Jupiter Ascending
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Jupiter Ascending

Susan technology has always been a driving force in the motion picture industry with some of the most revolutionary changes inducing a significant increase in attendance. It happened in the 1920s with addition of sound creating the ‘properties’. Then a bit later on when color photography was introduced the studio scrambled to create proprietary techniques that could probably display their own brand name. The latest shiny object studios have dangling in front of the audience to hold their attention to the resurgence of 3-D. Concept is been around for many years but now with digital technology not only can you watch this illusion of depth the other movies you play on your home system. Indubitably a significant number of films utilizing these new techniques are going to overly depend on them occasionally to the detriment of actual story and character development. Thankfully there will always be truly gifted artist that will discover raise use these enhancements to bring a more realistic story. Some however take the easier and less imaginative path known in the common jargon as "more sizzle than steak".

The recent example of this phenomenon is the movie ‘Jupiter Ascending’. The movie was carefully constructed to sell tickets and eventually create a revenue stream with the home theater release. Filmmakers with a proven track record groundbreaking action packed science fiction movies were brought in to helm the movie. Pair of exceptionally attractive stars was cast in the leading roles in order to ensure the most profitable demographic, teens and young adults, have added incentive to buy into the marketing. Finally, a cinematographer was brought on board with an impressive list of accomplishments as demonstrated by a long list of notable credits and a pair of Academy award statues on his mantle. The film is nearly constant stream of visual effects in his surround sound mix that completely immerses you in the action. The result was the kind of movie where critics that endeavor to analyze such an offering for cinematic marriage was significantly lower than the rankings provided by the audience itself. Such discrepancies are not uncommon and usually come down to the raison d'etre of the opus pandering to the audience rather than cinematic artistry. There’s actually nothing wrong with this; movies are a business after all investors have a right to expect a profit. Some recent films have proven that a movie of exceptional merit still bring in a profit margin larger than the working capital of many countries. ‘Jupiter Ascending’ was intended to bring an enjoyable afternoon to its viewers and despite the several problems I have with it I have to admit that it did succeed with achieving that goal.

The prologue of the movie plunges the audience into the necessary exposition to create the foundation for the film. As it turns out, the earth is just one of a plethora of planets was seeded with life by an ancient consortium of highly advanced humanoid beings. This society is ruled by several powerful families viding control of the largest number of planetary resources. Modeled after the royal families of feudal Europe, wars between the highest-ranking families can be brutal and last for millennia but they pale in comparison to the vicious conflicts perpetuated between members of the same family. The resource that makes these planets so exceptionally valuable is the humanoid life and having them. By harvesting and processing the inhabitants into a serum that can greatly prolong youth and vitality of the ruling class. It is even a competition between the major families with marketing their brand name to the rank-and-file of their species. One of the most powerful of these ancient families is the House Abrasax. When the matriarch die her heirs; Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth) bicker over the ownership of the planets like earthly families might argue over who gets grandma’s silverware. Of course the big differences millions of lives would be extinguished basically make a highly effective beauty aide. This kind of puts people that protest against animal testing for cosmetics in more extreme light. Balem is the designated evil mastermind who intends to intensify the processing of earth by making a large-scale refinery in the dense atmosphere of the planet Jupiter. Titus has announced his plans to curtail the business and his enormous toll on unsuspecting lives.

The next stop for the story is St. Petersburg, Russia where amateur astronomer, Maximilian Jones (James D'Arcy), is married to Russian born Aleksa (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Max gently saved his money to purchase a single extravagance, and expensive telescope. One day several thieves break into their apartment and upon seeing the very valuable item grab it. A max attempt to keep them from leaving with it is killed as a result. Aleksa is pregnant with their child and agrees to his dying wish; to name their daughter Jupiter. Speeding ahead a number of years to when Jupiter (Mila Kunis), is a young woman living in Chicago with her mother and her Aunt Nino (Frog Stone) eking out a difficult existence cleaning the homes of the wealthy. Jupiter wants to get the same type of telescope but is woefully short of funds. Ever conniving cousin Vladie (Kick Gurry) comes up with a plan. First Jupiter is to steal the identification of one of her friends, Katharine Dunlevy (Vanessa Kirby). While friend’s house they were attacked by extraterrestrial hunters hired by members of the House Abrasax. She manages to get a photograph of them with the creature able to erase the memory of the incident. Cousin’s plan is to have Jupiter sell her eggs to fertility clinic. As the procedure proceeds the doctor and nurse are revealed as agents working for the insidious Balem. When the true forms are revealed a violent battle ensues. Jupiter is saved by a somewhat lupine man, Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), who swoops in wearing boots that emit a blue like that allows him to skate around the walls and air. From there any trace of reality rapidly recedes.

There’s a substantial amount of padding here has Jupiter finds herself leaving the planet Earth. As it happens members of the alien race have a means of reincarnation that admittedly is rather unique. When the genetic combination of the deceased happens to be manifested again another individual, the original person is reincarnated in that new body. Jupiter happens to be the reincarnation of the deceased matriarch of House Abrasax. Oddly this means that she is the mother of the two fighting brothers and then noncommittal sister. When one brother sets his eyes on marrying Jupiter it brings an entirely new light to the classic Freudian mother/son dysfunction. If Jupiter presents itself to the bureaucratic hierarchy of this civilization she can lay claim to the family assets, including earth. There are so many lines, departments and enough paperwork to clear small woodland. Finally, she receives the seal of verification; Jupiter now owns the planet Earth. She falls in love with her protector, Caine, genetic hybrid using wolf DNA to help make the perfect enforcer. For some reason he was discredited and his wings that serve as an emblem of his position were removed. Most people would consider it sufficient resource heavy warrior class that includes man/wolf hybrids the filmmakers here had to throw in a quest for redemption in order to regain his wings. This is typically a plot device use with angelic characters.

The writers/directors of this flick all well known collectively as ‘The Wachowskis’ gained cult status for their ‘Matrix Trilogy’. There was not a single piece of advertisements that did not prominently display this fact. You might get the distinct impression that they’d rather remind the audience of the crown jewel of their career rather than promoting the film on its own merits. This is never a good sign. While indicative of a film in trouble is by no means at the core of the issues. I realize there were only two people behind the creative elements of this film but it gives off a distinct feeling that it was designed by committee. There are bits and pieces of so many other movies that while watching with friends if you lose interest in the simplistic story to make a game of identifying the sources of the numerous tropes and all types employed. The upside of this is the reason why receive such a favorable ranking of the fans. There is such an amazing diversity in locations and storylines that the imagery is highly conducive to the use of 3-D. You have aerial battles that soar over the skyline of Chicago demolishing much of it in the process. Between the alien’s ability selectively wipe out memories and the technology to rebuild everything exactly the same in an unbelievably brief amount of time this use of Deus ex machina remains as contrived as ever. The most believable aspect of the movie occurs in the scenes were Ms Kunis had to deliver her dialogue in Russian. It should sound realistic, after all it was her first language; she was born in the Ukraine. On a Saturday afternoon hanging out with friends you can have a fun time so put on your polarized glasses, crank up the receiver and make a huge bowl of popcorn and just don’t expect anything close to a cohesive cinematic experience.

Posted 05/26/2015

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