Columbia 116Minutes PG-13
Is this an Adam & Eve story, a sci-fi thriller, a romance or a morality play? The script asks all these question but answers none of them. This film should have been a much grander trip than what we got on screen. A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.
Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and Writer Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Dr. Strange) end up taking the easy way out by staging one big action sequence fighting for survival, seeing if love will conquer all and having the film end rather abruptly.
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are Jim Preston and Aurora Lane. Jim and Aurora are on their way to Homestead II, a new planet they, along with the other 5,000 souls traveling on the space cruiser,The Avalon. They are going to start new lives. They wake years early.
The first section of the movie is intriguing. Jim is the first to awaken and he spends an entire year alone. His only interactions are with holograms and robots like Arthur (Michael Sheen) who is his friendly bartender, zipping back and forth on spring-like legs and dispensing deadpan pre-programmed jokes and conventional bartender wisdom.
Jim is an engineer desperately trying to find a way back into hibernation. When he can’t, his descent into deeper and deeper despair is believable and heart wrenching. He tries to deal with his situation by trying to live as normal as possible trying food, exercise, learning about the space ship and finally giving in to alcohol before considering suicide. Pratt shows emotional range. He’s very human.
The dynamic changes when Aurora comes on the scene and the arc of the story becomes as predictable as a Stephen Curry 3 point shot. Aurora is a New York journalist thrust into the most incomprehensible situation she could ever imagine; stranded on an island with one person. The unfolding love story gives the chemistry between these two the chance to grow and their lighter moments together on screen are some of the best in the film. Jennifer Lawrence is a full fledged movie star and the make-up and wardrobe take full advantage of not letting us forget that. She has thousands of sleeping passengers’ wardrobes to draw from and they’re all her size. She says she’s become not a good shopper but a good shoplifter.
The other “star” in this film is the conceptualization of the space ship and space itself. The set design by Guy Hendrix Dyas is both futuristic and spare. From the hibernation pod rooms to the beautifully decorated living quarters and common areas, the contrast between this look into the future combines with recognizable environments. We’re taking our home to a new planet. The stairs flow upstairs in the suites to the bedroom area. There is great depth in the common areas showing how large the space is.
The views outside the ship are just as interesting, especially one imagining of what it might look like to sling-shot around a star. We also learn what might happen to you if your swimming pool suddenly loses gravity. Don’t say you weren’t warned. That visual is extraordinary.
JohnSpaihts has a degree in Physics and they built a pool in the parking lot outside of the soundstage in Georgia. They used data they got from research gathered at the International Space Station to see how water moved in zero gravity. That scene will take your breath away.
The promising first half of Passengers doesn’t deliver as satisfying a conclusion. Tyldum drove the plot into a corner he can’t escape without solutions that we all saw coming after the first kiss. When this becomes a full-on action adventure there are a few tense moments, but the focus becomes muddled because of the love story. Even the special effects look less authentic and more cartoonish as Jim and Aurora come together to save themselves and the other passengers. Laurence Fishburne makes an appearance as Gus Mancuso, a crew member who might be able to help, but due to circumstances beyond his control, can’t.
But it’s how the movie concludes that’s really the most disappointing. Within the last five minutes the whole package is wrapped up with the answer to how the next 90 years will pass. We find out if they all get to Homestead II, and we even see a big name star appear and it looks like he got to pick up a paycheck without uttering one word!
It’s rare to see a slick big-budget movie with just 2 stars on camera for almost the entire 2 hours. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney certainly pulled it off in 2013 with Gravity. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt do their job. But there’s too much working against them in this jumbled story which shied away from taking on the big questions. Morten Tyldum could have raised issues about self preservation versus morality rather than how to fix a broken computer. That might have made booking a ticket on this journey a more worthwhile trip.