Titus Ship

A World Where Spaceships Aren’t So Damn Ugly

Where Jupiter Ascending may have hiccups in the execution of its sometimes-too-ambitious story, its visuals are flawless. Watching Titus’ ship rise up through a planets rings, with its fins reminiscent of some beautiful deep sea creature, is watching pure beauty torn from the minds of two visionaries. In making Jupiter Ascending, Lana Wachowski spoke passionately about how she can’t understand why spaceships are just “so damn ugly.” Whether Star Wars or The Martian, a lot of science fiction takes place in practical or government vessels of some form or fashion. In Jupiter Ascending, the spaceships reflect the personalities of their users.

The Wachowskis put so much emphasis on the compounds and vessels of the three Abrasax siblings, that the film becomes a Lifetyles of the Rich And Famous episode in space. Taking influence from everything from cathedrals and castles to the landscapes of Iceland, no detail was lost when it came to fully realizing these grandiose images. Even if I’m crazy for loving this movie, go back and watch it and just try to remember the last time you saw science fantasy like this.

Jupiter and Titus Wedding

Beyond the set pieces, Jupiter Ascending pays close attention to wardrobe. Jupiter’s stunning crystal headpiece and gown for her wedding ceremony with Titus stuck with me long after seeing the movie, and not just because that marriage raised all kinds of Oedipal red flags. Even the outfits for the ‘sims’ that acted as wedding guests or the ladies-in-waiting for both Kalique and Titus Abrasax are beautifully rendered, even as they exist in the background. The scope of the film’s artistry cannot be fully appreciated until your second or third viewing because there is just so much to take in. It’s overwhelming.

The creatures of Jupiter Ascending are as varied and unique as the costumes and spaceships. In the universe created by the Wachowskis, Earth is not the birth place of the human race, but instead merely a colony. Outside of Earth, humans have mastered “splicing.” Caine, Channing Tatum’s half-wolf character, is one such splice, while Sean Bean is genetically part bee. With the Wachowski’s completely open-ended fantasy take on science fiction, they had the option to fully create new alien species that had nothing to do with humans. Instead, they create dozens of “spliced” creatures, all with fascinating looks and behaviors. That requires a lot of finesse and a great deal of creativity in its own right. From Sean Bean’s hexagonal pupils and the texture of Channing Tatum’s facial hair to the winged-lizard-human hybrids that act as the flying monkeys to Eddie Redmayne’s Wicked Witch, the creature designs balance walk a tightrope between the real and the unreal.

Eddie Redmayne Jupiter Ascending

No Apologies

I am not denying Jupiter Ascending’s flaws. It had to grow on me. The movie itself feels more like a selection of chapters from a much longer novel, like a collection of disconnected adventures from an unpublished book. Although there is a clear beginning and a clear final battle and resolution, the middle of the film almost feels like a video game, complete with side quests and sub-bosses, each with their own beginnings. middles, and ends. This structure (not to mention the Oedipal complexes present throughout the story), can be a little jarring when you don’t expect it.

However, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jupiter Ascending for the rest of the day after I saw it. Not only because it was absolutely stunning and I enjoyed the heart of the story, but because I almost felt guilty for not liking it at first. It was as if someone was pouring their heart out to you in a language you didn’t understand, I realized that the fault of my initial viewing of Jupiter Ascending was that it had been so long since I have had to suspend reality to that extent that I just couldn’t understand what the Wachowskis were saying to me. They set out to show us something that we have never seen before, but we have become so accustomed to familiar that we can no longer speak their language or be bothered to learn it.

Kalique Abrasax-- Costumes and setting

Lana Wachowski once said, “There were tons of movies that made a lot of money and were utterly and completely forgotten. Likewise, there were movies that didn’t make any money that are still around and are still important.” Will Jupiter Ascending be important? I don’t know. But I’m still thinking (and writing) about it years later.

Movies like Jupiter Ascending and Valerian may or may not end up being “important” films, but they will be loved. Both films will not get their due in at the box office number, but they are shining reminders of what science fantasy looks like when you don’t package it as a franchise: a blend of wonder and social commentary on a magnificent scale. Where love and kindness and honor, the pillars of humanity (however you chose to define that word), can still hold steady through the most mind-bending and monumental of conflicts.

The Wachowskis and Luc Besson both reference their childhoods when discussing the creation of the universes in their films, whether it was Besson’s love of the original french comics or the Wachowski’s love of the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. Jupiter Ascending reminds me more of The Neverending Story and Labyrinth – unapologetic fantasy for romantics. That doesn’t sell tickets, but it sure does win hearts.

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