Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Anomaly of Enjoying Jupiter Ascendant

George Lucas has famously said that movies are binary: they either work for you or they don't. If they do, then you ignore any little flaw. But if they do not, then every flaw or potential flaw is noticed and used against it. I do not know if Mr. Lucas was original in this observation, I doubt it, but ever since I read that I have noticed that he seems to be correct. All movies have flaws of course, but when you are caught up in a film, one is happy to ignore the problems and issues that in other circumstances would be seen as deadly.

The question then becomes, what leads a member of the audience to lean one way or the other? From acceptance and enjoyment to rejection and boredom or worse? One aspect of this choice may be what is called the “cockroach in the salad” effect. Lets say you are eating out at a fancy restaurant and you have ordered a salad and when it arrives the first thing you see is a disgusting cockroach on top wiggling its antennae at you. You call the waiter over and he removes the offending cockroach and salad but the damage has already been done. It will be hard to get beyond that terrible first impression. On the other hand, let us say you are at a restaurant and see nothing that you particularly want, but you order something and to your amazement, it is really good. From that point on, everything works for you.

So my argument here is that the basis of cultivating a positive impression of a creative work is a mashup of “first impressions” with “low expectations”. If you did not expect much, then getting something really good is likely to push you over the edge to a positive impression. And vice versa. Until you get that push, whether positive or negative, then you are in a state of uncertainty. Is this film any good or not?  

I don't have any other way of explaining the apparent anomaly of enjoying “Jupiter Ascendant” (JA) a film I was born to hate. What could have caused this odd reversal of expectations such that I actually enjoyed watching this film? Can Science explain this or must it always remain a mystery?

Consider the following:

First, we have a dinner sequence in which our plain jane heroine introduces us to her Russian extended family in America. Its actually very funny. You mean the Wachowski brothers actually have a sense of humor? How would we have known?

 Jupiter's sister before and after a special bath.  Ah, refreshing !

Second, we have a classic theme in fantasy fiction, the “person of noble birth who does not realize that she is of royal blood and possibly the heir to the throne”. In this sub-genre, the kids are separated from the adults by the manner in which it is revealed that our average neighborhood girl is actually “her majesty”. In JA this is actually done quite well and unexpectedly. A fight sequence between two alpha males upsets a hive or three of bees which scares the shit out of our female lead, but no need to worry, the bees have been genetically programmed to treat “royals” differently and so our two fighting alpha males break off their sparring to recognize that something quite odd has happened. The babe has been revealed as a member of a royal family of some sort.

Bees show the way

Third, after our plain jane babe has had her butt saved by our hero, she tries to encourage him to ignore her royal birth and kiss her. He refuses, revealing that he is not really a man, but closer to a dog, or a wolf. She comes back with a splendidly stupid response: she has always gotten along well with dogs. Its does not persuade. This is funny.   It occurs to me that in certain ways this incident is itself a flaw in the movie. If our hero was really descended from a dog, then he would have no trouble taking advantage of the situation.  But I digress.

Fourth, the sequence with the candles and certain aspects of the wedding sequence are lush and clearly represent the director's desire to have a big wedding one day.

Fifth, the two brothers of this royal family are monumentally fucked up.   Parents, take note, do not name your child "Titus", it never seems to work out.

What a creepy asshole this guy is.

But most of all, who could not like a movie where the lead babe keeps having to remind people that "I am not your damn mother"?

So what we have here is an overdone, weird movie in the same genre of, for example, the original Dune novel: a space opera with exotic economies, insane royal familes and fight scenes between things bred to be good at fighting.

Overblown, a misfire, there is no doubt that it is a miscalculation on a galactic scale, truly a stupid movie.

Nevertheless, as a 12 year old, emotionally and psychologically, I found it often to be an entertaining movie and was willing to overlook its tragic flaws.   I also have a tendency to hunt and peck at my movies.  I am not bound, like so many are, to watch a film from beginning to end.  I prefer to "sample", sometimes with the sound off, in order to better appreciate its higher values.   When properly used, this technique can improve most movies.


It did not hurt that the uber-schmuck, John Gaeta, was somehow deposed from his role as visual effects supervisor on this semi-epic. I shudder to think what manner of ego-swine must have replaced him/it. I am sure that Mr. Gaeta will enjoy a new career in the food service industry or some other profession worthy of his talents.

No comments:

Post a Comment