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Jupiter Ascending: Solid Dolby Atmos Effects in a Bad Movie

With each Atmos viewing, I continue being impressed with how immersive this new format is. Today I listen to Jupiter Ascending, the Wachoswki, umm, no-longer-brothers follow-up to the disappointing but mind-bending graphics and colors of Speed Racer, which was the follow-up to the mostly amazing Matrix-trilogy.

Dolby Atmos Blu-ray discs continue rolling out, bringing the number of available titles to 11: Transformers: Age of Extinction, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Step Up All In, The Expendables 3, John Wick, On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Unbroken, Gravity, American Sniper, Jupiter Ascending (reviewed below), and The Gunman (review coming). (Click on the links for my disc reviews.)

With each Atmos viewing (except for American Sniper which seemed to have a profound disdain for sending any audio to the ceiling speakers), I continue being impressed with how immersive this new format is. Today I listen to Jupiter Ascending, the Wachoswki, umm, no-longer-brothers follow-up to the disappointing but mind-bending graphics and colors of Speed Racer, which was the follow-up to the mostly amazing Matrix-trilogy.

**Warning: Spoilers Ahead…

Jupiter features a big budget, big stars, and big effects, but unfortunately this combination results in a big mess of a movie. The entire film seems to be an excuse for the Wachowskis to make a bunch of random alien beings with lots of elaborate sets that they can blow up and destroy. Ultimately the film has a secondary story line similar to the Matrix with humankind being in the dark as to the real truth of the universe, except instead of being batteries for the machines, humans are grown and then harvested for intergalactic youth serum. It’s the kind of movie you watch once, and then kind of forget about. Except for me, who watched it three times for this review. (You’re welcome!) Fortunately, the disc does contain some decent audio and at least one terrific showroom-worthy demo scene.

Chapter 1:
At two minutes in, after we find out the baby will be named Jupiter, the peace and calm of the cozy scene are shattered by a door splintering open and Russian thugs bursting in and turning the room upside down looking for money. A big gunshot kills Jupiter’s father and ends the scene, cutting to a boat where Jupiter is born with the creaking and groaning of ship sounds moaning convincingly in the overhead speakers.

As you tour through a harvested planet, there is a lot of wind swirling around in the overheads, and near the six-minute mark Lord Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), who speaks with an accent as if his every word is just intolerably exhausting and a massive condescending effort, transports in via a nice swirl of sound that travels from the right side of the room toward the front.

At the eight-minute mark, Jupiter (Mila Kunis) awakens in her bedroom, and there are some city atmosphere sounds in the ceiling speakers doing a nice job of setting the acoustic space.

Chapter 2:
There is more city ambience in this scene, like trains clattering and distant sirens in the overhead speakers as we watch Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) walking into the city. He uses something to open a portal in the clinic door and it makes a swirl sound up into the ceiling. Inside he looks into a file and takes a big sniff of Jupiter’s lingering scent that wafts up into the ceiling speakers.

At 11 minutes in, we get our first big battle. Unfortunately, most of the audio is centered in the front of the room, save the big musical score that is mixed heavy into the surround and ceiling speakers. The scene finishes with Caine zooming away on his anti-gravity, rocket boots along the left side of the room.

At just before the 13-minute mark Balem’s spaceship materializes/de-cloaks and delivers a really nice effect as it pulses through the front of the room through all speakers and overhead to the back. Again, huge musical score just crushing out of the ceiling speakers that really fills the room with audio.

Chapter 3:
The next major battle occurs at the 20-minute mark as Jupiter is in a clinic to have her eggs harvested. We have Caine zooming around the room battling the alien soul-stealing Keepers with some big gunshot blasts. Again, there’s hardly any “action” audio up in the ceiling, short of some music.

At 21 minutes, we cut to Titus’ Zero-G orgy room—I mean, if you have a Zero-G room you basically have to use it for freaky space orgies amIright?! – and there are the sounds of girls moaning and cooing swirling around the room and overhead matching the gravity-free loving that is happening on screen.

At 26 minutes, we get the best demo scene in the entire film. It lasts a little over five minutes, making it absolutely terrific demo room fodder, short of an “Oh sh–!” bit of profanity at the very beginning that makes it less family friendly. The entire scene really demonstrates the swirling and object tracking of Atmos, with all the floor and ceiling speakers fully engaged throughout. It begins with Caine and Jupiter ascending outside the Sears Tower, where ships suddenly materialize overhead. The scene kicks into high gear when Caine’s ship is blown up overhead, causing lots of debris to rain down on the pair. They take off in Caine’s gravity boots and are chased around the tower by multiple alien ships, with lots of swirling audio overhead and around the room with really aggressive pans and tracking and things blowing up off to the side, overhead, and in back. Caine hijacks a ship and heads into the water, with the aliens in pursuit plunging in and out of water, with audio constantly rocking overhead and crisscrossing around the room, all amidst a constant backdrop of laser fire and explosions. Sonically, this is probably one of the best Dolby Atmos demo clips from a movie yet.

Chapter 4:
At the near 36-minute mark, Caine and Jupiter visit the country farm of Stinger (Sean Bean), and we have a constant swarm of bees buzzing all around the room and overhead. As the bees respond to Jupiter’s arm waving, a wall of bees sonically moves back and forth. Throughout the rest of the scene you can hear the sound of individual bees overhead in the kitchen moving about the room.

Chapter 5:
Throughout the kitchen dialog scene, there are outdoor sounds like birds chirping and insects quietly buzzing in the overheads. At near 46 minutes, the alien trackers move toward Stinger’s farm, and the outdoor sounds pick up in volume. As they travel through corn stalks, we get the rustling of corn around the room. As they approach the house, the bees start up again, buzzing around in expectation, and then they attack the house at near 47 minutes, with massive laser blasts and big thumping explosions. The audio from the big cannon blast does a nice shockwave of traveling through the room. At one point Jupiter’s horde of bees attack an alien, creating a big overhead buzz. The scene ends at the 49-minute mark as a spaceship with Jupiter aboard whisks up and away, offering the Wachowskis explanation for all those mysterious crop circles.

Chapter 6:
The spaceship cruises into a planet that is like a red-looking earth/Saturn and flies into a city that reminded me of Coruscant from Star Wars Episode I. In fact, much of this film feels ripped off from other things. At the 51-minute mark, Jupiter wakes up while floating in some sleep chamber thing and we hear Sendi, a kind of alien Siri, speaking to Jupiter from the ceiling speakers. Dialog is fairly uncommon coming from the ceiling speakers, but it works well in this scene.

At 54 minutes, when Kalique slips into the rejuvenating bath, there are lots of electrical and Jacob’s ladder type sounds that arc through the overhead speakers.

Chapter 7:
As we cut to Balem’s ship and then at 1:07 with the dialog between Jupiter and Caine, there are a lot of rich ambient sounds around the room and overheads. At 59 minutes, there is an unnecessarily complicated torture machine—I mean, how many drills, screws, and choppy things do you need?—that has metallic squeals and whirrs out of the ceiling speakers as it approaches its victim.

Chapter 8:
It’s people! Soylent Green! Is made out of people! I mean, Abrasax comes from people! Earth is just a farm! At around the 1:17 mark, as Caine is down in his prison hole, you hear footsteps walking overhead, providing a perfect use of the ceiling speakers to mirror what is happening on screen.

At 1:18, Caine is ejected into space amidst a huge blast of air venting out of the airlock—and somehow surviving the vacuum of deep space despite being in just a skintight leather outfit—and manages to encapsulate himself in a spacesuit pod thing. There are interesting effects that swirl and zip around the room as the suit forms around him and then computer announcements from overhead announcing his remaining airtime. Also, he only has 37 minutes of air remaining, but, you know, don’t sweat it…

Chapter 9:
At near 1:20 as the Russian family is squabbling about Jupiter selling her eggs, the aliens bust through the ceiling with a lot of rumbling and clanging and debris smashing from the side walls and overhead. The alien, Greeghan, lands in the kitchen with his voice growling ominously around the room, and his growls and voice mixed heavily into the ceiling speakers.

Cutting back to Caine in space—OH, CRAP! HE HAS ZERO MINUTES OF AIR REMAINING! WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN?!?—the computer’s warnings slowly drift out of the overhead channels as he slips into unconsciousness.

At 1:25, we start in with a big space battle with Warhammers flying up the left side of the room. This cuts back and forth between the space wedding of Jupiter and Titus while a big musical score pumps massively from the side and overhead channels. The space battle is full of bombast and ships exploding and metallic clinks and clanks all around the room and overhead with tons of LFE information that will give any subwoofer a real workout.

Chapter 10:
The chapter opens with a ship reappearing from a portal jump in a nice wave of sound that travels from the right side of the room overhead to the left. At 1:32 the Aegis comes out of space travel crashing into a wall of clouds and electricity causing the ship to take evasive maneuvers, producing sirens and mechanical groaning, electrical and lightning strike noises all around the room and from the ceiling.

At 1:34, Balem makes a big speech to Jupiter with his voice echoing off the large cavernous throne room space that they are in.

Chapter 11:
At 1:38, Caine drops out of the Aegis in a spaceship that blasts through the room. As his ship enters the “hurricane shield,” there are all kinds of ship breaking up and lightning sounds around the room, and the ship crashes and bounces off and rolls down things on the planet. At 1:41, when the “grav-hull” is ruptured, there are lots of nice crumping and breaking-up sounds overhead and around the room as gas explosions go off, sounding a good bit like overhead thunder. This is followed by another big Caine gravity boot flying alien battle where he zips and flies around the room.

Chapter 12:
This entire chapter is a lengthy chase, escape, and battle scene while things collapse and explode on screen. The scene cuts back and forth between Caine fighting the flying lizard monster all around the burning city and Jupiter and Balem falling and fighting down a refinery reactor core that reminded me of the second Death Star. There is a ton of audio activity from all the speakers and overhead, with Atmos doing its darndest to keep track of it all. Truthfully, however, there is just so much on-screen mayhem and cacophony that you just get numb to it after a while. EXPLOSION! KA-BOOM! DESTRUCTION! KA-POW! FIRE! BUILDING COLLAPSE! The scene ends with Caine and Jupiter gravity boot skating up from the rubble of the planet through burning fire and collapsing debris back to the Aegis spaceship. However, if you are looking for a massive, over-the-top, tons of action and explosions demo to show off that all your speakers are working, this is the scene for you.

Chapter 13:
We cut back to Earth and return to Jupiter cleaning toilets, cause…that’s funny? She goes up to the roof to meet Caine who now has giant wings that she appears to find sexy for some reason. We do get some wind swirling sounds from on the top of the building, before Jupiter and Caine jump off and start flying around the city skyline. Jupiter is now wearing grav boots and whooshes by the right side of the room and the film mercifully ends.