Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Passengers (Film Review)

This is the rare example of a film where the situation on screen near perfectly reflects everything back stage. You have a multi-million dollar juggernaut, stuck on auto-pilot and little else. You have two people, effective strangers, forced together, and taught to tolerate one another with little real direction despite their obvious talent. You have the entire thing gradually going up in flames as the film progresses, and a gigantic lie hanging over the entire production.

If you think this is cruel in some way, please don't start to defend this film. Really, this isn't worth it. It's not the staggering disaster we have seen of the past years, but it just has such a horrific direction, such a poor plan, that you can almost literally see the money being wasted with every passing second. You see, this is a horror movie, a survival movie, a science fiction movie with a high concept fantastic idea; all of which is presented through the lens of a rom-com. Yes, really, and even if that might somehow appeal to you, things start to get so much worse.

The story here follows the  colony ship Avalon, as it makes a generations long journey to a new home. Unfortunately, a malfunction within one of the hibernation pods awakens engineer Jim Preston and later on the writer Aurora Lane. As they try to come to terms with their isolation and the fact they will never see their new home, things quickly begin going wrong around the ship, and it becomes clear Preston is hiding something from Lane.

If you have seen the trailers, you will know they make a big, big thing of the secret, which we discover for ourselves very early on. It proves to be both somewhat better and infinitely worse than many predicted, as it doesn't harm humanity as a whole, but it commits the cardinal sin of making Chris Pratt into a complete monster. This review is about to spoil that moment, so you have been warned:

The big secret is that Pratt's character, Preston, has gone insane. Stuck in isolation for so long, he began to obsess about Lane in her hibernation pod, and eventually was pushed into awakening her. Claiming they had suffered the same malfunction, he begins setting her up as the Eve to his Adam. Believe it or not, but the film wants you to root for the two of them, treats the entire thing as a romantic tryst, and tries to set up their relationship as ultimately a good thing. Suffice to say, this doesn't work, and this fatal flaw sinks the entire film thanks to its poor direction.

Almost the entire way through, Passengers seems to be actively fighting itself, from its story to its visuals. There are constant horror reminders, from visual cues and shot replications of The Shining to vast and spectacular sequences where the gravity gives out, which are expertly executed in their own right. Yet, the second they start to set up a tone or direction for the film, the rom-com element barges in, derails the entire idea and tries to set up its own sequence of events. You can honestly jump from scene to scene where tonal shifts, direction and even basic trope context seems to have been lifted out of an entirely new film, as if two separate scripts were mashed together. That or some studio executive demanded a massed re-write early on into the production, either is quite likely given the execution here.

The character direction itself reeks of this as well, as it has four extremely talented actors (well, three and one actress) on screen at once, yet the director cannot get a single one to work with him. Despite the film focusing upon Preston and Lane's relationship, neither Pratt or Jennifer Lawrence have the required chemistry to pull off the role. Well, actually, that's not entirely true. They're still proving themselves to be their usual likable and talented selves, but the script itself seems to hinge upon two crewmen who are not entirely trusting or at ease with one another. Their respective performances just do not reflect this, and it lacks the character arcs or gradual progression which would have been needed to make this film a hit.

Still, for all this, it's more of a woefully misamed and mismatched film rather than a truly bad one, as each person involved is skilled in their own right. When elements are taken on their own, you can easily see just how and why they might have worked and some are brilliantly executed. However, thanks to the odd genre conflict, nothing in here manages to fully click, so you're left with the parts of a fantastic movie, rather than an actual fantastic movie. A disappointment to be sure given the talent both on screen and behind it.

This is definitely one to pass unfortunately, and it's probably going to be remembered more as an unfortunate misfire than anything else. While there are certainly good points to it, and it's hardly going to eclipse Pixels as the worst thing ever to happen to geek fandom, you'll easily forget about it within five minutes of seeing the film. If you are truly obsessed with the trailer and can stomach the twist, rent it in a few months time, but otherwise give this one a pass.

1 comment:

  1. I did like the film, but I fully agree with all of your points. For me, i had to compartmentize my reactions to different aspects of the film. I enjoyed that the film had at least overtones of hard science fiction. I also have seen the waking up out of cryosleep decades to early trope done well in literary science fiction. In the end you can tell the studio executives insisted the romantic genre tropes be observed above all else. I would have enjoyed the film more as a romance if they had removed the ethical dilemma. If they were going to make that secret such a big part of the plot, they should have toned down the romance aspect and allowed the audience to see the moral question play front and center more. I won't say the character's actions makes Pratt into a complete monster, but the audience needed to see a lot more of his mental anguish if the director really expected the audience to pity and sympathize with his choice.