Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Morten Tyldum
Stars: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, voice of Emma Clarke.
Passengers is set in a distant future where the Earth has become overcrowded and resources are drying up. The colony spaceship Avalon is making its way towards Homestead II, a distant planet that will become the new home for humans. The journey though will take some 120 years. The crew and some 5000 passengers have been put into a state of frozen suspended animation, due to be awakened on arrival ath their new home, allowing them to colonise this brave new world. But thirty years into the journey, the Avalon is struck by a meteor shower, which causes a malfunction that wakes up Jim Preston (Chris Pratt, from Guardians Of The Galaxy, the recent remake of The Magnificent Seven, and Jurassic World, etc), a mechanic.
He is unable to wake any of the crew who are in hibernation in secure quarters. With no way to re-enter the hibernation pod he faces the prospect of a lonely death aboard the ship. For a year he wanders the ship awash in self-pity, with his only company being Arthur (Michael Sheen), the automated bar tender. For a while he is a bit like Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away. During his daily wanderings though he spies the beautiful Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) in her nearby pod. For a while he wrestles with his conscience, but then decides to wake her from her sleep so that he can have female companionship. A romance develops between the two, until she learns of the truth of Jim’s actions – that he brought her to life for his own selfish reasons.
Meanwhile a number of further glitches and malfunctions force the pair to work together to try and ensure the smooth running of the ship. Gus (Laurence Fishburne, who previously had his misadventures in space in Event Horizon, etc), a crew member awakened by another glitch, briefly offers some assistance.
Passengers has been written by Jon Spaihts, who also scripted Doctor Strange. It was on the 2007 black list of the hottest unproduced scripts, and has spent nearly a decade in development. But the script offers up too many contrivances to be completely credible. And it also raises a number of disturbing moral questions, especially about Jim’s actions and motivation. The film has been directed in a leisurely fashion by Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum (the dark Nordic thriller Headhunters, and The Imitation Game, etc), but there are several moments early on when the film almost grinds to a halt.
Passengers is essentially a two-handed drama and relies on the rapport between Pratt and Lawrence to carry it along. The relationship that develops between the pair drives the narrative, creates a sort of emotional roller coaster, and adds to the dramatic tension. The roles provide meaty material for the pair and they delivers solid performances. Pratt who began his career in comedies like the tv series Parks And Recreation, etc, delivers a strong performance here. Lawrence continues to show why she is one of the most in-demand actresses working in movies today with a subtle and nuanced performance. Sheen is amiable as the friendly bar tender who lends a sympathetic ear and dispenses wisdom while polishing glasses. Fishburne brings his imposing screen presence to what is a fairly thankless role, and Andy Garcia pops up in a cameo as the Avalon’s captain.
With its small cast and outer space setting, Passengers will remind audiences of other sci-fi films like Gravity, The Martian, the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Douglas Trumball’s 1972 film Silent Running. The film deals with themes of loneliness, mortality, the future of mankind. Guy Hendrix Dyas’ production design for the massive spacecraft Avalon is impressive, the CGI generated special effects are superb and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Argo, etc) gives us some great visuals.
Passengers serves up an ambitious mix of science fiction, romance and psychological thriller, and it has a good pedigree on both sides of the camera. Passengers also demands a suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. While it is running the film is engaging enough, but once the lights go up at the end and you start to think about what you have seen then it all begins to unravel fairly quickly. The internal logic of the film is fatally flawed and raises too many questions that cannot be satisfactorily answered – this despite rumoured reshoots to fix some troublesome plot elements.
Audiences will begin to question some of the logic behind the plot. Such as – if the trip takes 120 years, who founded this new homeland in the first place? Why is the only working automaton on the entire ship a bar tender in a bar that will not be used for 100 years? Where are all the backup systems and inbuilt redundancies to deal with computer malfunctions and the occasional glitch?