Saturday, February 07, 2015

"Jupiter Ascending": long on fantasy and action, short on science

I was hoping “Jupiter Ascending” (directed by The Wachowski’s) might offer a geography lesson of nearby extraterrestrial life.  There was interesting stuff to watch, but it was largely in the comic book genre, with maybe a touch of astrology. 
Other reviewers say there are three different planets offered.   I had trouble keeping track of which world I was on.  The main home planet seemed to have a lot of volcanoes, cliffs, waterfalls, and architecture resembling Middle Earth.  But there were space stations filled with hotel rooms and wedding halls, spaceships that themselves looked like arthropods, and most curious off all, a major communications center, filled with spire-like tower buildings and rather menacing endless iron framework, constructed in the center of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, as if the atmosphere below was thick enough to support it. 
The movie opens in an apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia, and introduces Jupiter (Mila Kunis).  Soon the family is living in an ethic neighborhood in Chicago, and Jupiter, along with other family, works as a domestic.  She soon will be abducted as for some reason she is the disputed heir of a large intergalactic fortune. 
Her mentor will be Caine (Channing Tatum), whose smooth body makes him a curious choice as a wolf-man.  (Remember, in “Magic Mike” that he “shaves his legs for work”). Aliens and spaceships materialize out of the sky and attack the Willis Tower (rather like in “The Fantastic Four”) but then, out of goodwill, quickly repair it.  Once on her new planet, Jupiter learns about the politics surrounding the inheritance.
Actually, she passed through the Red Spot first, and meets local ruler Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), who seems rather like a pipsqueak.  Once on the main home planet, she courts the rest of the fueding Abrasax family, including “ladies man” Titus (Douglas Booth), who really seems almost foppish, and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton).  There is a curious philosophy that seems to come from Vladimir Putin: “all of life and meaning is based on lies”.  Later, “society is a pyramid; there are always people at the top and paeans on the bottom”.  Thus line reminds me of my own early novel “The Proles”;  it seems that some people are, by mathematical tautology, better than other people.  Soon Titus proposes marriage (yes, social conservatives, heterosexual marriage means the same thing throughout the universe, or ours, at least) with the ceremony in a lavish Czarist hall in one of the space stations.  There is also an interesting bureaucracy covering payment of taxes and granting of zoning permits that would put most American local governments to shame.   The processing hall looks like a curious mishmash of 19th century gadgets and knickknacks, and innovations from Steve Jobs.  There are even some old fashioned typewriter keyboards around, and an astrolabe. 

I had hoped that the movie might offer a vision like Clive Barker's book "Imajica", still yet to become a movie.  That book offers four other planets ("dominions") that become "reconciled" to Earth (connected by a wormhole, rather like in "Interstellar").  In that book, the four other worlds (one of them is arguably "Heaven") have a real geography that could go onto a board game (printed, not just Xbox).  There are real cities, mountain ranges, lakes, gay bars, and political systems (more or less Czarist).  Actually, "Star Wars" offers some geography, if someone wants to map it. This movie was much murkier.  (Yes, I wonder how many light years it is to the nearest extrasolar planet with a gay disco.) 
The official site is here. This is another collaboration between Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow.  It was filmed in Chicago, Spain, Quebec, and Australia.  There's one scene with an image of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain in the shot (I visited it in 2001).  
I saw the film in 3-D but in a smaller auditorium at Regal Ballston in Arlington.  The theater does not tell you which auditorium you will be in. A film this big needed to be in the big auditorium.  What happened to Regal’s “Go Big or Go Home”?

By the way, a friend drew my astrology chart when I was living in NYC, around 1977, and I have have it around somewhere.  
Picture: That’s from my own setup, something that looks like an extraterrestrial (or maybe just Chinese) city. 
For a short film, try on YouTube “What Would Happen If You Were to Free-fall into the Planet Uranus?”,  by “Qwikili”, link here.  A similar result would occur with Neptune (which might have been a better choice for his film). But it would be more interesting to do this with Jupiter, and explore layers of liquid hydrogen and then metallic hydrogen.  Neptune and Uranus may be “ocean worlds” of supercooled water and ammonia and hydrocarbons, under immense pressure, so intense that at some point the carbon turns to liquid diamond that forms hail.  (See similar film here Jan. 23.) 

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