A sci-fi Romeo & Juliet in messy ‘Upside Down’
BY BILL ZWECKER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST March 14, 2013 4:42PM
‘UPSIDE DOWN’ ★★
Adam Jim Sturgess
Eden Kirsten Dunst
Bob Timothy Spall
Millennium Entertainment presents a film written and directed by Juan Solanas. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for violence). Opening Friday at Landmark Century.
Updated: April 16, 2013 3:10PM
The opening sequences of director Juan Solanas’ fantasy romance immediately sweep you up with splendid visual imagery: Two planets exist, nearly touching, sharing an identical orbit around the same sun in a distant solar system.
It is an upside-down world in every way. The two planets’ gravitational pulls go in opposite directions. One planet is “above,” rich and privileged — the other “down below,” impoverished and crime-ridden.
The entire duality is tightly controlled by the dictatorial Transworld Corp., run with ruthless authority by a cruel elite.
An added twist: All matter on each planet is bound to the rules of gravity, and any matter taken to the other planet will — after a short period — burst into flames.
Against this admittedly intriguing foundation, “Upside Down” weaves an updated version of a “Romeo & Juliet” tale, with Eden (Kirsten Dunst) from the upper planet initially meeting Adam (Jim Sturgess) from the lower, poor planet, as children. They continue to meet secretly on their nearly touching mountain rendezvous spot, until a posse of vigilant, planetary border police sharpshooters violently break up the lovers.
Adam is seriously injured, and it appears that Eden’s fall back to her planet has caused her death.
By the way, the names Adam and Eden are, of course, another conceit — obviously drawing on the biblical characters Adam and Eve — and an ultimate revelation at the film’s end.
Due to Adam’s native intelligence and engineering and scientific knowledge, he is hired by Transworld; he is one of the very few “down below” planet inhabitants allowed to work for the elite corporation — however in a separate, though adjacent office environment. Here he discovers Eden is, in fact, very much alive, though suffering from what appears to be amnesia, caused by that big fall.
Of course, she has no memory of Adam. That drives him wild with the desire to reignite her recognition of their young love, and the seemingly unrealistic dream they can again be a couple.
Unfortunately, despite a lovely performance by Dunst and a very earnest one by Sturgess, the script’s huge holes, with so many story points literally going nowhere, turn this entire, beautifully filmed production into a stylish mishmash.
I found myself going “huh?” far too often. The script changes during filming only confused the plot, rather than making it more compelling.
One highlight is whatever screen time was given over to the gifted character actor Timothy Spall as an upper planet renegade and Transworld inventor who was unceremoniously retired when his services were no longer required by the giant company.
At the end, I was left with a feeling of missed opportunity and a sense of sadness for what could have been if the story had been better written and more convincing.