DirectorLana and Andy Wachowski
Release Date(s)2015 (June 2, 2015)
Studio(s)Village Roadshow Pictures (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: C-
You’ve got to hand it to the Wachowskis – whenever they make a genre film, they really toss the hat over the wall and go for it. Jupiter Ascending is a bit of an odd duck to be sure, but it certainly fits well within their oeuvre to date. The film was roundly panned by critics when it was first released into theaters this past February. Judging by the box office, audiences didn’t like it much either. Indeed, it seems likely the Wachowskis will never be given such a large budget to work with in the future, even by Warner, which has long been supportive of them.
But I have to be honest with you: I liked this film. Jupiter Ascending is essentially a big, glossy, and at times surprisingly inventive, mash-up of 1980s and 90s camp and quasi-camp science fiction cinema – think Flash Gordon, Buckaroo Banzai, The Fifth Element, Dune, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy... even, to a degree, Heavy Metal – with a dash of the modern “young adult/post-apocalyptic” genre layered in to appeal (unsuccessfully, it seems) to younger female audiences. The production design is glittering and sublime, and the visual effects certainly don’t disappoint. I’ve never been a fan of Channing Tatum, but he works well here in a Neo/Reeves kind of way. Mila Kunis is plenty likable and delivers a decent performance in the central role. Recent Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne serves up a fascinating camp villain in the true spirit Max von Sydow’s Ming, Gary Oldman’s Zorg, or even Sting’s Fey’d Harkonnen. And at long last, Sean Bean actually gets to appear in a film that doesn’t kill him off right away.
As for the film’s story, suffice it today that Kunis plays one Jupiter Jones, the poor daughter of Russian immigrants living in Chicago, who seems consigned to spend her life scrubbing toilets until she discovers, one day, that there’s much more to her past and her world that meets the eye. This discovery leads her into the middle of a whirlwind political/family struggle that spans eons of time and galaxies of space. Enough said. You really just have to experience it yourself.
Warner’s Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific in 2D. This is not quite a reference quality HD presentation, but it’s awfully close. Contrasts are a bit subdued but good, and colors are wildly vibrant. There’s a ton of fine detail visible in the image at all times, even in the midst of the most chaotic action. There’s zero compression artifacting visible. The 3D presentation is actually fairly good too, but I still definitely prefer the 2D and the latter would be my recommendation for first-time viewers. The action here is just so fast and furious that the presentation sometimes struggles to properly render depth and your eye has a hard time just following things.
On the audio front, this disc is absolutely reference quality. It offers an apparently magnificent Dolby Atmos mix (though I confess, I don’t have the sound system to appreciate this). I can attest to the fact that the more traditional English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD presentation is phenomenal. The mix is bombastic and immersive, full of thunderous highs and whisper-soft lows. It’s a smooth, enveloping, and extremely active sound presentation that really delights. You also get Dolby Digital 5.1 in French, Spanish, and Portuguese, with English SDH and French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
Sadly, the Blu-ray extras are all of Warner’s usual (of late) lackluster and uninspired EPK variety. There are 7 in total, all in HD. They include Jupiter Jones: Destiny Is Within Us (7 mins), Caine Wise: Interplanetary Warrior (5 mins), The Wachowskis: Minds Over Matter (7 mins), Worlds Within Worlds Within Worlds (10 mins), Genetically Spliced (10 mins), Bullet Time Evolved (10 mins), and From Earth to Jupiter (and Everywhere in Between) (10 mins). That’s it – an hour of EPK. No commentaries, no galleries, mostly fluff. Even the menus are cookie cutter, of the type we used to see on WHV’s first DVDs back in 1997. You also get a standard 2D Blu-ray, a DVD, and a Digital Copy/Ultraviolet code in the packaging.
Christ, I hope Warner doesn’t treat the forthcoming Mad Max: Fury Road Blu-ray with this much apathy.
Love it or hate it, your own mileage will certainly vary. For my own part, I passed on Jupiter Ascending in theaters, went into the Blu-ray with zero expectations, and ended up pleasantly surprised. The film is certainly ridiculous and its story is a bit of a mess. But for all of its 127-minute run time, the film kept me entertained with plenty of sci-fi references and eye candy. That was enough. To be fair, I also enjoyed Cloud Atlas and Speed Racer before this. While the Wachowskis don’t always manage to retrieve the hats they toss over the wall, you can’t fault their ambition and effort. Lana and Andy are interesting filmmakers, and we don’t have nearly enough of those working in Hollywood today, in my opinion.
- Bill Hunt