Passengers: the movie
One looks for a bit of quality when one tries for a movie during the holidays. Holidays are brief, so we look for a good movie that we will remember as enhancing our vacation experiences.
I've just come back from a holiday on the Sunshine Coast. I went with a couple of people and we looked around for a movie we could all agree on. Most of the films showing at the time were kids-related Disney-style animation movies. "Passengers" was the exception, so
we all agreed on that one.
Sadly, I wish I could report we all thought it a very good movie. But, overall, we were left rather underwhelmed.
The basic idea of the story is actually a very good one: 5000 people in suspended animation while they journey by spaceship to a new colony on another planet, “Homestead 2”, 120 years from earth. They are programmed to awake several months before they reach the new planet. Something goes wrong and two people awake some 90 years before they are due to reach the new planet. One is male, Jim, played by Chris Pratt. The other is, surprise, surprise, female, Aurora, played by the delectable Jennifer Lawrence. They can't put themselves back into suspended animation; they are unlikely to survive until the spaceship reaches the new world, so, what to do? It's not a bad idea for a space movie. Space movies with a bit of depth and intelligence often do very well – think of "2001: A Space Odyssey" from 1968, and the much more recent "The Martian".
Despite this promising premise, the movie basically turns into a a "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again" romance. Quite cute and sweet in its own way, but hardly unusual. The 2 key players – Pratt and Lawrence – are engaging enough. Pratt is handsome and jut-jawed in a way that reminds me of Bradley Cooper in his more "macho" roles. Lawrence handles the role of Aurora - looking for a new life on a new planet but now facing disappointment and failure - very well. The two actors have some chemistry, and, as a conventional romance, the movie does well enough.
Every movie romance must have some drama. There are two dramatic turning points in this plot: one of them has the potential to kill the romance between these two (I won't say any more), while the other is a fairly standard Saturday-afternoon style of action, when the on-board nuclear reactor goes rogue and Jim and Aurora must try to save the day.
Direction by Morten Tyldum – probably best known in Australia for his excellent film "The Imitation Game" – is adequate and workmanlike; which is about the same you can say for the screenplay by Jon Spaihts. With any sci-fi drama, there are always some logical absurdities that one should not enquire into too closely: for example, if everyone on board the spaceship is supposed to be asleep for 120 years, why have a functioning bar staffed by a functioning robot waiter, even if he is impeccably played by Michael Sheen?
It was good to see Laurence Fishburne in a small role as a prematurely revived ship's officer. It's nearly 40 years since I saw him as a young, half-demented sailor in Francis Ford Coppola's “Appocalypse Now” back in 1979. One likes to see the old, familiar faces from one's youth ...
The film's end quite neatly wraps up the story of what happens to Jim and Aurora, as it flashes forward in time to the end of the journey, when the 5000 passengers wake up and prepare to disembark on their new home planet. Yet, this really only serves to reinforce the impression that one has seen a fairly standard cutesy-pie romantic movie, dressed up with a little bit of Saturday-arvo matinee action. Boy-meets-girl is fine; but this film is no "2001: A Space Odyssey". Maybe though, it wasn't meant to be.
If you want a sweet-tasting romance, with a dash of deep space thrown in, you'll probably like this film. If you are looking for Stanley Kubrick, look elsewhere.
My star rating (out of five): * * 3/4