Fairy Tales Retold: “Jupiter Ascending” and the New Cinderella

This month’s Geek Exploration features a couple of retold fairy tale movies: one in theaters now, and one coming to theaters soon.

My two favorite genres of speculative fiction are fairy tales and urban fantasy. Space opera (like Star Wars and Babylon 5) comes in a close third. So when a movie like Jupiter Ascending comes along and promises to have a mixture of Star Wars and The Matrix with loose overtones of Snow White, it automatically joins the short list of movies I need to see in theaters.

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under signs that predicted future greatness, but her reality as a woman consists of cleaning other people’s houses and endless bad breaks. Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered hunter, arrives on Earth to locate her, making Jupiter finally aware of the great destiny that awaits her: Jupiter’s genetic signature marks her as the next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.

Understand right away that this is a secular speculative fiction movie, so there is no mention of God, much mention of the idea that humans are seeded from a powerful intergalactic corporation, and the rating is PG-13 (for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity).

That being said, this is a gorgeous movie. The costumes are beautiful,

the spaceships are intricate, delicately whorled creations,

and the alien prostheses are first-rate.

The plot is another story. While the idea is ripe with possibilities and the cast is fantastic, Jupiter Ascending tries to do too much and doesn’t succeed at much of anything. It doesn’t have enough action to satisfy an action-movie fan, the plot is too shallow for a truly melodramatic space opera, and there aren’t nearly enough zingers for a campy space adventure. In a lot of places, the film was clearly the victim of poorly rewritten scenes that were meant to make the story more accessible, and instead just made the sequence of events feel more disconnected.

For all that, I really enjoyed it and would say to give it a shot, if you like space operas.

Why? Because it tried.

In a day and age when everything is about sequels (Taken 3, Fast and Furious – Whatever Number) or reboots of franchises (Star Trek, Star Wars, Spider-Man, Superman), I admire this movie because it went big, it went for breathtaking world-building, and it tried to show audiences something new–new races, new concepts, new heroes and villains. No built-in fan base to support it, just imagination and a lot of marketing dollars that won’t be recouped. In the world of speculative media, the only place you see a lot of innovation like that is in young adult fiction. As Brent Lang of Variety said in a recent article:

“Jupiter Ascending” may have crashed and burned, but at least it tried to soar on the strength of its own originality and daring. Its failure makes it harder for other filmmakers to get a chance to take similar risks. In this climate, would “The Matrix” ever have gotten made?

What do you think?

______________________

Speaking of reboots and fairy tales, there is a new Cinderella movie on it’s way to a theater near you. While this movie is the opposite of Jupiter Ascending, in that it’s Disney and will likely make massive amounts of dollars on merchandising alone, it does look likable and fun and pretty. Have a look at the newest trailer:

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