Since blowing cinema apart with ‘The Matrix’ (1999), the Wachowskis haven’t had the easiest run. Their Matrix sequels were not well received, and their follow-ups have all tanked at the box office. That isn’t to say they weren’t worth a look - ‘Speed Racer’ (2008) was harmless if overblown fun, and ‘Cloud Atlas’ was my pick for Best Film of 2012. Fiercely individual and ambitious to a fault, their films aim high and expect their audiences to go with them - and that is certainly the case with ‘Jupiter Ascending’, their latest film now available on Blu-ray. Audiences didn’t seem too taken with this one either, but like their other films, does it actually have genuine merit?
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) has her mundane life in Chicago turned upside-down when she finds herself the target of an outer space kidnapping plot. Unbeknownst to her, she is the regeneration of the matriarch of the Abrasax family, an intergalactic dynasty divided between three maniacal heirs (Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton), who all seek to possess Jupiter and the treasures bestowed to her. Her only true ally and protector is Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a rogue genetically-enhanced soldier who tries to protect Jupiter from an onslaught of attacks from every side.
A space opera in every sense, ‘Jupiter Ascending’ is an enormously ambitious film, and you have to give it some credit for that. The Wachowskis take the basic principles of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and shoot them into space, aiming to concoct the kind of fantasy sci-fi we very rarely seen these days. The final result though is an unfortunately messy film, oddly paced and ultimately unfulfilling. The basic concepts and ideas are very strong, and this keeps you at least vaguely invested, but the screenplay itself just isn’t strong enough to support them, and apart from Jupiter, the characters aren’t as fleshed out as they should be. There’s a sense of this being only a half-film, like something is missing. At two hours, it feels far too short to hold everything in, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a longer (and possibly stronger) cut exists somewhere. Even the performances are not what they should be, though Kunis is very charming as Jupiter and Redmayne is having a lot of fun with high-camp villain Balem.
As it is, the cumulative effect of the film isn’t as impressive as it should be, which is even more a pity because the film itself is a technical marvel. ‘Jupiter Ascending’ is a beautiful-looking film, filled with rich images and design. The visual effects have a kind of poetry to them in stark contrast with the gritty darkness of most films these days, brimming with life and colour. The cinematography also has a romantic abandon to it, and the score is full-blown operatic in the best possible way. So much care and attention has gone into the visual world of ‘Jupiter Ascending’ that it just makes its (more prominent) shortfallings all the more frustrating.
I had hoped (since I had loved ‘Cloud Atlas’ so much) that I would find myself in the rare camp of loving ‘Jupiter Ascending’ despite its poor box office and lacklustre reviews. Unfortunately though, I can see where they’re coming from. ‘Jupiter Ascending’ should be rewarded for its ambition and for its astounding technical achievements, but these alone cannot make a film. For a film bubbling in sentiment, it lacks the heart to make it a home run, and never reaches as high as it aims. There’s no doubt that the Wachowskis have imagination in spades and continue to push cinema in new and exciting directions, but this film isn’t the acclaimed siblings at their best.
‘Jupiter Ascending’ should be rewarded for its ambition and for its astounding technical achievements, but it lacks the heart to make it a home run, and never reaches as high as it aims.
PICTURE & SOUND
Thankfully, the 1080p 2.40:1 transfer shows off the best attributes of the film with a glorious image that leaps right off the screen. The detail is startling, especially when showing off the intricate production design, and the vibrant colour palette (unusually so for a sci-fi film) is incredibly rich throughout. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track is likewise an impressive effort, full of bass and bombast which does occasionally drown out some of the dialogue. Unfortunately the disc lacks the Dolby Atmos track from the U.S. release, its absence baffling as well as annoying.
The disc offers a number of handsomely-made featurettes over all aspects of the production. ‘Jupiter Jones: Destiny Is Within Us’ (6:56) looks at the central heroine, while ‘Caine Wise: Interplanetary Warrior’ (5:18) focuses on Jupiter’s loyal protector. There’s a strong sense of belief in the film and its creative team in ‘The Wachowskis: Minds Over Matter’ (7:25), which carries into ‘Worlds Within Worlds Within Worlds’ (9:36) where the design process is broken down. The sci-fi concepts and visual effects are looked at in ‘Genetically Spliced’ (10:25) and ‘Bullet Time Evolved’ (9:35), and the package is rounded off with a discussion of the complex ideas and storytelling in the film with ‘From Earth to Jupiter (And Everything In Between)’ (9:34). Across all the featurettes, everyone shows tremendous dedication and belief in the film, which builds on the feeling that what we’re seeing is something of a compromised vision. It’s also a pity there’s no discussion of Michael Giacchino’s gorgeous score.