Blu-ray Review: Jupiter Ascending

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Even the trailers for writing and directing team Lana and Andy Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending suggested it was going to be a mess. But there was also the potential for a fun, zany, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of mess. The high-budget sci-fi effects extravaganza died a pretty quick death in movie theaters back in February. Now Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has issued Jupiter Ascending on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and Digital HD. Is it a fun mess after all? No, not really. It’s just a garden variety mess, very disappointing considering the Wachowski’s are responsible for The Matrix, a true modern sci-fi classic. The filmmaking duo can’t seem to match that film’s innovative genius and each failed attempt gets more and more depressing.

So let’s jump right to what’s good about Jupiter Ascending on Blu-ray: the audio/visual presentation. A budget of $175 million buys a lot of production value and, even if the story is muddled and the performances generally uninspired, the cornucopia of dazzling CG looks outstanding in 1080p high definition. Cinematographer extraordinaire John Toll (winner of back-to-back Oscars for Legends of the Fall and Braveheart) shot Jupiter digitally. His work looks incredibly detailed. The audio is available as a Dolby Atmos mix if you’re equipped to handle it. For the rest of us it’s Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and it’s a marvelous barrage of crazy sonic effects. Composer Michael Giacchino (Emmy-, Grammy-, Golden Globe-, and Oscar-winner) crafted an excellent score that rises about the well-defined din of immersive effects.

Jupiter 2 (380x159).jpgThere’s also a cool cameo by Terry Gilliam during a tribute to Brazil. It’s Gilliam’s presence alone that makes it a tribute rather than just a rip-off. The Wachowskis seem to be drawing inspiration (and delivering various levels of imitation) from any number of past sci-fi films. Jupiter can be viewed as a mishmash of homages, with an overall vibe that skirts closely to sci-fi junk of yesteryear (stuff like Zardoz and Dune). Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones (named after the planet), a cleaning lady who dreams of being an astronomer. She even plans to sell her eggs to a fertility clinic in order to buy a telescope (though, for some reason, she plans to give most of the money to her cousin Vladie, played by Kick Gurry).

Jupiter 3 (380x214).jpgThings go haywire when the medical team at the clinic turns out to be a bunch of aliens called The Keepers. They work for Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), a viciously evil intergalactic ruler who profits from a refinery located in the heart of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (the planet, that is, not the character). It turns out Jupiter (the character) is the genetic match of some woman who ruled the same empire (The House of Abrasax, apparently) that Balem now lords over. This connection somehow entitles Jupiter to ownership of planet Earth. But we learn that Earth was just one of many worlds seeded in order to later harvest the population in order to extract a youth serum to keep rich tyrants like Balem looking fresh faced.

Jupiter 4 (380x187).jpgIt’s hard to understand why Channing Tatum even accepted the role of Caine Wise since he’s given virtually nothing to do (besides look rather ridiculous in a strange costume and pointed ears; apparently he’s part dog or something). Caine must protect Jupiter from attacks perpetrated by Balem’s Keepers. Jupiter Ascending is a big stew of recycled ideas and it’s so poorly told that it never congeals into anything likeable. There’s nothing to care about. And while Tatum underacts to the point where he nearly disappears from the screen, Redmayne contributes something so campy it’s hard to believe he won an Oscar (for portraying Stephen Hawking).

For those who find Jupiter Ascending entrancing rather than incomprehensible, there is a series of seven featurettes (totaling about an hour) included on the Blu-ray. They’re pretty superficial, spending more time dealing with the effects and production design than the story elements. But again, there must be at least a few Wachowski diehards out there who aren’t satisfied with just the movie itself. They’re bound to appreciate the ability to take a closer look at the universe created for the film. The Blu-ray Combo Pack also includes a standard DVD and a Digital HD copy.

The special effects are impressive, but the storytelling is a maddening jumble. It’s not even entirely clear why Balem is bothering trying to kill Jupiter instead of just simply ignoring her. Why can’t he proceed to harvest the Earth as planned? Because bees recognize that Jupiter is royalty incarnate and they are genetically programmed to protect her. Jupiter Ascending plays like a child’s rambling daydream, only backed by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Jupiter BD cover (305x380).jpg

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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