The Wachowskis take us out of this world.
By Sarah Jayne Alexander.
From the streets of Chicago to far flung galaxies whirling through space, Jupiter Ascending is the new sci-fi blockbuster from the Wachowskis (The Matrix Trilogy) who both wrote and directed. Aside from boasting an impressive all-star, A-list cast – including man of the moment & Oscar nominee Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything) – the film was produced by two-time Oscar nominee Grant Hill (The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line), together with Lana and Andy Wachowski, and co-producing team Roberto Malerba and Bruce Berman both serving as executive producers. The film was originally slated for a worldwide release in July 2014 but, as the VFX team and the Watchowskis discovered, carrying a film with over 2,500 visual effect shots is no mean feat, and was put back until February 2015, where it emerges fully visualised and polished to a high shine. With a colossal vision to realise, collaboration started early, with Production Designer, Hugh Bateup, and Visual Effects Supervisor, Dan Glass, engaged in tandem from the film’s conception. “Figuring out the best split to achieve the end result took time,” says Glass. “There were obvious situations where a vast environment was required that couldn’t be built, but the directors tried to ground parts of each world in physical reality.”
“Science fiction is a particular challenge.” says Bateup. “There’s a wealth of design potential in this genre, especially with the Wachowskis involved. As big sci-fi fans themselves, they have an awareness and respect for the work that precedes them, and they want to create something people have not seen before.”
And the Watchowskis know a thing or two about creating worlds and visuals which set benchmarks for all who follow. Being at the helm of one of the most successful and cult status franchises to date, The Matrix Trilogy, it is Lana & Andy Wachowski who are responsible for introducing the ‘Bullet Time’ technique (a visual impression of detaching time and space from that of its visible subject), one that’s been adopted in many a film since. “Design and aesthetics have always been the essential elements that lead to our decision to undertake any project, and this was especially true for ‘Jupiter.’” says Lana Wachowski. “We really wanted to capture all the incredible beauty and detail that is in our world and reflect it back onto the screen so in pursuit of the grit and grime we see-which is quite hard to achieve in a set or through CGI and something science fiction shies away from, we actually shot much more on location than anyone would guess for a movie that is set mostly in outer space.”
The story begins in modern day Chicago with Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a seemingly ordinary house cleaner, living an ordinary life who can never seems to be able to break her string of bad luck. She dreams of the stars, unknowing that they have already determined that her ‘genetic signature’ will one day put her next-in-line for an extraordinary inheritance, one which could alter the balance of the cosmos. Jupiter Jones is what is known as a ‘recurrence’ – something that may only occur once every century, or even longer. Her unique genetic profile has been identified as a match for a woman who, before her mysterious death, controlled one of the most dominant ruling families in the universe making Jupiter, despite her humble upbringing, the beneficiary of unfathomable wealth and the pivotal figure in a monumental power struggle. The remaining Abrasax family heirs – Balem, Titus, and Kalique Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, and Tuppence Middleton) – represent a culture so advanced that they now view the human population on Earth as no more than livestock, a cash crop they can cultivate for their own purposes. Jupiter is not their only target either; they have each embarked on a self-serving mission to eliminate the other two sibling’s in-line in order to rise up through the natural order to become overlord (or lady) of the universe – no matter the cost.
Though human, the Abrasax have a culture far more ancient than mankind’s brief tenure on Earth and consider themselves so vastly superior in the evolutionary process that they retain only the merest echo of their common ancestry. When Seraphi Abrasax died, following nearly 100,000 years as the family’s ageless sovereign, her vast planetary holdings and industrial concerns, including the Earth, passed to her estranged and competitive progeny: Balem, the eldest; his sister, Kalique, and Titus, their younger brother. Their own sibling rivalry aside, their discovering Jupiter, whose genome makes her essentially the legal proxy of Seraphi herself and supersedes all other claims, escalates their jealousy to unfathomable levels.
“Balem is a really damaged, evil person who seems completely unstable at the beginning of the film and only gets worse,” says Eddie Redmayne of his character. Sister Kalique prefers advising and befriending this newfound member of the family. Tuppence Middleton, who stars as the middle heir, believes Kalique is very much intrigued by Jupiter, who bears such a resemblance to her mother. “I think she wants to find out as much as she can about her and how much of a threat she might be to their power, so that she’ll know how to play her game right.” That leaves the youngest, Titus Abrasax, played by Douglas Booth, to take the most inventive approach. While giving the impression of a charming and spoiled playboy with an admittedly cavalier relationship to the truth, Titus’ devotion to his own comfort and hedonistic pursuits belie a fierce ambition and a mind every bit as calculating as Balem’s. “My character doesn’t want his brother or sister to have the Earth, which, among their other planetary holdings, is kind of the jewel in the crown and has a big market value,” says Booth. “Jupiter’s appearance will decrease Balem’s position in the market and reduce his yield, and that’s good for Titus.”
Enter Channing Tatum as Caine Wise – a genetically modified human-wolf warrior – a professional tracker sent to Earth by one of siblings to capture Jupiter once her gene print and heritage are verified. Caine doesn’t know the reason for his mission, but becomes increasingly aware of who she really is and what is at stake if the people who want her neutralized are successful. “He is trying to figure out why all of this is happening”, says Tatum, “and has to make a decision whether to protect her or give her up.”
“When we first started talking about Jupiter as a character, we thought a lot about Dorothy from Oz”, says Lana Wachowski. “We wanted to tell a story of a mad, impossible journey that leads her as far away as anyone could ever go, only to return to her own sense of ‘home,’ and the realization of what is important to her. I read The Odyssey over Thanksgiving at my parents’ house and then we watched ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and I was struck by the similarities of these two stories”. She adds: “Also, I was reading a book around the same time about wolves and it explained that wolves hunt in packs, and that the wolves that get exiled from that pack almost always die. To survive, they must become these super hunters and we knew that we had to have those qualities in Caine somehow”
The film also stars the formidable Sean Bean as Legion Commander Stinger Apini, a fellow ‘splice’ and former friend of Caine. He says: “Stinger and Caine have a rich, long history. Both brave, strong guys, they fought together and developed a mutual respect. Stinger was a mentor and father figure to Caine, and saw him as something of a son, a younger man who reminded him of what he once was.” His genetic mutation is not that of a wolf but with that of a highly evolved bee species, providing not only his name ‘Stinger’, but cerebral and methodical abilities along with a super-awareness of atmospheric change. Exiled to earth after being court martialled and demoted, Stinger is found manning a remote outpost on a Midwestern farm surrounded by corn fields and colonies of bees. “He doesn’t expect things to change until Caine turns up and creates all sorts of problems and interesting possibilities again.”
Jupiter Ascending is on general release in UK Cinemas from Friday 6th February, 2015