like Matrix Reloaded a little more and like Matrix Revolutions a little less every time I watch them) and producing/co-writing/second unit directing V for Vendetta (2006), they had their first major critical and financial flop with Speed Racer in 2008. Then, they co-directed a incredibly challenging, (partially) privately financed multi-generational saga called Cloud Atlas (2012) with Tom Tykwer (who doesn’t get nearly enough public credit for his part in the production). While I understand that the audio-visual overload can be distressing, I adore the pop intensity of Speed Racer and find Cloud Atlas both fascinating and moving, despite its occasionally messy execution.

Jupiter Ascending matches the general scope (not to mention price) of their other post- Matrix output, but is disappointingly archetypical. The use of common sci-fi adventure tropes, including basically every piece of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth/Hero’s Journey, feels like a step back from the (then unique) theology/philosophy of The Matrix, as well as the narrative complexity of Cloud Altlas. Some would say this is an earnest homage to dozens of properties references – everything from Star Wars to Wizard of Oz, actual alien conspiracy theories (little gray men and crop circles), and even It’s a Wonderful Life – but it comes across more like a conservative attempt at creating another sci-fi franchise, which is probably the only reason that production companies were willing to put money into the film. Again, it is a blanket variation on familiar themes and, unlike Andrew Stanton’s similarly derided flop, John Carter, it doesn’t have the benefit of being an official adaptation of an established sci-fi adventure.

 Jupiter Ascending
Jupiter Ascending rushes through its first act using the same basic narrative framework they established with The Matrix. Jupiter’s disaffected Earthly life is established alongside a sci-fi/fantasy conspiracy. She is a human MacGuffin that the good guys and bad guys are chasing. Whoever holds her spends most of their time describing and her purpose/destiny. She doesn’t get the same training time Neo gets in The Matrix, but she does make time to fall in love with her protector and, by the end of the movie, she has learned the value of responsibility. This predictable structure is stymied further by an unduly complicated plot that is overstuffed with intricate politics and scene after scene of mind-numbing exposition. The supporting cast is populated by interesting faces doing interesting things, but the stars are largely miscast as bland characters that endlessly explain the plot to each other. And, though the dialogue probably worked well on the page (it could easily fit within a sub-Frank Herbert novel about warring governments or an Alejandro Jodorowsky-penned comic book), it is impossibly mouthy. Only the campiest performers, namely Eddie Redmayne, really pull it off.

Of course, the Wachowskis being the Wachowskis, Jupiter Ascending isn’t completely devoid of unique, amusing, or knowingly goofy elements. The whole ‘bees are genetically engineered to recognize royalty’ thing is a perfect example of something too courageously silly to completely dismiss and it takes some gall to stop a movie at the halfway point to pay homage to the Kafkaesque sci-fi plutocracy of a Terry Gilliam movie (including an appearance by Gilliam, himself). It also has progressive components, specifically the variation on traditional sci-fi adventure gender roles*. But these exceptions merely hint at a more interesting movie that was left behind in favour of more plot. The occasional sense of visual wonder (it is certainly prettier than most CG-heavy titles) is also tempered by memories of other movies and, while the action meets the basic standard of a Wachowski production, it becomes repetitive and, sadly, kind of boring.

* As an Italian exploitation fan, I feel it is my responsibility to mention that Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash beat the Wachowskis to the punch with a female-led Star Wars variant.

 Jupiter Ascending

Video


Jupiter Ascending was shot in digital HD mostly using Arri Alexa cameras (specs list Canon EOS and Red Epic cameras as well), then was converted into 3D during post-production. This 2D Blu-ray is presented in 1080p, 2.40:1 HD video and looks about as spectacular as you’d expect from a nearly $200 million, all digital affair. The Wachowskis and John Toll utilize a lot of digital grading and fill the frame with a lot of motion-blurred digital effects, but also feature a ridiculous level of texture. Everything, including set design, costume design, creature design, spaceship design, and even hairdos, is intricately decorated. The blackness of night and space are prevalent parts of the visual design. Fortunately, unlike WB’s painfully dark Godzilla release, this transfer is light and sharp enough for pin-lights and subtle changes in gradation are still discernible during these black-heavy sequences. There are a few examples of edge haloes/sharpening effects, more noise, and bandy gradations relegated to the darkest shots. The palette changes from location to location – Earth is eclectic and natural, bad guy spaceships tend to be warm, and good guy spaceships tend to be cool – without completely squeezing out the contrasting highlights. The colours are strong and varied, though usually muted by the dimmest overall lighting schemes (aside from the volcanic climax).

 Jupiter Ascending

Audio


Jupiter Ascending is, I believe, only the third WB Blu-ray release to include a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, after the Diamond Luxe version of Gravity and American Sniper. Not owning an Atmos-ready system, I’m forced to review the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 version of that track. Don’t feel too bad for me, though, because it’s pretty incredibly stuff. Dialogue scenes tend to be soft on ambient noise (minor additions, like chirping birds, spaceship engines, and crowd noise do make appearances), but they are sturdy and consistent. The elaborate action sequences are the aural highlights, natural, including plenty of directional enhancement and other immersive qualities. The LFE gets a substantial workout whenever the big lizard guys speak or laser beams are fired. Michael Giacchino’s score playfully alternates between rousing John Williams-inspired marches and quirky string/piano melodies. The music sits a little too quietly beneath dialogue-heavy scenes, but brassily springs to life to support the action.

 Jupiter Ascending

Extras


  • Jupiter Jones: Destiny Is Within Us (7:00, HD) – The cast and crew (including the famously camera shy Wachowskis) discuss Jupiter’s character arc. It, like most of the featurettes below, includes behind-the-scenes footage and production art.
  • Jupiter Ascending: Genetically Spliced Caine Wise: Interplanetary Warrior (5:20, HD) – More of the same, this time focused on Channing Tatum’s character, who is apparently a stand-in for Toto in the Wizard of Oz (I regrettably missed this subtext).
  • The Wachowskis: Minds Over Matter (7:30, HD) – A closer look at the film’s design and the ‘family’ that the Wachowskis have developed over the last 19 years.
  • Worlds Within Worlds Within Worlds (9:40, HD) – A more generalized featurette that covers the film’s production, make-up, and costume design.
  • Jupiter Ascending: Genetically Spliced (10:30, HD) – On the design and execution of the film’s ‘spliced’ characters, including human/animal and human/robot hybrids.
  • Bullet Time Evolved (9:40, HD) – An exploration of the film’s action sequences and special effects.
  • From Earth to Jupiter (And Everywhere in Between) (9:30, HD) – More on the story themes and aesthetics. A lot of cast and crew members keep referring to it as a ‘unique’ and ‘completely original’ movie, which is grating.
  • Trailers for other WB releases


 Jupiter Ascending

Overall


Jupiter Ascending isn’t nearly as bad as you’ve been told. In fact, had it come from an unknown or under-known filmmaker, it might have even garnered some praise for its wonderful visuals. But, coming from the Wachowskis, who even in (arguable) failure manage to be unique and ambitious, it’s disappointingly conventional. The over-stuffed script and colourfully numbing visuals drive this attempt at developing a new franchise into the ground. The fact that this disc’s fluffy, but informative special features manage to explain the convoluted plot and intended homage to The Wizard of Oz in a matter of minutes makes its failure all the more frustrating. But, it’s definitely a very good looking 2D HD transfer and the Dolby Atmos-ready soundtrack is fantastic, so the people that enjoyed it in theaters are definitely in for a treat.

 Jupiter Ascending

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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