Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Passengers (2017)

Guilt trip.

passengers-poster

“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.

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“What happened to Bernard?”; “He went outside and lost his head”

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!    

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Lawrence out for a starlight swim in a costume that is surely for sale somewhere now on ASOS.

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.

Chris Pratt; Jennifer Lawrence
Pratt and Lawrence, with Pratt about to debug my washing machine controller just by looking at it.

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.

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Michael Sheen, with years and years of polishing experience. 

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). 

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Aurora just knew she should have paid more attention to the Heimlich maneuver in First Aid class.

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!  

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6 thoughts on “One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Passengers (2017)

  1. I bow down to you in your “on the nose” comments regarding the over-disclosure of trailers. I mute the TV and look away when any trailer comes on TV; plug my ears and squeeze my eyes shut if I mismanage my times and get to the theater too early. I have been know to cut anyone divulging spoilers. Thank you for your service. Now…my “you-have-to-be-joking-me” about Passengers is: Are we to believe, on a ship with 5,000 passengers plus crew, that there is < I’ve removed your specific comment Lucy, since it is in itself a bit of a spoiler > I realize it would have destroyed the ending of the movie but puhleeaze!

    1. Thanks for commenting Lucy. The problem is, I can’t find ANYONE who likes trailers to go as far as they do in revealing storylines. This has led me to cut down trailers to my own versions to include in my posts for 3 films in the last year: Room (terrible!); Money Monster (out of the studio? Pretty bad!); and now Passengers. Why won’t Hollywood listen!! This is not to say that there AREN’T still sensible directors out there, JJ Abrams being one, since the trailers for “Cloverfield”, “The Force Awakens” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” for example were all really good teasers. I probably have a good few years on you, but it is worth looking at the original trailer for “Alien” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEVY_lonKf4) for what a good teaser trailer used to be like.

  2. I totally agree with you about trailers, and the one for this film in particular. (Though Room still annoys me; having never read the book either, after the trailer I now don’t ever need to either read the story or watch it)
    I haven’t seen Passengers, though I’d fully intended to, until an article that had caught my eye about Pratt’s character that even just in the title indicated that it wasn’t the slightly mysterious, set in space thriller that the trailer sold me, there was other aspects that I had been mislead on.
    And I was so annoyed – I’m tired of superhero franchises dominating the big screen (and event the small screen) so I’d genuinely hoped this film would be a good original film sci-fi film that would make the bankers of Hollywood realise that money can be made outside of franchises. Like with Jupiter Ascending I’m a bit disappointed that this still is going so wrong, because it will only drive the bankers away from original big budget screenplays.
    Maybe we should give kudos to the trailer makers for misleading us, they obviously realised the film had outdated and contrived concepts that would make the film fail – more people will have seen it than not because of what they did, which gives originality a little bit of hope.

    1. Thanks Katherine. Don’t let my “superhero” comment put you off – it was just a quip about the stupidity of the scene. There is a lot of nonsense (physics-wise) in films, such as heroes (or heroines in the case of Jyn Urso) beating the Olympic long jump record in leaping between buildings! This example just turns the ‘suspend-disbelief’ knob past 11 up to 15.

      Passengers should be praised for actually not being a franchise sequel and is an original story. There is a bit of a distasteful turn in the film though (no spoilers) and some of the main newspaper reviews (like The Times) have stuck this spoiler in their first para of their reviews, which I don’t think is responsible.

      I should also add my wife liked Passengers a lot more than I did (and she doesn’t like sci-fi)!

  3. I admire the fact that you can be bothered to write the epistles that require the obvious effort and input regarding the latest films … I don’t usually do this … Pratt I find really irritating, and Lawrence is not much better … soundtrack awful … she should have awakened someone else and so on … bearing in mind the time in hand this could have gone anywhere as to the human condition and our apparent inability to live together … could have gone all Barbarella … she was running around in her underwear … why only one robot … good title for a song … my films might just be Prattless from now on … many thanks for you reviews … cinema is so good when done well … just watched Pheonix 4 star … toodle pip Nigel

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