MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: Columbia Pictures
Directed by Morten Tyldum. Starring Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence.
There’s no doubt about it – if the time comes when humanity is able to colonize another inhabitable planet in our solar system – space travel will involve long voyages and require necessary periods of forced hibernation. This has been a staple of sci-fi movies for at least fifty years. 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes both featured astronauts snoozing their way en route to interstellar discoveries.
As Passengers begins we observe the Avalon, a magnificent spacecraft headed towards the colonized planet of Homestead II. There are over 5,000 passengers and crew aboard and all of them are to sleep for most of the 120 years it will take to arrive. After 30 years of travel a malfunction caused by a meteor shower kicks open the hibernation pod of Jim Preston (Pratt), an engineer. While it is clearly upsetting to Jim to realize that he will die before the ship enters into port, the Avalon is a luxury cruise ship filled with all kinds of amenities, including well-stocked food machines, robot-staffed restaurants, sports equipment, a movie theater, private bedrooms and even a friendly android bartender (Michael Sheen) who can dispense the libations of your choice.
But it’s lonely by yourself. Eventually Jim will find companionship with Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a writer who is planning to travel to and from Homestead II – sleeping for 116 years each way – so that future generations on Earth will be able to know what life on the colony is like. How Aurora comes to join up with Jim on this adventure is predicated by a decision that is just plain creepy and morally indefensible. It is a testimony to Passenger’s male-centric point of view that this act does not lead the movie into darker territory, but simply becomes something that has to be dealt with quickly and then set aside.
There are many twists and turns along the way, but the film’s screenplay doesn’t really seem to care much about deep moral reflection or even advanced logic. Some genuine moments of peril will appear, only to be dispensed with solutions that are so blatantly contrived that any real tension is quickly dissipated.
The film is not without its small pleasures, including the beautiful set design and likable performances from the two lead actors. There are also a couple of moments of satirical humor that recall the best episodes of The Simpsons or Futurama.
Filmmaking is a collaborative process that often takes years of development. Surely the time that was required to cook up all of the special effects should have provided the writers with plenty of time to tighten up the script and fill in the plot holes.
By the time this movie prepares for landing, the damage is beyond repair.
You have been warned. There is still time to save yourself.
Two halos: A great looking space adventure that squanders the potential of its imagined scenario.
Three pitchforks: A despicable decision sets up the major storyline and soils everything to follow; sexist stereotypes; mild swearing; brief nudity, including tastefully shot – yet also tacky – sex scenes.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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