Review – Wachowski’s Descending (“Jupiter Ascending”)

Give the Wachowski’s credit, they clearly don’t know the meaning of the word “small”. Written and directed by Larry… er, sorry, I mean, Lana (he switched teams) and her brother, Andy, this cinematic space opera/comic book grand opus is Dune, Star Wars, Star Trek, John Carter, Blade Runner, Soylent Green, and even King Lear and The Graduate all mixed together. 
Bickering royal siblings on the planet Jupiter who dress like Early Romans and have 25th Century tech? Sure, why not! There’s beauty obsessed Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton) who only wants to stay young forever (she’s 14,003 years old) and her two scheming brothers who both want the same thing: possession of the planet Earth. Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth) is a conniving playboy who lives for pleasure and playing games, while his nasty brother, Balem (Eddie Redmayne) rules a huge production facility on Jupiter and speaks in a raspy whisper. Yeah, these guys just don’t get along, but what really gets their space goat is the sudden discovery of a royal queen on Earth. Her bloodline makes her the true ruler of Jupiter AND the owner of Earth! Who is this girl? A rock star? A trained gung-ho Army soldier? A cartoon voice-over actress?

Meet Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a 20-something maid who cleans toilets for the filthy rich. House Abrasax decides to kill her off and keep Earth for their own, but there’s a problem. His name is Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered human-wolf-warrior with Spock ears and cool hovercraft boots. He’s her protector against the bad guys sent by the Royals. Aided by Caine’s former colleague, Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), they tell Jupiter who she really is and that Earth is merely a planet (like thousands) that was manufactured by the Royals.

But exposition time will have to wait as Jupiter is whisked away to Jupiter where she’s adorned and hailed as “your majesty”. There she learns the ugly, horrible truth about what really is going on there. The reason the Royals are so rich, young, and powerful is because of a unique commodity only they make and sell. They harvest human bodies from thousands of planets to make ‘Nectar’, a special liquid that, when bathed in, preserves life forever. And Earth is ready for harvesting! Yikes!

BUT! If Jupiter agrees to marry the repulsive Titus, he’ll spare the Earth. Then there’s the intergalactic police ship, the Aegis, whose motley crew allies with Caine and helps with Jupiter’s rescue. Oh, and did I mention Balem’s guards who are giant winged talking lizards that wear leather jackets? Well, they are and they do. Don’t worry, our planet gets saved and Jupiter goes back home to Chicago with her new boyfriend, Caine, who’s now sporting wings. Yes, I said, wings.

It’s hokey, silly, has completely laughable dialouge, and more than a few deus ex machina moments that’ll make you shake your head in disbelief. It’s a comic book come to life with fantastic eye candy and visuals that are spectacular. The story is just plain, well, plain. There’s nothing new here that you haven’t heard or seen before in any other film of it’s ilk, but for some reason, it was still remarkably entertaining. This is a what I call a ‘Twinkie’ movie. Sure, you’ve eaten them a dozen times before, and they all look the same, and you know they’re bad for ya, but doggone it if they still taste just as yummy going down.

Kunis, beautiful and wide-eyed, plays a child born of Russian parents (which she is in real life) and even gets a chance to speak in her native tongue. Although she’s shown as a damsel-in-distress here and out of her acting league, I prefer her a bit more kick-assier. Channing is just a dumb side of beef with nowhere to go and Redmayne, who gave such an incredible performance as Stephen Hawking, is 180 degrees opposite here. And Sean Bean is… Sean Bean. The really fun actors to watch are, surprisingly, the secondary characters: the guards, servants, friends, and galactic police officer’s. They look like they’re having all the fun.

DUNE (1984)

Alan Smithee! Paging Alan Smithee! Yes, the infamous Dune that director David Lynch wishes would just go away. Based on Frank Herbert’s ginormous novels that defies anyone’s attempts to read (let alone understand), this origin story was Lynch’s magnum opus and his greatest embarrassment at the same time. So much so, he took his name off the title card and had it replaced with the fictitious name, Alan Smithee. The movie is lavish, obtuse, and grandiose in scale and story, depending on which version you see: the edited theatrical version or the newly restored extended one with added narration and all the deleted scenes spliced back in.

It’s the year 10,191 and the known universe is ruled by the Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV (Jose Ferrer). The single most valuable substance in the galaxy is the spice, Melange. This stuff can extend life and consciousness, but more importantly, it’s super vital as it’s used to fold space and make space travel possible. Nifty stuff, huh? The spice is found and harvested on only one planet… Dune. Naturally, there is a power struggle for who owns this planet amongst the royal families.

There’s House Atreides, (the good guys) and House Harkonnen (the bad guys). They both want the planet and the spice, but there’s this nasty little rumor of a prophesy: (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) that a child, a super-being called the Kwisatz Haderach, will be born to rule everyone. Wise and good Duke Leto Atreides (Jurgen  Prochnow) and his witch-wife, Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) may or may not have produced such a son: Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan). The evil, bloated, and floating fat Baron Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) decides to attack the Duke on Dune and sends his bat-ship crazy sons, Feyd-Rautha (Sting-the singer) and the Beast Rabban (Paul Smith).

Things go south quickly as there’s betrayal within House Atreides. The Duke is killed, Paul and his mum are send to die in the desert, but escape and meet the Fremen, a vast hidden army of desert dwellers who ride worms. I’m talkin’ BIG worms, here, people. Godzilla sized worms. Anyway, Paul drinks the “water of life” (made from crunched-up baby worms–eeyuck!) and discovers he’s now got special powers! Nice! He can command those mammoth worms, he can kill with a word (convenient), and he gets him a sweetheart named Chani (Sean Young).

Renamed Moadeeb, he and the Fremen then attack the Harkkonnen army and waylay them into submission. After all, he is that Kwisatz Haderach thingy, right!? What can I tell you, there’s alot of story here; I left out quite a bit. Suffice to say, the expanse of this movie was not the first time it was attempted. (see below) For all the fanboys of the book, however, this movie was a disaster. They cried “Foul!” at Lynch’s screenplay adaption and his direction. Personally, I enjoyed it, having never read the book and never wanted to. It was weird and entertaining with some looney, over-the-top performances and an intriguing backstory.

It did fairly well at the box office, but the critics (and many others) considered it a cinematic bomb, citing that this book couldn’t be made into a film, due to the book’s complexity and vast subtext. Yeah, they said the same thing about Watchmen, LOTR, and Life of Pi. Hey, you be the judge.

Although no theatrical sequels were ever made, there was a TV mini-series called Frank Herbert’s Dune done in 2000, and the follow-up mini-series, Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune in 2003. But, I personally recommend renting Jodorowsky’s Dune, a wild documentary that came out last year about a madcap director, Alejandro Jodorowsky, who attempted to produce and direct Dune way back in 1976 and almost did it. His version, with artists like H.R Giger, actors like Orson Welles and Mick Jagger, and music by Pink Floyd, would have been ultra-surreal and bizarre.

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