The concept of a world that’s opposite to our own isn’t a new one. I mean, even John Norman did it with his Gor novels. And the concept of playing with gravity isn’t new either.
But mix them together and you might just end up with a film like Upside Down.
Upside Down is the story of a pair of tidally-locked* planets, Down Below and Up Top**. Each one has its own gravitational pull, and to each one, the other planet is… well… upside down. Hence the name of the film. Up Top is where the rich people live; Down Below is where the poor people live. Up Top exploits oil resources Down Below, which leads to environmental issues as well. And moving from planet to planet is nearly impossible — if you spend too long in the other planet’s gravitational pull, you burn up. Oh, it’s possible to cross over, but it’s strictly regulated.
Into Down Below is born a boy named Adam whose favorite aunt knows the secret to making pancakes that fly: honey made from the pollen of bees that build their combs in a place which is subject to gravity from both worlds. As a child, Adam climbs the Sage Mountains and meets a young girl named Eden from Up Top. Even though they’re not supposed to be in contact, it’s hard to keep kids apart and soon enough Eden comes Down Below. At least, until a tragic accident takes her from him.
Or so he thinks.
Fast-forward about ten years, maybe a touch more, and Adam is working with inverse matter — matter from Up Top that has made its way Down Below — in a machine shop when he sees Eden on television. At the same time, Adam also makes a discovery that could lead to respect and monetary gain from the folks Up Top. He hatches a plan to meet Eden again and rekindle their relationship.
If only Eden hadn’t been stricken with amnesia from her accident.
Now Adam has to figure out how to make the relationship work without losing his job, his freedom, and even his life should he spend too long Up Top.
Upside Down stars Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) as Adam and Kirsten Dunst (The Cat’s Meow) as Eden. Sturgess is clearly the star of the film — he’s the POV character for most of it — although Dunst is a better actor. Sturgess also has an accent that meanders a bit much for my taste; was he trying to sound British? Appalachian? Southern? Eastern Seaboard? Middle American? I really couldn’t tell. He has a nice face, though. Dunst turned in her usual strong performance as “romantic female lead”, although I felt she looked more elfin than usual. Sturgess and Dunst are joined by Timothy Spall (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) as Bob Boruchowitz, a computer scientist from Up Top who forms a bond with Adam, and while it was hard to separate Spall from his role as Wormtail, he still did an excellent job with a great character.
The best part of this film was by far the cinematography, by Pierre Gill. The visuals are stunning, the colors strong, the special effects excellent without being obtrusive, and the very premise truly lends itself to film more than any other medium. I’m sure a good novelist could make it work, and an artist could produce a great graphic novel, but there’s nothing like seeing something like this on film. Unfortunately, the story was pretty weak — Adam’s attempts to win Eden over, the cartoonishly-villainous executives from Up Top, the role of Albert (Blu Mankuma, Sonic Underground) as a combination Magical Negro/father figure who was way too underused, and in the end the overly-happy ending. Regrettably, it weakened such a beautiful film with such an intriguing premise. Juan Diego Solanas both wrote and directed the film, and I kind of wish he’d spent more time on the writing and less on the directing.
Upside-Down is an enjoyable film to watch, but if you go into it expecting a strong story, you’re unfortunately going to be disappointed. I can forgive a lot in a movie, but if the story doesn’t at least keep my interest, it’s going to be hard for me to recommend it. In the end it’s up to you how you feel about story versus visuals, and if you can forgive bad writing for beautiful imagery.
Note to Parents: This film contains violence, adult language, and adult situations, but nothing more explicit than, say, The Avengers. Of course, you should use your own best judgment when it comes to your children.
* I think I’m using the right term here, but I’m not 100 percent certain. I’m not a scientist. I’m just a dude.
** Wikipedia says it’s “Up Above”, but my brain is telling me “Up Top”. Either way, you get the idea, right?
About the Author
Josh Roseman (not the trombonist; the other one) lives in Georgia. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Escape Pod, and the Crossed Genres anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land. His voice has been heard around the fiction podosphere as well, including here on Escape Pod. Find him online at roseplusman.com, or on Twitter @listener42.