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“I’m not saying the universe is evil but it sure has a nasty sense of humour.” – A review of Passengers by Josh Hains

The following review contains mild spoilers that will describe events that occur during the first 25-30 minutes of the movie (the first act). If you do not wish to read what could be considered spoilers to some individuals, you can skip the fourth paragraph.

Science fiction, as a genre within the medium of film, has always been built on ideas, either that reflect societal issues or political stances, or that ask audiences thought provoking questions about Life, time, space, and our own morality codes. Since Gravity was released in 2013, I have asked myself what I consider to be a rather important question with each new science fiction epic related in the years since: does this story break new ground, does it try something different, or have I seen it all before? In the case of Gravity, I came to the conclusion that the story didn’t break new ground at all, though apparently there were possibly some ground-breaking methods behind the construction of the movie. Interstellar broke new ground, presenting us with the theoretical concept of astronauts travelling through a black hole in search of a new planet to colonize after mankind’s way of life ceases to be a sustainable enterprise. The Martian asked what would happen if a man was stuck on Mars for 4 years, how would he survive, and how would we get him back to Earth, and showed us with a great deal of scientific accuracy, how this might occur.

Passengers asks us some pretty deep and dark questions, such as what would you do if on a 120 year voyage to a new sustainable planet, you awoke from hyper-sleep 90 years early? How would you deal with the situation at hand and the idea that you’ll die before the voyage is over? How would you entertain yourself? Why were woken so early? Is this how your life ends?

The marketing team behind Passengers seems to have struggled immensely with concocting an effective way to advertise the movie to the two audiences who would undoubtedly want to invest in this movie: the science fiction lovers, and the romance-comedy-drama lovers. It’s as if half of the advertising was attempting to appeal explicitly to men with images of thrilling adventure and mind bending physics, while the other half of the marketing was aiming for a female demographic by hyping up the romantic elements and using odd pop-rock music. You can’t sell a sci-fi epic simply off the star power of your two leads, so a delicate balancing act showcasing the thrill and romance dramatics was needed, but sadly never achieved by a lazy marketing team. Thankfully, the movie itself is actually perfectly fine.

Jim Preston is awoken in his hibernation pod on the starship The Avalon, which is transporting 5000 colonists who have volunteered to travel in hyper-sleep for 120 years to Homestead II, a neighbouring planet to our Earth capable of sustaining human life. To his shock, Jim realizes he’s the only person currently awake on the ship because something in the ship malfunctioned and woke him 90 years early. Jim spends the next year of his life becoming acquainted with android bartender Arthur, trying to fix the pod and even send a desperate distress message that won’t reach Earth for 50 years, enjoying some of the luxuries of the ship, and becoming increasingly lonely, bored, unhappy, and suicidal. During a drunken venture through the ship, Jim sees an attractive young woman in a pod named Aurora Lane, and begins going through some of her person a effects, learning she’s a writer and other intimate details. He becomes obsessed with her, and after a bout of indecision, makes the choice to tamper with her pod and awaken her in the hopes of finally having a human companion and possibly finding some semblance of happiness with this seemingly perfect woman.

The dilemma the movie presents, being awoken 90 years early on a 120 year voyage through space, is a unique and thoughtful concept, and it’s interesting to see how our two leads, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) grapple with this concept, and the knowledge that they will die before the voyage comes to a close unless they can somehow figure out how and why they were awoken so early. The actors do a great job of capturing the varying emotions and mental states their respective characters experience during the course of the movie, with Pratt working his trademark charm and sly humour, and even digging deep into some strong emotional work, giving us a performance that might actually be surprisingly stronger than his turn as Star-Lord in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Lawrence is every bit as charming and witty as Pratt, and even doing a splendid job with the more emotional scenes of the movie. This is probably Lawrence’s best work since her Oscar winning turn in Silver Linings Playbook.

Passengers doesn’t have plot twists that pull the rug out from underneath you, and even the real cause of the ship’s continuous malfunctions isn’t even that convincing an idea, or perhaps it’s just a lazy idea altogether, but that doesn’t make this a bad movie. The risks this movie takes don’t come in the form of jaw dropping spectacle or mind bending twists, but rather in the way the movie initially connects two characters in a less than desirable fashion. That this movie had the guts to bring the characters together in such a dark way and sustains that connection for as long as it does, and convincingly so, is worth praise aplenty. It’s really not the bad movie the Rotten Tomatoes collective are making it out to be, and while it’s not shocking or necessarily all that visually impressive compared against Interstellar for example, it is a perfectly fine movie. An unpretentious, enjoyable, entertaining, heartfelt, and thought provoking sci-fi drama, a voyage I won’t mind investing in again when the time is just right.

 

 

 

 

PASSENGERS by Ben Cahlamer

Homesteading.  Many years ago, when land was plenty, the government offered it to people who were willing to till the soil, grow some crops.  Perhaps raise a family.  It was not an easy life.  In fact, you could probably retire today and still be tilling soil.

What in the world does this have anything to do with Morten Tyldum’s (“The Imitation Game”) new sci-fi film, “Passengers”?

Very little or quite a bit; it really depends on your point of view.  The intent of the government was to get people to become productive because they had no other choice:  they were cornered into a unique way of life that not everyone is cut out for.

In Jon Spahits’ (“Doctor Strange”, “Prometheus”) script, the meaning of homesteading, “a lifestyle of agrarian self-sufficiency as practiced by a modern homesteader or urban homesteader,” equally applies to the 5000 corporately-sponsored passengers aboard the Starship Avalon, destined for the colony planet Homestead II.

The trick is that the journey is so long, everyone on board is in hibernation and the state-of-the-art starship is on auto-pilot.  An engineer, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is woken up alone with no explanation and no one to communicate with.  He is eventually joined by author Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). As the only two souls awake on board the ship, they fall in love but not before disaster strikes.  Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia co-star.

Spahits’ script should have checked all the right boxes:  characters are well-fleshed out; the set-up was strong; social issues are at the forefront. The focus strayed from sci-fi-adventure to kitschy sci-fi-adventure-romance, where the romance just didn’t cut it. Preston’s reason for being woken up is clear; the emotional side of isolation became a focus instead of allowing his skills to move the character and the narrative forward, leading to the intended romantic angle; a wasted effort considering Jennifer Lawrence’s Lane tried too hard to remain in control, though her reasons for that become clear after a meltdown.  Had Fishburne phoned his performance from Earth, it would have been more convincing then what unfolded on the screen.  In homage to a Kubrick classic, Michael Sheen stole the show; but his role in a pivotal moment just fell flat.  Tight editing by Oscar-nominated editor Maryann Brandon (“Star Wars:  The Force Awakens”) keeps the pacing on track.

The script notwithstanding, there is one redeeming reason why this should be viewed on as big a screen as possible: the special effects.  In the tradition of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Scott’s “Alien”, Tyldum executes a strong, detailed technical look.

From the symmetry of the Avalon to the look and feel of the interior corridors, the hibernation pods, the stars and space around the ship, everything has a very real or visceral feel about it and visual effects supervisor Erik Nordby rose to the challenge brilliantly.  The effects are supported by strong cinematography from the Oscar-nominated Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain”).  His attention to every detail, from lighting of cavernous interior spaces, to changing reflective lighting and exterior shots in space, Prieto’s work only enhances the visual impact.

Oscar-nominated film composer Thomas Newman (“Bridge of Spies”, “Skyfall”) resonates with the luxuriousness of the Aurora and the allure of space exploration.  Some of his dramatic riffs didn’t exactly jive with the onscreen action, but his music served the film well.

“Passengers” had all the right ingredients for a stellar show, its ambition steeped in “Titanic”.  Instead, its ‘Lost in Space’ meets ‘The Love Boat’ with all the drama that that entails.

For the intricately detailed technical effects work, “Passengers” is Recommended.  Aaron Spelling is probably rolling over in his grave.

Passengers: A Review by Nate Hill

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Passengers is a low key supernatural drama that came and went with little fanfare or attention back in 2008. Part of the reason for that could have been that it was marketed as a thriller, which is not so much the case. There is an eerie vibe to it, and certainly a paranormal component, but it’s quieter and much closer to the chest than advertising might suggest. It wasn’t reviewed very well, branded as predictable and derivitive. Some of its plot devices have been used before in the past, to be sure, but I greatly enjoyed the film and loved the way in which it’s story unfolds, told very well by its sturdy cast. Like Mark Pellington says, fuck the people, that’s why there’s 31 flavors. Anne Hathaway is excellent as Claire, a grief counselor who is tasked with looking out for a handful of people who have survived a catastrophic plane crash. She’s new to her profession, her eagerness laced with self doubt, yet she remains hopeful. All of a sudden, the patients in her cate begin to disappear mysteriously, and she starts to question the situation, as well as her own reality. The survivors are damaged and not fully willing to open up to her, collectively scared of some unseen threat. Claire has repeated run ins with a unknown and very distressed man (Andrew Wheeler, local vancouver actor and former teacher of mine) who has ties to the accident. It’s all hush hush and quietly unsettling, until we slowly begin to realize what’s actually happening, and the it changes gears and becomes very touching and thoughtful. Clea Duvall is great as one of the skeptical survivors, Patrick Wilson solid as always, and there’s work from Dianne Wiest, William B. Davis, Andre Braugher and briefly David Morse. Sure, this type of story has been done to death time and time again, draining new efforts of some of their effect, but if one comes along that gets it right, tells it’s story in a way that holds both my emotion and interest in its spell, I’m all ears. This one did just that.