Passengers Movie Review
When I first heard that Morten Tyldum (HEADHUNTERS, THE IMITATION GAME) is directing a film starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence about two people who wake up too early during space travel, I thought, sign me up. Then when I heard it was getting a near Christmas release date, I figured, a real Oscar contender is in the works. Unfortunately, PASSENGERS is a good example of a blockbuster parody seen in AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS or TROPIC THUNDER. As we too often know, a big director, a couple of big movie stars, and a big budget, does not automatically equate to a good movie.
A spacecraft traveling to a distance colony with all the crew and passengers set in a cryogenic sleep for 120 years begins to malfunction. Passenger Jim awakes. He gets out of his pod, led to his room and given information about his cruise-like stay aboard the spacecraft from a hologram attendant. It’s not long until he realizes, he’s the only one awake. He still has 90 years until the spacecraft arrives at its destination.
PASSENGERS plays with a few interesting themes about companionship and the need for human contact. It also poses a difficult question, “If you were stranded on an island and had the opportunity to bring someone with you knowing full well that you would be forcing that person to be stuck on the island as well, would you do it?” However, PASSENGERS refuses to challenge the viewer, giving little consequence to villainous actions. At what cost is it okay to sentence a stranger to certain death for your own gain? I would be leery of the specific pro-love message that PASSENGERS seems to be sending.
Even more surprising was the bland vision. For a future where we can send a colony to a distant planet, you would think the amenities wouldn’t be so rudimentary. Swimming, playing basketball, watching movies, or dancing in an interactive video game are all basic concepts that we can currently do on a cruise ship now. Even the cafeteria and bar have a generic design without any imagination. I’m not sure I’d be on board even if other people were involved. The art direction and even costuming is noticeably banal, as if the entire budget went into paying the stars. The one highlight is Michael Sheen as Arthur, the android bartender, who always gives some nugget of positive advice with a hint of irony and a smile to boot.
Audiences will more than likely follow the extreme charisma and humor of Chris Pratt anywhere. Jennifer Lawrence is also a known commodity in likability and talent. Despite a sad attempt of reving up their sexual chemistry, the two do a decent job with what they have to work with. But stretching their charms beyond space capacity is what I think ultimately caused this spacecraft to malfunction. Aside from a zero gravity water scene, nothing ever happens to tickle the senses, visually or character driven. There was never any doubt in my mind how the situation was going to play out despite a scenario ripe with tragedy. Tension and excitement was never in play because there was always only one option or direction the film could or perhaps was willing to go.
With a few tweaks in a different direction, an independent budget, and a bunch of no-names involved, PASSENGERS may have been an interesting concept that a viewer just happens across on the sci-fi channel. As it stands, PASSENGERS would have been better off aborting this mission long before it took off.