“Passengers” is not a film that you can really talk about in much depth without straying into spoiler territory, so I will break my normal tradition of my reviews being entirely “Spoiler Free” and add a further discussion (but below the Fad Rating, so you are safe ‘til there).
The backdrop for “Passengers” is the spaceship “Avalon”, on a 120 year trip taking Earth colonists to the new world of “Homestead 2”. Following an ‘incident’ the story finds two individuals – Jim Preston, played by Chris “Jurassic World” Pratt, and Jennifer “Joy” Lawrence – as the only passengers awake on the automated ship among 5000+ other slumbering souls. It rather goes without saying that with two attractive and bankable Hollywood stars and nothing else to do, the two ‘get it on’. With things on the ship going from bad to worse, the two must work as a team to try to save the ship, crew and fellow passengers from disaster.
As a fan of sci-fi, I’ll start with a positive that the Avalon is a gloriously rendered spacecraft, and many of the scenes of space walking present beautiful cinematography (by Rodrigo Prieto of “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Argo”). Many of the other special effects in the film – led by special effects supervisor Daniel Sudick, of the Marvel franchise – are spectacularly good, especially one which demonstrates why the lifeguards closed the pool on the International Space Station!
The overall premise of the film is also original and well-conceived, setting up the backdrop for some serious post-watch ethical debate (see spoiler section).
Where the wheels came off for me though is with the script by Jon Spaihts (“Prometheus”, “Doctor Strange”). Some of the dialogue is just appallingly trite, and some of the supposed capabilities of our hero, Preston, are laughable. For example, he possesses an uncanny ability as “an engineer” to open a cabinet of electronics, scan the circuits and say “Nope – that all looks fine”: the next time my washing machine controller packs in, he’s going to be on my speed-dial for sure! And (cue trite line – “every component on the ship has a spare”) Preston immediately finds the required part (curiously, it’s right next to the failing component and not in Bay 67 on cargo deck 327!) and knows how to plug and play it as required.
But, for me, there was one particularly dire point in the script where Spaihts obviously forgets which film he’s writing the scene for and ‘goes superhero’: oh, hang on, Preston doesn’t HAVE any superhero powers! For me, any goodwill the story had built up through to that point get vented into space.
The director is Morten Tyldum, whose “Headhunters” I really enjoyed but who is probably more famous for “The Imitation Game”. Not overawed by the production’s scale, he does a great job of getting good performances out of the rather wooden action hunk that is Chris Pratt and the reliable Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence who (apart from one dramatic and emotional scene) the script doesn’t really stretch. Michael Sheen is also a great watch as the witty and dry android bar-tender.
In summary, this was a nice premise with great special effects and gorgeous production design, but frustratingly let down with a weak screenplay. With a better script and another 10% of tweaking, this could have been a real sci-fi classic.
Fad Rating: FFF.
Note: this is a version of the original trailer that I have recut in order to be more spoiler free! (If Sony Pictures want to hire me to create their trailers for them, I’m sure my rates would be very reasonable!)
Spoiler section: Do not proceed beyond this point if you haven’t seen the film!
As I was late to the game seeing this film I have had the benefit of reading a number of reviews of the film from bloggers I like and respect, which has been fascinating. In these reviews there is a lot of disgust expressed for the actions of Preston in selfishly waking the sleeping Aurora (oh, how the team must have chortled at that naming!). And it’s hard to disagree with that seeing as this was effectively ‘murder’, albeit a long and drawn out murder. (I was reminded in this plot point of the classic Doctor Who episode “Blink”, where the Weeping Angels ‘kill’ their victims not with violence but by time-zapping them a hundred years or so into the past).
Would this film have been better if the two hibernation pods had randomly failed (as the trailer misleadingly seems to suggest)? It would certainly have been a lot less contentious! But in my view the mental derangement and desolation developed by Preston over such a period of social isolation was believable (although I personally would have made it five years rather than one year… the wimp). The temptation to wake up someone – anyone! – despite the shouting of the moral compass in your head to the contrary, would be enormous.
Then comes the question of WHO to wake up, and many of the reviews I have read from female reviewers expressed a degree of scorn that he chose the ‘cute babe’. This becomes an interesting debate: the argument goes that he chose Aurora based on looks alone which seems not completely fair to me given that he also clearly spent hours watching her videos. This effectively takes it past the “Tinder-swiping” stage to (almost, with accepted limitations) a first date drink. If as a result Preston falls in love with Aurora for the *combination* of her looks, her personality and her ‘GSOH’, then is that so wrong? Was he actually after companionship, or sex (clearly not initially pushed) or both? If he was gay, would he have picked the banker? Who would I pick: another ‘bloke’ to drink beers with in the bar, or a female companion (gay or otherwise) to converse with? (I would undoubtedly seek the latter by the way). So many interesting questions!
My personal bile with this film is reserved for that reactor-venting scene. There was probably some throwaway line in the airlock about the spacesuits ‘withstanding temperatures’ that I missed, but COME ON… REALLY??! This was just nonsense, and a contender already for this year’s #marthagate award.
Secondary bile is reserved for the trailer, which yet again gives far too much of the film away. Why do trailer makers need to extend to nearly three minutes? The first 90 seconds of the trailer (as I reedited above) is all that is needed to sell the concept of the film to you. In particular, showing characters other than the two main human protagonists (plus Michael Sheen) – even if they are Lawrence Fishburne and Andy Garcia (in his 5 second cameo) – is as unforgivable as showing the characters outside of “Room” in that trailer. Stop it, stop it, stop it!