ON IN CINEMAS
In the distant future, the Starship Avalon is travelling on a voyage between earth and a colonised world known as Homestead II. As its journey time is 120 years in length, the passengers hoping to start a new life are held in cryogenic sleep pods until the last 4 months. However, during its flight it collides with an asteroid, resulting in a number of malfunctions - including the premature awakening of Jim (Chris Pratt). After he comes around, when the computer host summons him to a briefing he realises that he is the only person up and about. When he goes to the ship’s holographic observation deck he discovers that there are still 90 years left of his journey still to go. He tries to go back into his pod and return to his long slumber, but discovers that the device can’t get him back to the necessary state. If he can’t get back to his cryogenic hibernation then he will die of old age before reaching the colony.
Getting increasingly desperate to find out what has gone wrong and how to fix it, Jim attempts to break through the reinforced steel door into the bridge to awaken the captain - but to no avail. However, under the advice of android barman Arthur (Michael Sheen) he decides to make the most of the ship’s facilities including the restaurants, space walks, gym and more. However, as his hair and beard grow ever-longer he becomes increasingly obsessed with a beautiful co-passenger named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence). One problem: she’s still in her cryogenic sleep state along with the rest of the passengers. When Jim discovers that he can wake her up, he faces a dilemma: bring her out of her slumber and into his life (a selfish act since it would mean that she, too, will die of old age before reaching Homestead II), or face the rest of his days on the ship alone. After some deliberation he decides to take the jump and awaken her.
For its first act, Passengers is quite a compelling study of isolation. Pratt’s performance as a hapless man slowly going crazy from loneliness amongst the vast confines of a clinically pristine space vessel (with only an android barman, some pretty dumb Siri-style computer assistants and a few cleaning droids for company) is chillingly believable. The incidental gags revolving around the various technologies aboard the ship are an effectively hilarious counterpoint to the fundamentally grim situation that Jim has found himself in. The production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas is suitably sleek and stylish, combining the clinical realism of the film Moon (2009) with the warm exuberance of a plush hotel. It feels like a living space that straddles a middle-ground between somewhere that would be pleasant to stay in for a short while, but utterly soul-destroying to spend the rest of your life in.
A lot of advance reviews for Passengers have been roundly negative. The main reason is that fact that Jim, when all’s said and done, stalks Aurora (by finding out a lot about her via various files he has access to) and, in an act that’s morally way off-beam, awakens and thus potentially condemns her to a life that’s not of her choosing. That’s not to say however that such an idea doesn’t have dramatic potential. While Jim’s actions are, quite clearly, seriously wrong-headed, he commits them out of an understandable fear of spending the rest of his life in a state of sheer loneliness within the confines of a location from which he cannot escape. However, it’s the manner in which the idea is handled from this point on (in the second and third acts) that’s the main issue.
Jim pretends that Aurora was also woken up by a malfunction, and the pair soon become lovers. Unfortunately, while Lawrence and Pratt aren’t bad actors and are both outstandingly physically attractive members of their respective genders, they make for a rather bland and chemistry-free coupling. The moral arguments posed by the first act dilemma could have so easily been turned into a great drama by, for example, making it so that they don’t get on as well as Jim’s over-romanticised visions of Aurora suggest. However, the film is more interested in showing these beautiful people bonding by eating breakfast together, having fun taking part in holographic video games, then making love in a series of tamely suggested scenes. The film then, in order, contrives for Aurora to find out that Jim woke her up (inevitably resulting in her hating him), then contrives for them to be forced to get back together as the ship starts to malfunction, potentially dooming everyone aboard - sleepers and non-sleepers alike. You know how lazy the writing has become when a moment involves a character (lacking any prior knowledge of how to use a specific device) resorting to a bit of “what the hell, let’s just hit every button and see what happens” desperation - and hey presto, it works.
It’s a shame Passengers’ journey goes so awry as there are some good scenes, performances and visuals. As it is, it just feels like three separate movies - a compelling study of isolation, a trite romance, an okay Gravity-style “spaceship in peril” adventure - jammed awkwardly together via some sloppy screenwriting devices.
Runtime: 116 mins
Dir: Morgan Tyldum
Script: Jon Spaihts
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Lawrence Fishburne, Andy Garcia