Upside Down

Year: 2012
Production Co: Upside Down Films
Director: Juan Solanas
Writer: Juan Solanas/Santiago Amigorena/Pierre Magny
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall

I missed this movie at cinemas and was disappointed that I did, so I'd been looking forward to watching it on DVD for a while. Apparently anyone who saw it in cinemas was disappointed too, because it bombed resoundingly. It's a shame, because even though the execution isn't perfect, it's the coolest premise for a movie in a long time.

As the hero Adam (Jim Sturgess) explains in an opening voiceover, there are two worlds that orbit the same sun and are so close together they almost touch. One is home to the rich and the elite, and the other to the poor, exploited and politically repressed masses – the same parable you've seen in everything from 1984 to The Hunger Games.

But what makes it so intriguing is that all matter (including people) is affected by only the gravity of the world it's from. If it finds its way to the other, it tries to fall back down (up, from the point of view of the other planet), and if it stays inside the gravity well of the other planet too long, it starts to catch on fire because of some kind of molecular instability.

So when Adam wants to sneak up to the other side he has to use special material under his clothes that reorients him so he can stand the opposing gravity. It's an idea that's portrayed not just beautifully several times but humourously when he goes to the mens' room and ends up peeing all over the ceiling.

He's in the other world because he's trying to reconnect with the girl he fell in love with as a teenager, Eden (Kirsten Dunst). Years before, they used to meet in a forest where they both climbed to the top of rocky outcrops on each planet and could climb up/down to each other on ropes to spend time together.

But soon the Gestapo-like police who guard against infractions between worlds discover them and in the ensuing attack, Adam fears Eden dies before he runs for his own life.

Ten years later, Adam lives in the slums of his world and makes his living in a factory trying to devise a unique anti-aging cream he and his colleagues hope will make them rich thanks to ravenous business in the world above.

One day he sees Eden alive and well on TV, working in publicity for Transworld (the huge corporation that controls life on both worlds) and hatches a desperate scheme to find her and remind her of the love they once had.

The only way he can do it is to filch away some of the material that ends up under his clothes – anti-gravity metal from the other world. It's a highly sought after commodity on both worlds because it contains the opposing gravity, but because it's so combustible and unstable it has to be handled under very controlled conditions.

Step one is to get a job at Transworld and appear to work on his skin cream while he sneaks up to the other side undetected, aided by the harness built out of the anti-gravity metal he's spirited away over time.

His job introduces him (and the audience) to what must be one of the coolest movie visuals of recent years. Because the two worlds are close enough together, Transworld has a huge office tower that spans the sky between them, and the office level at the midpoint - equidistant from each surface – is a huge chamber of cubicles, desks, workers and abstract busyness straight out of Brazil, where the floor of one is the ceiling of the other.

Scientists and clerks from each world walk back and forth like they would in every workplace, talking up and down to each other, passing materials and papers back and forth and having to keep materials on top of or under their desks depending on which world they're from.

It's there Adam befriends the kindly Bob (Timothy Spall) and where he finally gets to see Eden, who doesn't remember him – apparently the victim or brainwashing or PTSD. But Adam is undaunted, determined to stay undercover and win back the girl he lost, prompting a Romeo and Juliet archetype among the haves and have-nots parable.

The twin planets make for some gorgeous visuals that would have been awesome on the big screen, like the upper and lower cities in the Total Recall remake. Apart from the office floor, there are scenes of the poor underworlders making their way around the broken down slums with the enormous Transworld tower reaching into the sky like a giant, all-seeing sentinel.

There's also the swanky restaurant on the underworld that people from Eden's world go to, an ornate former hotel that's reached by cable car and has opposing dance floors at the top and bottom of the main room for people from each planet. With its sweeping shots of the architecture, weather systems and landscapes of opposing worlds the scenery evokes memories of the classic matte painting establishing shots of the Star Wars saga or the lavishly illustrated original version of James Gurney's Dinotopia.

The science is completely bonkers, but Upside Down is an example of how you can forgive anything and suspend disbelief if the story's interesting enough. If anything the bad science makes for a more intriguing world for the characters to live in, and while it's a strange choice to have another Titanic -inspired, wrong-side-of-the-tracks love story in such an incredible place when the possibilities are so endless, it gives you a good entry into a universe that's been beautifully imagined.

Even better, Upside Down really gives the strange science and world-building flight. Every detail where the opposing gravities could possibly matter is portrayed with real verve. In the midpoint of the Transworld tower, meetings with the CEO and lunch hours with Bob mean Adam has to walk into the room on the ceiling, the participants sitting, talking and drinking on furniture and conveniences set out for each world's gravity.

The love story is effective but the design and visuals are astounding. Watch it if you have the chance because it's that rarest of beasts in movies – something you've never seen before.

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