Synopsis – 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.
My Take – I’ve been looking forward to this film ever since it was announced, over a year ago! Putting two of the biggest stars in the world right now together in a film about two people stranded on a spaceship might be a recipe for box-office success in the mind of a studio however, the real interest I had in this film was whether it could deliver a good enough story for the two stars to tackle. This is the second Hollywood film from Danish director Morten Tyldum, who brought us the brilliant Headhunters some years ago and soon thereafter was signed to direct the excellent The Imitation Game. A lot of the personal success this film would have for me would come down to that. In my opinion, this Morten Tyldum directed film is quite watchable for what it is, a chick flick in space. I think it does deliver on the science fiction plot and for those who are seeking a romantic film to a certain extent. I really didn’t know what to expect going into this film, I only saw one trailer, but I liked the cast and I liked the concept so I decided to watch. Coming out I was exasperated by the last quarter of the film. There were so many possible ways of pushing the plot to its conclusion and they just picked one of the worst. I was trying hard to find whether or not the film has some kind of underlying point that I may have been missing but really it’s just a story about relationship, can it survive the cosmic ordeals at hand and can it also survive the lies. It is really essentially a romantic drama set in space; it doesn’t get much simpler than that. Our future ambitions can’t compare to our fear of loneliness. The story follows Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), an engineer on a starship known as Avalon that is on a 90 year voyage, transporting 5,000 colonists to a new home planet known as Homestead 2. However when a large meteorite strikes and causes a malfunction to one of its hibernation pods, the pod opens prematurely and ‘wakes’ Jim up. Jim explores the ship and realizes he’s isolated, his only companion appears to be a warm and delightful bar-tender droid ‘Arthur’ (Michael Sheen) – he realizes that he’s still 90 years from the destination and that he’ll be dead by the time the ship reaches its destination. He can only be alone for so long, until he ultimately desires another human companion in the form of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), who is still in hibernation.
After going through her profile for days, Jim falls in love with her & the moral dilemma to whether to wake her up or not. As expected, he wakes her up, they fall in love and Jim decides to keep his decision to wake a secret from her. However, with some occasional power outages, gravity shut offs, robotic droids malfunctioning on the ship, they realize there is something more happening that they need to fix. In order for the ship to make it to the new planet, the two must together to deal with and the revival of another crew member (Lawrence Fishburne) and discover a purpose for them to be woken up early. While the plot is as familiar, predictable, and uninventive, the star power is undeniable and the special effects are razzle-dazzle and extraordinary. The film starts out great, we have Jim waking up, and realizing his fate has been sealed that he will be dead by the time they reach their destination. He takes a great advantage of the luxury ship to himself, except for the cafeteria and their restricted menu cause of his class on board. Jim’s actions may not be the best in logic or some may call it greed or creepy. Aurora and Jim build a relationship, realizing they only have each other, when there is no hope of seeing their destinations by the time they get there. Director Morten Tyldum plays well with the direction of isolation on Jim’s loneliness and his desire for love. However, the problems come with the script and the plot. The film doesn’t really know what it wants to be, and therefore struggles with its own identity. It could have easily been a love story, or a disaster film, or even something much deeper, but fails to really tick any of these boxes. It introduces very complex questions at an early stage: what would you do if the only person you will ever know or love for the rest of your life decided your fate and to take your sense of purpose away because he was lonely? It then glosses over the emotional implication of this – for example why is she never shown to be anything other than angry? Why isn’t she scared, why isn’t she empowered? And most of all, why does it not matter as soon as the threat of life or death for others is introduced? She is already dead, as he took her life away, so why should she care anymore. Despite the teaser line put in the trailer, you’ll get 95% of the answers in the first twenty minutes of the film. I had so looked forward to uncovering a conspiracy regarding their abrupt waking, but sadly the explanations are lackluster. The only mystery that remains is the technical explanations for what happens, which most viewers will not give a darn about. Lawrence has a fantastic piece of acting in the middle of the film when she realizes Jim woke her up from hibernation, sentencing her to die on the ship, wrought with rage and heartbreak. This is where the film treads a very thin line in the story it tells. To have Jim wake up and spend a year on the ship by himself, all while growing an almost stalker fixation on Aurora before deciding to wake her up explores an idea I never thought this film would even entertain. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the film for its first two acts, but then comes the final act. It comes dangerously close to completely ruining the film, going for the full blown ridiculous finale that just feels totally out of place. Looking back on it, from the moment Laurence Fishburne briefly turns up as Chief Gus Mancuso, I felt the film lost its way totally.
A lot of what they set up was hindered by a predictable and rather tame finale that should have been a lot braver, my preference being that they killed Pratt‘s character off while he was floating into space. I felt like screenwriter Jon Spaihts could have build so much into a more complex thriller with this space voyage instead of a simple quick fix conflict. Yet, what I think works are the visuals & the performances. Not quite as groundbreaking as Gravity or Interstellar but still outstanding. From the centrifugal force created by the rotating space craft to simulate how artificial gravity could be generated to the on board technology to the sickbay, this film does a fantastic job of providing audiences with a science-fiction that is almost tangible. There is one scene in particular that still has me puzzled as to how it was able to be achieved so flawlessly. The set design, albeit Spartan is beautifully sleek and functional. As film is a visually driven medium of storytelling, the camera often pulls in close to characters to establish intimacy but juxtaposes that against pulling back to reveal the oppressive loneliness of being alone on a massive ship in space. For a brief moment, I experienced the dread that is created in Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining when Jim meets Arthur the bartender. Interestingly, the music (composed by Thomas Newman), camera direction, dialog, blocking, an set design all work together seamlessly to establish that unparalleled sense of dread, loneliness, and self-destructive despair that are so iconic to The Shining. Unfortunately, that powerful sense of dread is lost in weak writing. Had the film embraced the potential to channel The Shining, it may have played out more memorably. But, this is a love story so the horror plot devices that could have helped the film were not integrated into the plot. It should come as no surprise as the acting here is one of the leading components in this film. Jennifer Lawrence‘s edgy mood is very welcome in this setting, painting a character that is vulnerable yet strong when faced with the dilemmas. Her emotions are so well-balanced in this film, painting a realistic character that many will anchor too. Yes, her cracking voice is getting a little stale, and she is playing similar characters, but it works so well. The film shows quite a new side to the cheeky and lovable Chris Pratt with his turn as Jim Preston, going from lovable to utterly creepy in half a film. It’s a decision that could have backfired but Pratt handles the switch rather well. Pratt shows his sensitive side with this part, and his initial loneliness is palpably presented where we totally understand why he’d do that to Aurora even if it is wrong. Michael Sheen is excellent here while Fishburne‘s role is touching at points, but the writers diluted his role to merely providing quick answers and a trinket to get the job done. Andy Garcia appears only in one scene with no dialogues. It’s a shame that the mystery and dilemma could not have shined like the love story. On the whole, ‘Passengers’ is a watchable yet mediocre romantic sci-fi that is quite generic in nature made entertaining by a strong start and middle, and two leads who do work quite well together.
Directed – Morten Tyldum
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 116 minutes