Passengers

Posted: December 23, 2016 in Film reviews, science fiction
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Directed by Morten Tyldum. Starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.

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“And that, Aurora, is what feminism is.”

In some unspecified future time the starship Avalon is travelling to the colony world of Homestead II. On board are 5000 colonists and several hundred crewmembers, however, because the trip will take 120 years, everyone is in hibernation. An incident at the start of the film starts a chain reaction of events that will see two passengers, mechanic Jim Preston (Pratt) and writer Aurora Lane (Lawrence), woken too early. Unable to go back into hibernation they face spending ninety years aboard the Avalon with only each other and a robot bartender (an excellent Michael Sheen) for company.

The ship is luxurious, they’re surrounded by the grandeur of deep space, and luckily they’re both very attractive, so inevitably romance blooms. However, a dark secret will threaten to tear their love apart, even as a series of mysterious malfunctions threatens to tear apart the Avalon itself.

 

There might be a good idea for a film here, unfortunately, like a drowning man trapped under the ice, it never reaches the surface. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with Passengers, mainly because there’s so many things wrong about it. It irked me right from the start. An opening caption detailing the name of the ship, its crew and destination is a familiar sci-fi trope, but here it’s essentially meaningless because everything it tells us is delivered in dialogue within the first ten minutes. Never trust a film that doesn’t trust its audience to work out what’s going on.

The Avalon is a beautifully rendered ship, corkscrewing through space like a fragment of rogue DNA. Inside it’s about as far from Alien’s cramped, grimy Nostromo as you’re likely to get. This is a luxury cruise ship, and then some. Similarly both Lawrence and Pratt are beautiful people, and we get to see plenty of bare skin from both of them (in fact every time the film starts to drag Lawrence inexplicably goes swimming. She goes swimming a lot). Yet however aesthetically pleasing both the ship and its titular passengers are, it’s a surprisingly bland affair. The inside of the Avalon is like the most banal shopping mall imaginable, and both leads seem to have suffered something of a charisma bypass, which is odd. Increasingly I think Pratt is a bit of a one trick pony (though in fairness he does that one trick—slightly roguish nice guy next door—very well) but its undeniable he has screen presence, and as for Lawrence, I know damn well this woman can knock it out of the park, yet here both of them seem to be phoning it in, particularly Lawrence, but then again she isn’t given much to work with. Basically Michael Sheen lights up the screen more than either of them, and he’s playing a robot.

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“You know we do have a dress code, Sir.”

Things aren’t helped by a plodding script that features leaden dialogue (for all that Aurora is a writer the examples of her writing are laughably bad) and a series of contrived, yet curiously dull, disasters that reminded me of the chompers conversation in Galaxy Quest.

And I haven’t even mentioned the slightly creepier elements of the romance between the two characters yet. I won’t give it away (although it happens early in the film) but suffice to say that their relationship is based on the dodgiest foundation imaginable.

The effects are great, that’s undeniable, and there’s some nice moments involving spacewalks (not quite sure how that works when the ship’s doing 0.5 light speed but I’ll go with it) and a swimming pool when the gravity shuts down, but there’s zero worldbuilding. Neither Jim or Aurora feel like they’re from a future time, and nothing they do or experience to get by feels that different from two people marooned on a cruise ship today. There’s some vague nods towards the corporate greed of the Homestead company, and the nature of Aurora using the trip as effectively a way to travel into the future, but none of this is remotely seen as important when we can be watching beautiful people being beautiful together which seems to be the main crux of the film.

Things liven up a little when someone else eventually shows up, but frankly what we get is another decent actor given nowt to do aside from explain a few things. One imagines the film must have been heavily cut, I doubt Andy Garcia was cast just for a five second wordless cameo at the end.

It desperately wants to be Titanic in space, but it lacks the humanity or excitement of that film, and Jim and Aurora have nowhere near the chemistry of Rose and Jack, even Jim and Aurora’s sex scenes are vapid, so what we’re left with is a perfume advert in space.

The Wikipedia entry describes the film as a romantic science fiction adventure thriller. It’s not very romantic, it’s not very good science fiction, it’s not adventurous and it’s sure as hell not thrilling.

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