Jupiter Ascending Poster

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: why the failure of Valerian the City of a Thousand Planets allows it to join the club of overlooked space fantasy that already includes the magnificent Jupiter Ascending.)

I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets last week in a practically empty theater, and I left with a smile on my face. Once again Luc Besson gave us a fully immersive, beautiful universe, a romantic fantasy quest in an extraterrestrial setting, with a powerful message similar to that of The Fifth Element: Love conquers all. Inspired by the French comic books by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières, Luc Besson took us on a welcome journey to somewhere colorful and hopeful, welcome in a year filled with darker sci-fi tales like Life and Alien: Covenant. And yet, no one saw Valerian. It is destined to join the ranks of movies that we discuss for their financial failures instead of their successes.

One close cousin to Valerian is the Wachowski’s delightful 2015 space opera, Jupiter Ascending. Perhaps the reason I so enjoyed Valerian was because I also happen to be a part of another small group that adored this visionary take on a space fairy tale starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum. Admittedly, my love for Jupiter Ascending was a bit of a slow burn. It wasn’t until I went to bed the night after watching it that I realized how wonderful it really was. The more times I watched it, the more my love grew. It’s the kind of movie that I imagine watching with my future children and yet, I rarely ever get to talk to people who actually went to see it or have bothered to rent it. However when I do find someone who is part of this club, we have conversations built of pure joy and enthusiasm.

In a period of filmmaking obsessed with sequels and remakes, Jupiter Ascending is something completely original. It is not an adaptation, it has nothing to do with aliens versus humans, and their is no looming sense of total dread and darkness. This is a film completely from the hearts of the Wachowskis, blending science fiction with themes straight out of children’s fairy tales, and told with some of the most stunning visual designs this side of the asteroid belt.

Jupiter Crystal Head Piece

Science Fantasy

When you scan the sections at Barnes & Noble, there is a ‘Romance,’ section, there is an overall ‘Fiction,’ section, and then there is “Science Fiction/Fantasy.” Science Fiction and Fantasy are synonymous, literary blood relatives. However, as science has caught up to science-fiction, science-fiction has lost it’s fantasy. Space landscapes that feel as fantastical as Rivendell from Lord of the Rings feel more and more rare.

Enter Jupiter Ascending, a welcome return to the whimsical. The Wachowskis returned that feeling of wonder and awe from the ‘new-fronteir’ era of science-fiction. With Elon Musk revolutionizing rockets, and the commercialization and privatization of space travel, science-fiction films like The Martian, Gravity, and Passengers feel more like they fit in that general ‘real world’ fiction category than they do science fiction. There still exists a certain amount of the fantastic in those films, but that bewilderment and curiosity has more to do with things pertaining to real science and the capabilities of man than it does the feeling of magic and the impossible. Although Jupiter Ascending offers a grounding point in the life of immigrants in Chicago, there is literally no attempt to be realistic whatsoever in the execution of its story. And I love it.

Lana Wachowski sees the universe as being as infinite as the imagination: “If you can imagine it, the universe can probably imagine it too.”  There should be nothing holding you back in terms of creating a space opera, no adherence to any base knowledge of science. In the same way that you can watch Harry Potter and be grounded in the real world and just accept that there is a whole other magical world existing around us, you should be able to lend the same acceptance to the gene splicing, gravity boots, and time-harvesting of Jupiter Ascending. The Wachowskis are here to remind us to not get so hung up on the ‘science’ part of ‘science fiction,’ and instead explore space through the same eyes you use to explore magic.

Kalique's Home

Fairytales and Fables

In interviews pertaining to Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowskis discuss their life long love of Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz. If The Matrix was showing us “just how far this rabbit hole goes,” Jupiter Ascending is showing us that “there’s no place like home.” Jupiter is taken away from her humdrum life, where she has no sense of purpose and no means for escape, and thrust into this magical and often scary universe. Much like Dorothy and her daydreaming about what is over the rainbow, Jupiter is constantly ignoring her housecleaning duties in order to play make believe in the upperclass homes she is paid to scrub.

Keeping with the age old mantra of “be careful what you wish for,” Jupiter, like Dorothy and Alice before her, is yanked into a world that defies everything she thought she knew. As the story goes off-planet, Jupiter’s epic quest leads her to find out who she is, what she is capable of, and what her purpose is. However, when she is faced with fleeing her old life for the gripping adventure and royal status that she was destined for, she instead takes what she has come to know of herself and returns to her humdrum life with a refreshing new outlook and an understanding that she didn’t have before. She is no longer stuck, she knows exactly how she can escape, and sometimes it just takes knowing that you are capable of more to change your life.

The Wachowskis talk about Jupiter as being akin to the heroines of old fairy stories. She is a hero that never uses violence, except when defending herself against Balem Abrasax in the final battle. Making something action-packed was not their focus. Rather, their focus was on having a very human story in a very surreal setting. As Lilly Wachowski (who was still credited as Andy at the time of filming) discussed in a behind-the-scenes interview for Jupiter Ascending, science fiction was a way to discuss heavy human ideas, like politics and religion, under the guise of something extravagant and entertaining. Jupiter Ascending, as she puts it, is a sort of religious story for the non-religious, tying in themes not only of “who am I?” and “are we alone?” but of reincarnation and class. Jupiter Ascending is a science fiction/fantasy movie with a very human message, a strong moral backbone, and an open-minded, humanist bent. It’s a fable for the 21st century.

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