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Simon Read [Celluloid 10.26.09] movie review script scifi romance

[Editor's note: You can see our first piece on this film from back in February, and also watch an incredible short Juan Solanas did.]

Upside Down is a project currently sitting in pre-production, due to be helmed by Argentinean director Juan Diego Solanas and to star Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess.

A quick glance at IMDb and we have an intriguing premise. Set on another world which consists of two huge planets that sit one on top of the other, they are attached by an enormous tower called Transworld, which allows for limited contact between the two races of humans that live on each planet, and watch each other by literally looking ‘up’ to see their neighbours.

The script begins with a narrator explaining the evolution of this bizarre people; from cavemen on each world seeing each other for the first time, to Greek–like philosophers and scientists communicating by drawing equations in fields and, eventually Roman-type emperors forming the technology to trade with the other planet. It soon becomes clear that the ‘Top’ world is far more advanced than the ‘Below’, and while they may have the know-how, only the Below people have access to the natural resources, especially oil, that the Tops need to create the technology and to maintain it. Soon the worlds are at war, but eventually a truce is made and they fall into an uneasy relationship in which oil is traded for the secrets of electricity, and the Transworld Tower and Two Worlds Center are built.

We first meet with Adam (Sturgess), a Below resident who’s also an inventor and spends his days hanging out with friends Albert and Pablo who run an electrical repairs shop on the Below planet. Their life is fairly grim, fixing old mixers and getting beers at the local bar after hours. It’s here that Adam sees The Lottery on television, a show in which people from their world are offered the chance to live Up Top, in relative luxury and safety. Adam sees the girl announcing the winner and realises it’s his childhood sweetheart, an Up Top called Eve (Dunst). We’re then given a flashback of how they met one day when Adam was climbing trees at his aunt’s cabin in the forest and saw Eve up in the sky, running from her abusive father. He reaches out to her and it’s love at first sight, but Eve’s father, and his mustachioed business partner, Lagabullin, don’t want her corrupted by a lowly Below like Adam, and separate them as best they can. Eve falls into a coma and wakes with amnesia, forgetting the love she felt for Adam…

Now back in the ‘present’, Adam has spotted her on television and he becomes determined to find her again and rekindle their love, taking a job at the Transworld Patents and Inventions Department. His plan is to sell-out his greatest invention, a skin cream that really works, while searching the Esher-like world of his new surrounds inside this corporation, desperately looking for Eve.

Upside Down reads extremely well, with the vast descriptive passages about the design of Transworld a joy to picture. Imagine walking into an office and looking up to see another office, upside down, with tables seemingly glued to the ceiling and people walking around occasionally looking ‘up’ at you. Escher indeed!

It seems the gravity on each planet is determined by where each object and person originates. If you’re a Below who travels to Up Top, your own personal gravity is still relative to your own world, so you’ll be walking on their ceilings, and vice versa. It’s only in the connecting tower’s floor zero (it stretches from floor -157 to +173) that the gravity becomes fluid and there’s the weird office where Adam begins work. He’s on the Below side of things, where the workers wear drab grey uniforms and act as clerks and dogs-bodies to the Up Tops on the ceiling, who wear expensive suits and make important decisions. Adam’s literal opposite is a friendly Up Top called Bob Boruchowitz, a programmer who’s been with Transworld most of his long years and warms to the young man, especially when offered a few stamps from his collection in return for some borrowed equipment that Adam can use to access the Up Top world and defy gravity by using powerful inverse matter rods that will allow him to walk, somewhat, normally in their world, and to find Eve.

This film, if done well, will look simply astonishing. The script has numerous scenes of the characters calmly observing their two worlds, whether from the opulent surrounds of Up Top, or the grimy poverty and depression of Down Below, we’re going to get a visual feast. I can’t wait to see what the director and production department, special effects crew and model makers come-up with.

The descriptions of the Below world evoke a communist-era East Berlin, with bombed out building sites, crumbling masonry and an air of despair among the denizens. The writers set-out immediately to establish this, with Adam walking the streets and observing the depression:

Adam comes out of the building and steps onto the still-soaked street. It’s a strange city, impossible to pin down. Remnants of bombings evoke post-WWII Vienna or Budapest before the wall came down. Like Havana, half the buildings are in ruins and there aren’t many cars, only a few people riding bikes. The inhabitants are poorly dressed and, as in most of the Third World, the streets are teeming with KIDS. One group of kids clusters around Adam, shouting:

Hey Adam! Make us a plane! Come on!

Before we’re even in on the mirror world plot, Adam’s wonderings show it to us, and the narrator begins his explanation of this fantastic place:

Adam comes out of the bar, takes a few steps then stops and looks up at the sky: no more than a few hundred yards above his poor half-destroyed city looms another city “mirroring” it: modern, gigantic, magnificent, centered around the imposing Transworld Tower uniting the two worlds. Behind Adam, the two cities end where two oceans face one another...

Well then. I understand your surprise and I must kindly beg your pardon. This all certainly does warrant some explanation. Let’s start once more from the beginning...


It’s so easy and fun to visualize this stuff, Upside Down takes an utterly unique visual concept and lays it out for the reader perfectly. If this translates onto the screen, the result will be incredible:

Two magnificent river-lined valleys mirror each other, flanked by mountains on both sides. Further away, two oceans face off in the same manner.

Since the very dawn of time, our two planets have been joined like identical
twins. Inextricable, they orbit together around the same sun. Certainly one of the most remarkable aspects of this system is its double gravity. All matter obeys the gravity of its origin world, and never the other...

The narrator goes on to describe how a person can ‘jump’ from one world to the next, with either the primitive method described below, or, as the story continues, with scientific gadgets later on in the film:

They soon came to realize that by combining materials from their two worlds, they could offset an object’s weight to make it lighter, or even levitate.

A man climbs onto a rock from the opposite world that three other men are holding down with great effort. They finally let go. The man balancing on the rock gradually empties a sandbag until he begins to float up. Both sides are euphoric at the results. Ten feet off the ground, amid all the excitement, the man loses his balance and falls. Without any counterweight, the rock also “falls” inexorably toward its own world, where it crushes someone.

In contrast to Adam, Eve’s world is one of limitless opulence, where the population live sheltered lives, ironically unaware of how much the government, or at least the Transworld Corporation, is controlling their life. Much is made of the security forces and, as Adam sneaks about Up Top, the paranoia rife in this world:

Both up top and down below, the forest around the Sage Mountains has become a militarized zone: the old barbed-wire fences have now been replaced by nine-foot barricades overlooked by watchtowers. Adam rides up on his bike, then turns away in defeat

And again when Adam starts his new job at Transworld, we begin to understand the kind of society with which he is rubbing shoulders:

The ultramodern Transworld Tower straddles the two city centers, a spectacular sight to behold. Jets at the midpoint continuously water the convergence of the two halves in order to keep the building cool. A constant drizzle hangs around the building, combining with steam clouds and sunlight to produce a strange play of light.

Adam gazes up at the huge skyscraper looming before him. He takes a deep breath, crosses the perimeter controlling access to the building and merges with the crowd of employees heading in.

A vast hall with a column of checkpoints and semi-transparent security hatches behind them, each containing hundreds of scales. Employees are taking off their clothes in front of SECURITY GUARDS, before continuing on their way in identical grey work uniforms. Adam comes up to one security guard and hands him his papers.


Yes, it’s the first time I...

What floor?


These are the best parts of the script, the image is crystal clear and, while it may sounds like we’ve been in this film already (choose your title: Escape From New York? Freejack? Fortress? Babylon AD?) I believe that the right artists could create something suitably awesome, and hopefully unusual. The writers are clearly highlighting the struggle each world faces, poverty for Down Below and outright fascism for Up Top.

The characters however, are pure Hollywood. I read the script and thought it somewhat safe, for an outlandish sci-fi, then I saw that Dunst and Sturgess were on board and thought, “Ahh, I see…” This will be another big budget sci-fi that, from what I read, will play for big screen audiences and have no swear-words. After reading the first few pages I was hoping for another Brazil or Twelve Monkeys, but it soon becomes clear that this will be more in the vein of The Island or Equilibrium. The dialogue simply isn’t realistic, funny or even quirky or alien; it’s just predictable and flat. Visually things sounds great though, here’s what happens when Adam first displays just how effective his skin cream, ‘Gravity’ is:

The woman boasts a pinup’s figure, with very prominent breasts and a perfectly rounded rump. Her face however reveals her to be a 60-year-old woman! Executives applaud, the room practically erupting in a frenzy. Stunt begins chatting with a group of thrilled marketing executives. The presentation is an unqualified hit. Stunt waves to everyone, then gestures for Adam to step forward. The applause doubles in intensity.


How long before we can begin marketing?

In a few weeks we’ll start clinical trials up top…

There is some attempt at an allegorical storyline in which the oppressed Below world represents Latin America and Up Top is clearly North America, the script even mentions apartheid South Africa and (weirdly) ‘England’. This is lost towards the end as our sub-plot about Pablo’s twin brother, who escaped Up Top years ago, is mentioned only twice. Albert too has little to do except offer sympathy to Adam, and in the end it’s Boruchowitz, the eccentric Jewish inventor who saves the day. Sure, the world is basically fine by the end, but it took True Love and All American Gusto, instead of the revolt of the unjustly persecuted I’d hoped for (and honestly expected!).

It’s truly impossible to judge a script fully without seeing the end product, but a script that initially titillated soon gave way to clichéd characters, Lagabullin chief among them, and soppy reoccurring visual techniques (Adam is a whiz at making paper planes fly for the local street kids).

I’m still looking forward to seeing this made real, some of the action sounds spectacular and even simple things like Adam’s first steps into the Top world sound like a treat:

As Adam strolls, looking around wide-eyed at all the new sights, a PASSERBY asks for the time. Adam glances at his watch: it droops upward, the wristband too large. He adjusts it briskly with his other hand as if to get a better look.

Half past noon.

Thanks, have a good one...

Luckily the passerby didn’t notice anything. Relieved, Adam continues on his way. A car speeds right past. Adam leaps back, startled. The street is jammed with cars. Adam takes them all in, amazed. He checks his map and turns down a busy shopping street, marveling at all the luxurious boutiques. Every new angle and shop window reveals the height of opulence. Adam suddenly notices the dismayed looks he’s getting from everyone around him: he doesn’t fit in. Adam
quickens his pace.

So, what’s left to say? There are a few glaring errors in logic to address. Planets turn on their axis, so any joining tower would simply be torn to pieces by the orbit (although to be fair, in a story this fantastical, I can’t really gripe about this). Any object traded from one planet to the other becomes untouchably hot after an hour (!) of contact with the opposite world, so how the hell to they trade oil without it bursting into flames? So much of the story goes unexplained. What was ‘the war’ about? What’s it like on the other sides of these two planets? Do the inhabitants there even know about the existence of the opposite world?

Having only ever reviewed one other script (Romero’s original Day of the Dead, that’s right), this one was a joy to read and to mentally picture, I just doubt the film itself will be as much fun, after all, what we can picture in our heads rarely manages to get matched on celluloid. It will take an amazing director with a steady hand, and an incredible cast with chemistry to transcend the, at best, basic dialogue, not to mention a top-notch crew to realize this script properly, and to make it worthy of ‘visual masterpiece’. Start placing bets!

We find Eve’s face, an adult now, bathed in golden shadows. Her beauty is striking and endearing. An old, slightly out of tune piano starts playing a gentle, mournful tango. Eve holds a glass upside down, a liquid floating against its inner surface. She brings the rim of the glass to her lips and drinks the liquor, “bottoms up.” A wider angle reveals other tables around her and an impressive window looking out over the two cities... A man comes up and offers Eve an inviting hand. She looks him over, then takes his hand and stands. It’s an old theater converted into a dance hall, with a bar area set up on the ceiling, the floor for those up top. An enormous chandelier “hangs” from the center. Since the ceiling is forty feet high, contact between the two worlds is limited to sharing the same music. Halfway up along all four walls, a yard-wide vent circles the room. Couples are dancing all around them, with the tango orchestra playing down below. Other instruments have now joined the piano. Eve and the man start dancing among the couples. Her tango style is strikingly intense and emotional. She’s a phenomenal dancer. But the man isn’t to be outdone: their dance gradually grows more and more passionate, turning into a seduction.The tango ends and Eve withdraws alone toward the window, her figure silhouetted against the light...

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Fantasy Girl (13 years ago) Reply

The descriptions and visuals sound amazing...too bad the dialog doesn't live up. Don't count out Jim Sturgess, he's an amazing actor, able to communicate meaning and emotion with just a look. He's much more than Across the Universe & 21 --- go see Fifty Dead Men Walking if possible, his best work to date. He'll blow you away.


Anonymous (13 years ago) Reply

Fantastic review. I would love to see this film. Sounds totally original.


Lenman (13 years ago) Reply

Sounds cool. I'm not a big Dunst fan. Hopefully she won't be too bad. I agree with above at least it's orginal, not a remake or a graphic novel.


Anonymous (13 years ago) Reply

What genre would the film be considered? Sci-fi/action/romance/drama?

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