*SPOILERS* for Jupiter Ascending and The Martian.
On Monday I joined hosts AJ (@unpluggedcrazy) and Paul (@Haunt1013) to record an intense and emotionally stirring episode of GobbledyGeeks to discuss The Martian for their second annual book club series as well as to offer a few thoughts on the recently released Jupiter Ascending. It was the first time I had ever been a guest on a pod cast and this blog post here is for caveats and explanations and to lower any expectations of anyone who chooses to listen. My first qualifying comment is that I always need to ponder things for days in the back of my mind, like a subroutine program, before really coming up with coherent thoughts about a work of art (usually movies) and so now that a quite a few days have passed I wanted to expand on my few (probably incoherent) comments on Jupiter Ascending.
If you listen, (and I’m on the fence if you should because I’m sure I sound like a goob), you’ll hear me describe the movie as “glorious crap” and I realized after the hour was up that I didn’t define what that actually means to me.
My criteria for liking a movie (or TV show) has less to do with what was on-screen and more to do with what could have been or how much I have to chew on after the fact. I realize that might seem a strange way to judge a film but I have always been drawn to things that raise a plethora of questions and possible scenarios, not because there were plot holes or the story wasn’t complete, but that the world created has so much potential that one can see a 1000 other stories that could be told. Which means I’d probably make a lousy movie reviewer as I grade on the “what ifs” the story inspires rather than on the story itself. If it has enough to fuel my imagination I will look beyond the quality or how one-dimensional the main storyline was or how bland the main characters were, which in the case of Jupiter Ascending the latter two are true.
Despite the Wachowski’s using one of my favorite tropes, the changeling fantasy, I wasn’t invested too much with Jupiter Jones, the everywoman that makes a living scrubbing the toilets and taking out the garbage of the rich, even though I did relate to her monotonous situation and feeling trapped by circumstance. Who hasn’t wanted someone to show up out of the blue and announce to them that they’re awesome/rich/the keeper of some sorcery/savior of the world? Well, maybe not that last one. Bad things tend to happen to saviors. But with the revelation the character is pulled out of their hum drum life and has the grand adventure they’ve been pining for, and usually it isn’t what they hoped for, and learns some life lesson about being careful what you wish for but also to embrace their own uniqueness. Except in Jupiter’s case the opposite is true as everyone wants her to accept the identity of another, which she ultimately rejects in favor of her hum drum life. But not all hope is lost for those of us living vicariously through her. More on that later. The movie itself, which seems to be a giant declaration against greed, especially when it comes at the expense of so many, failed in that regard because it doesn’t seem anyone cares about whatever message the movie might be trying to get across because they’re too busy pointing out how much it feels like such a retread of everything else including the directors' other work The Matrix.
Jupiter Jones is thrust into a complicated world with a complex economy that is dependent on stealing time from others, and all of the history that lead up to the moment she arrives begs to be explored. Honestly I think this would have been much better as a book instead because if it were they could really go into greater detail the world that the Abrasax family comes from and the culture that spawned the idea that certain people, the “entitled”, deserve unlimited time and how does everyone not entitled feel about that. I wonder how that process was discovered and who it was used on in the beginning, because the family couldn't have had time to grow humans to test it out at first, unless they stole it from others. That scenario leads me to believe there was a conflict once upon a time that was ultimately won by the Abrasax and the other entitled and who wouldn't want to know how all of that happened? Since the creation of the eternal youth serum how often has a recurrence happened? What happens if a recurrence happens and the original is still alive? Do the entitled ever scour any planet they’re going to harvest for individuals that meet some unspecified criteria to be saved and integrated into the advanced society? If the original planet is so overpopulated, why don’t they cull from their own? Did they at one time? Why were none of these questions addressed? The answer is simple: because it’s a movie there isn’t enough time. But a book could explore that. So, I liked the movie because I wanted more of the universe it was set in. As I said, my criteria are strange.
Regardless of my odd compunctions I sincerely did think the movie itself was fun. The effects were pretty, the action outrageous, & the settings were gorgeous. Chandeliers in the space docks? Come on. Right?! But that brings me to a point about the action sequence when Caine first finds Jupiter Jones and saves her from the grays and bounty hunters. As has been noted by some it does drag on a bit, but I think it was to really drive home that despite the extensive damage done during their escape and the number of witnesses to the chase that the awesome task it would be to cover it up yet how easily it was done defines the level of technology Jupiter and Caine are up against and how alone our heroes really are against such tremendous odds. But it also brings up a point about Jupiter’s actions at the very end after Jupiter seems to have chosen her old life and the lack of luxury it affords. We next see her on her “date” with Caine and she puts on a pair of the anti-gravity roller blades to take a spin through the air over downtown Chicago. There is no way people didn’t see them, which means she is either taking advantage of the technology of the society that we think she’s turned her back on or is she going to introduce the technology to everyone on Earth to raise the standard of living of her family on Earth. (I’d love to see that episode of Shark Tank.) Because of all the things in the movie that made the least sense to me wasn’t that she would go back to being a maid since it seems an act of defining herself for herself, but keeping her mother in the same profession when she has the means to give that up. Look. Doing an honest day’s work is noble and all of that, but come on. Her mother has had a crap life so give her some good damn well deserved luxury. For Jupiter to refuse the benefits that come with being an Abrasax is one thing, but to refuse those benefits to someone else without letting them know is a different kind of greed.
At the end of the preamble segment I asked a question of “which was worse”. In Star Trek: Into Whiteness, Jar Jar Abrams (oh hush, like I’m the first to make either joke) used a method of “memorable moment” cut and paste to emotionally manipulate the audience to the point that he made borrowing from nostalgia an art form. From downright stealing a moment (Kirk dying for “the many”) to playing on the expectations and in jokes of the franchise, like having someone put on a “red shirt” so the audience was expecting their demise only to have that character save the day. Yet the main complaint that I am seeing about Jupiter Ascending, (which had no source material to bolster the movie as it was all original), used way too many well-known tropes instead. Basically the entire film was a seven layer chocolate cake of borrowed plots and motivations to tell their story. Now I am asking everyone else the question: Which was worse? What say you?
The Martian doesn’t seem to rely on tropes (despite the long list on TVTropes.org, many of which I am not sure count as tropes to begin with...but that's another post for another day) or cheap emotional short cuts, but Mark Watney is a familiar character as the lone man against the elements, just like Robinson Caruso, Chuck Noland, or Luke Graham. In fact when I first got the book, (received as a Christmas present), my first thought was that the author must have been inspired by Luke Graham the most, as the stranded astronaut in Mission to Mars who managed to survive for several years on the red planet till rescue arrives. But I can’t really do a review of the book as I’m only about halfway through, (not an exact percentage as mine is a paper copy), All I can say is that so far I am enjoying the book thoroughly, however in a reversal from Jupiter Ascending, I’m certain I’ll like the movie much better. I just can’t believe they didn’t cast Don Cheadle. It would have been the best in-joke ever. I've been invited back for the final of the book club series but I'm thinking maybe I should just right all my answers out on index cards to flash at the camera to be read by someone else instead. Might be better for everyone...
PS The book’s author also wrote a short story called The Egg. Enjoy!