The key ingredient to a film based around a romance is that the romance actually works. In Upside Down, writer/director Juan Solanas created a love story based on a vision he had in a dream – a vision of two mountains facing one another vertically, as if two worlds existed side by side. The problem is that the romance never sparks, and thus the film fizzles out before it even begins.
Upside Down stars Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst, and while the two have solid chemistry, the story never allows their characters to expand to anything other than vessels to show off the visual beauty of the world Solanas and the VFX team created. The idea here is that there are two twin worlds that are side by side and have opposite gravities. Adam (Sturgess) is from “down below”, which is also the poor planet that’s used for its resources by the rich planet “up top” where Eden (Dunst) comes from.
The basic concept of the story is Romeo and Juliet, though instead of two families trying to keep the two apart, it’s two societies and gravity in general. The film is ten minutes shy of two hours; however, at times it feels like it’s taking forever for it to finish, which is mainly because there’s so little behind the characters and their romance. One of the main issues is that the beginning of the film is so bogged down with trying to get the viewer to understand the world, that after 10 minutes of a voice over explanation, the instant flash-forward relationship between Adam and Eden (who meet on the aforementioned mountain tops) has no edge or interest.
The animosity between the two worlds is shown when Eden meets up with Adam one night, and after he pulls her down from her world to his with a rope due to the gravitational pull that keeps them apart. They kiss under a rock so that she isn’t pulled back to her world with great force. When the two have to make an emergency escape due to police raiding the area, Adam begins to lower (or would that be raise?) Eden back to her world via the rope she came down on. After being shot in the arm, Adam lets go of the rope and gravity yanks Eden hard against the mountaintop on her side, where she’s left bleeding and unconscious.
The film jumps forward 10 years later; Adam doesn’t know Eden is even alive until he sees her on TV. She’s now working for a company that pulls resources from the Lower world to the Upper world, so both sides need to work in the same building to get things done. Adam gets a job almost instantly, and begins to figure out ways to sneak upside down onto Eden’s side so he can meet her. The only problem is, once he finally does he finds out that the accident ten years earlier has left her with amnesia, and she doesn’t remember him.
The story is quite convoluted with various rules and regulations that never seem to have any real meaning to the overall story. So much happens so conveniently, that it never seems like there’s any real danger. I mean, there are things stacked in the way, such as Adam being threatened with imprisonment if he steals anything; however, he constantly uses this rare resource to keep him weight down (up?) on the Upper world, and he’s constantly forced to toss it aside to escape back to his world. Does the company not wonder where all this material is going?
There’s just a lot that doesn’t work, and it’s mainly because we don’t care that Adam is escaping to the Upper world in order to see Eden. Why does it matter to us? So they can be together? We never even got a feeling that they were truly in love! There’s no spark, and it just falls flat throughout.
Again, everything is ultra convenient when it needs to be. Eden barely struggles with her amnesia, Adam never has any issues with going back and forth between worlds, and the police show up exactly where they need to be without fail – especially at that mountain site, which must be a hot spot for catching bad guys as it seems to be their go to place for a manhunt. I won’t even get into the ending, which is wrapped up so neatly, with a perfect bow on top that it’s almost nauseating. It’s like Solanas had no idea how to end things so he just went the easy route.
Visually, the movie looks great a lot of the time. There are some beautiful scenic shots, and it’s these images – which inspired the movie in the first place – that make one believe that somewhere, inside this convoluted, yet overly simplistic romantic story there’s an idea that should have sparked something much better.
The best way to describe Upside Down is all style and no substance. The actors do a good job with what they’re given; however, the characters themselves aren’t interesting and there’s no real rooting interest in anyone involved – which is detrimental to any film.
The film looks beautiful, and the 2D transfer of the film looks gorgeous on the screen. There’s a liveliness to the worlds that make you wish more was done correctly with them. There’s a 3D version as well, which would likely be just as attractive, though isn’t necessary to enjoy the beauty of the images on the screen. The audio also comes through wonderfully, with no complaints on any level when it comes to these mixes.
The Making of Upside Down – This feature runs at 25 minutes in length and sees Solanas talking about how the film came to be, various themes, special effects, meanings within the film, and some behind-the-scenes footage of how certain scenes were shot and the issues that had to be overcome to do so.
Deleted Scenes – This is a quick bit that runs at under two minutes and isn’t noteworthy.
History of the World – This featurette runs at under three minutes in length and sees Solanas talking about an alternate ending on storyboards.
Juan and Jim – This is over in the blink of an eye and just shows footage of the men on set.
Preliminary Sketches – This featurette runs at a minute forty, and shows the storyboards alongside the actual footage that was shot.
Missing Forest Storyboards – This featurette runs at under two minutes and sees Solanos commenting on various storyboards.
Sage Mountain Previz – This featurette is under three minutes in length which sees Solanas talking about visualizing things beforehand.
Office Previz – This is a three minute featurette that sees Solanas talking about the pre-visualization of the office scene.
Final Shot Previz – Same as the previous two pieces, this one focuses on the final shot.
Upside Down is a visually beautiful, but lacking in anything outside of that area. There’s an idea here that should have created a movie much better than this one; however, what ended up being made is a romantic film that lacks romance and seems to take the easy way out at every corner.
Onyx Films and Transfilm Intl Present Upside Down. Written and Directed by: Juan Solanas. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jim Sturgess, Timothy Spall. Running time: 108 minutes. Rating: PG. Released: June 25, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.