Morten Tyldum‘s Passengers is not a completely loathsome movie but by God is it stupid. So stupid that it’s a bummer that genuine effort was put into more than a few aspects of it. It’s a textbook example of a tale where love trumps logic, and even decency. The only reason you’ve heard good things about it, I’m guessing, is that the Fifty Shades crowd has been attending it.
In Passengers, we meet mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), one of many passengers in stasis sleep aboard one of those movie spaceship with too many spinning parts, headed towards a colonized Earth-like planet called Homestead II. The problem, of course, is that Jim is not in stasis, having woken up 90 years too early for reasons he can’t (or won’t) discover.
The machines onboard are of no help, either addressing Jim as if they’re in fact addressing all passengers and crew, or insisting that the situation Jim describes is impossible and that the “hibernation pods” are infallible. Yeah, apparently none of these devices have been programmed to process a scenario wherein something goes horribly wrong or the mission is somehow endangered. You know when you use the Windows Troubleshooter and it straight up lies to you, saying it couldn’t detect any errors even though something is obviously wrong? Imagine if your entire computer was like that and also ran a spaceship full of thousands of people.
Jim tries to make due, with no company besides a bartender droid named Arthur (Michael Sheen), but it starts to tear on his sanity as the months pass and turn into a year. But one day, he sees a sleeping passenger, a physically attractive author who looks like Jennifer Lawrence, starts researching her via ship’s archive, and decides that he has fallen in love with her and wants to wake her up. After much consideration, he does, and romance does bloom between the two, but the author doesn’t know the entire truth of how she woke up, which leads exactly where you think it leads. Her name is Aurora, by the way, like the princess in Sleeping Beauty. Get it? DO YOU GET IT?
This entire set-up sounds like it belongs in a much darker film, but as far as I know, this film is supposed to mostly be romantic and Jim is not supposed to be a villain. Yes, he was desperate for company and yes he semi-regrets it later, but wouldn’t it have been decidedly less idiotic if he released someone who knows how the ship works? You know, maybe even to the point where he can re-enter hibernation along with whomever he woke up? In fact, when the character of Laurence Fishburne (a deck officer who wasn’t sealed off with the flight crew but still has access to most of the vessel’s important areas and functions) comes in, that’s when the movie gets kind of good for a while. At least enough so to be taken seriously for majority of its third act.
As I watched the film, I kept imagining other ways in which it could have been better. It may have been interesting if we had seen the film through Jennifer Lawrence’s point-of-view (starting with her waking up) and had a plot twist where it turns out her revival was due to Chris Pratt’s questionable antics, suddenly giving us reason not to trust him, rather than a systems malfunction. Or if we got to know how the rest of the crew and passengers reacted 90 years later upon learning that someone wasted their supplies, stole things, neglected damages to the ship, and had sex in public areas decades ago.
It kept raising interesting questions with answers that seem to exist in different movies, eventually culminating in the most predictable climax you can imagine and an ending that very nearly redeemed the film but went with the “happily ever after” route at the last second. I won’t give away more than that, which may be too much info as it is, but my readers deserve to know the kind of movie they’re getting themselves into.
Passengers isn’t entirely without redemption, however. The acting and the score by Thomas Newman are too good for this project, and it does have some great visual effects, especially in its zero-gravity sequences (if you can ignore the bit where Chris Pratt weeps inside his space helmet and the tears stream down his cheek instead of floating around). My favorite character in the whole thing was Arthur. Its leads were either too selfish, too forgiving, or too blinded by that thing The Beatles sung about. I forget what it’s called.
Finally, I wouldn’t say it’s particularly original in terms of science fiction. The ship made me think of everything from 2001 (Arthur reminded me of the bartender from The Shining, to name another Kubrick film) to The Martian to Sunshine, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the movie took a lot of inspiration from Red Dwarf (the scenes that depict Jim’s loneliness during his first year, with him walking around nude and drinking heavily, are straight out of the novelizations).
There are some differences, obviously. In Red Dwarf, Dave Lister exits stasis way too late and finds that the rest of the ship’s crew is long-dead as opposed to asleep, and it makes sense for him to only have one companion in addition to the ship’s computer and a weird cat-humanoid, which is that the ship can only sustain one hologram of a dead crewmember at a time. He didn’t just point at a sleeping girl he found pretty and decide to take her future away from her. When an old comedy series on BBC makes more sense than a Hollywood sci-fi “romance”, something is definitely not right.
I’m giving Passengers a 2.5/5 and with that, I’m done with movies for 2016. And don’t worry, even though I haven’t posted reviews of certain pictures, I have in fact been catching up on some of the year’s hidden gems in preperation for my Best of 2016 list. Oh right, I should probably get on writing that. Whatever, enjoy this trailer:
(I really love how this trailer has a trailer for itself at the very beginning. I guess that’s where we’re at now.)