Tuesday 10 January 2017
2016 USA Directed by Morten Tyldum
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Yeah... there are a few spoilers in this one.
I kinda half avoided Passengers over the recent Christmas holidays because of the response I saw it getting on Twitter. However, when I returned to work, somebody told me it was actually very good (and that Jennifer Lawrence wears a bikini a lot) so I thought I’d better go and take a look for myself and see what kind of sci-fi movie this is and... well, it’s problematic.
There’s a kind of moral judgement to be made about a certain character in this movie, right from the early set up of the film, and although the director (who also directed the adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters, reviewed here) found this aspect to be what made the story interesting, from what I read, this doesn’t make the character all that palatable the way he’s been played here by Chris Pratt. Possibly my own disappointment in Chris Pratt gleefully owning up to being someone who hunts animals may be some baggage I’m bringing to the film myself though... so I have to be careful about my gut reaction on this one.
It’s funny. If I’d have seen this as a kid in the 1970s, where it might have stood side by side with such classics as Silent Running (reviewed here) I would probably have had no problem at all with this film. As it is and with the current climate of madness to be found on various social media outlets, the central moral question is something which doesn’t sit comfortably with me... particularly the way it’s presented here.
So, okay... the plot is a ship carrying hundreds of passengers across the galaxy in suspended animation for well over a hundred years to start life in their new home malfunctions and one of the passengers, played by Chris Pratt, is woken up 90 years too early... with no hope of getting back to sleep again. After a year with just the robot bartender played by Michael Sheen to keep him company, he finds himself hopelessly on the verge of committing suicide because he is so lonely... and the director, and Pratt, play this for all it’s worth. And the reason the set up is so long... maybe half an hour... is because the story can only move forward if you can sympathise with Pratt’s character and the distraught state he’s in. However, instead of blowing himself out into space without a suit, he falls in love with the profile of another passenger, Aurora, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and wakes her up to keep him company... thus ruining her chances of ever seeing her destination. He doesn’t tell her he woke her... only that her pod malfunctioned like his.
And so the two fall madly in love and, in a whirlwind of interstellar cliché, Pratt is just about to ask her to marry him (being as they’re the only two souls around) when the android mistakenly reveals that Pratt ruined her future by waking her up. She then totally freaks, understandably, and cuts off all communication with Pratt. And here’s where the real problem with the movie kicks in. She could have either forgiven him after a few days of anger or, never forgave him. At least that’s the way I see it. There’s no slow burn that can fix this kind of dilemma that Pratt has been a bit of an eel, suicidal or not, and I think if she is going to go off and refuse contact for as many months as she seems to in the movie, then there’s no going back for them.
However, when one of the ship’s crew, played by Laurence Fishburne, is also woke by his malfunctioning pod, the three are forced to work together to save the ship to stop it, and its crew of hundreds of passengers in suspended animation, from blowing up. However, Fishburne’s character is not so lucky as Pratt’s and it turns out the machine didn’t wake him properly. He’s got maybe a day or two to live due to not coming out of hypersleep properly and then, for the final half an hour or so of the film, Pratt and Lawrence have to put their differences aside and work together. And this is where, for me, the film falls down flat in that Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora soon forgives and rekindles her love for Pratt as they collaborate against their mutual peril. And it seems to me that this wouldn’t be something that could happen if she had already severed contact for as long as she did. There’s also the problem that giving her love and then making a certain decision she does about something near the end of the film, not going to say what, almost validates and empowers Pratt’s morally grey decision.
And this was a real movie killer for me, it has to be said.
Mostly everything else is pretty good about it... although the script is extremely cliché ridden and there are absolutely no surprises all the way through. The special effects and shot set ups are fine and all the lead actors, including Pratt, are giving some great performances. I’ve not seen Jennifer Lawrence in anything else other than Winter’s Bone (reviewed here) and her three X-Men movies (to date, reviewed here, here and here) but I’m really loving what she’s doing here and suspect that she could reach ‘movie star’ levels pretty soon, if she manages to avoid the career pitfalls of being a successful woman in the Hollywood community. Really think she’s got something going for her in terms of being a box office draw.
Ultimately, Passengers isn’t something I could probably see again but I don’t think it’s a bad sci-fi film and, although it’s morally ambiguous (if you do happen to see Pratt’s character’s actions in shades of grey) I don’t think that die hard fans of the genre will have too many problems with this movie. I think it could have been a lot smarter and a lot less clichéd but I don’t think appealing to anything but the lowest common denominator IQs was probably a factor in the production of the movie. I was a little frustrated because it felt a lot like there was a better movie trying to get out of what is, essentially, just another old 1950s sci-fi short story plot but, I’m guessing I’m really not the kind of science fiction fan that this movie is aimed at. It’s certainly not a terrible film though and although it’s no Silent Running, it’s certainly no Plan 9 From Outer Space either so... yeah, if you’re in the right mood you may want to give this one a look.