There Is A Reason They Woke Up
In the future Earth is overpopulated, over-polluted and overpriced. As such, the Homestead corporation colonises distant worlds and allows people to travel across the universe in vast starships for a new beginning. The Avalon is one such starship holding 5000 passengers and 200+ crew, journeying for 120 years to the planet Homestead II. While the human contingent sleeps, an on-board artificial intelligence is designed to navigate safely through the perils of space. Missing a particularly large asteroid, a small fragment rips through the hull causing several errors. One of which is the early activation of a hibernation pod. Subsequently Jim Preston [Pratt], an engineer, wakes 90 years too early and cannot get back to sleep owing to the way the pods are designed. It slowly dawns on him that he will die on the ship long before they ever reach their destination and runs through a range of emotions, exploring the various entertainment and distractions the ship provides. Eventually, clearly depressed, Jim contemplates suicide but changes his mind when he becomes fixated on a hibernating female passenger. Learning everything about her, he goes back-and-forth but eventually decides to wake her up so that he has company. Going through with his deed, Jim revives Aurora Lane [Lawrence] and shows her around the ship she will now spend the rest of her life aboard.
Passengers feels like the very definition of a studio-driven film made by committee. The brief pitch synopsis reveals so much potential for an engaging and thought-provoking thriller. Instead, every interesting nuance is trumped by genre prioritisation, pushed by executives. If the Sony email hack revealed/confirmed anything, it’s that when big money is involved, every executive level interferes with the creative process, trying to second guess what audiences “really want.” It’s a spectacularly damaging process that cripples films and acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy: say you’re trying to get an animated film made for a mature audience but the studio doesn’t believe anyone will watch it, they might half-heartedly fund it but meddle every step of the way until it’s basically an unwatchable mess and forever say, “See? Doesn’t work.” Genre prioritisation, however, is a fork in the road; it’s where a film can be split in its categorisation but the plot dictates one core element will override another. Passengers is billed as a science fiction romance and every time a key development takes place, romance is given leeway. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing, if the script was decently written.
**The end of this paragraph gets a bit spoilery**
In addition to a weak script, we have a fair amount of lacklustre acting. It’s not that Lawrence and Pratt don’t have chemistry or that what’s being asked of them is out of their range, it’s more that the story doesn’t know what to do with them outside of moving on to the next blunt set piece. The opening forty minutes is pretty strong and could have easily developed into something akin to 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Shining, Cast Away or Room but again, the film always falls back on lazily utilised cliché. I maintain this isn’t a spoiler but it’s definitely a development that was kept out of most of the advertising so feel free to skip ahead if needs be.. but we need to talk about this; besides, I covered this in the plot overview. So Jim is basically irredeemable. This isn’t a case of two perfectly pretty people waking up and surviving together, it’s the story of a man who selfishly and voluntarily spreads his suffering to another human being. Jim purposefully cyber-stalks Aurora, going through her records and (one would assume) confidential interviews about why she wants to emigrate to Homestead II. Once he’s fallen in love with this impossibly perfect perception of a woman he honestly knows nothing about, he makes the decision to revive her, cursing her to share his fate. This action was remarkably bold and waiting to see how the film would deal with this fact was a promise of ingenious writing that never came. What could have easily been an amazingly mature drama about male entitlement, the desperation of isolation and guilt fizzles into little more than a simplistic love tale with no real ramifications. So much so that the moral of the story seems to be kidnap a woman and she’ll fall for you eventually because her only other choice is death. The narrative even goes so far as to wake up a third character (in the form of Laurence Fishburne as one of the ship’s deck chiefs), mostly to further the plot and give a bit of exposition before exiting just as quickly as he entered but also to essentially tell Aurora to get over it. And to make matters so much worse, she bloody does! In space, you will always need a rugged frontiersman to literally fix things with hammers and wrenches and when he makes an effort to sacrifice himself to save you, it’s time to put aside those differences, buckle down and get back to the regular fucking we saw in the first act. Apparently.
I will admit, however, that this film isn’t a complete write-off. The production design is extremely decent, the steel-coated ship is structured somewhere between luxury cruise liner and Spartan military base without ever feeling like we’ve stepped onto an entirely different craft. Furthermore, the CGI and cinematography are pleasantly done, rarely failing to deliver on photo realistic and immersive visuals. I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed with Thomas Newman’s score, nor did I find it jarring, so that’s something.
Passengers is far from terrible, it’s just lazy, obvious and disturbingly stupid. What’s more, it assumes the audience is just as lazy and stupid, spelling out the obvious over-and-over before disregarding every precarious path to present the blandest denouement. Considering everyone involved, not to mention the whopping budget, this was a complete waste of time and talent that will fade into almost immediate obscurity.
23rd December 2016
The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers for this and another film within**
To me, this whole scene is a shining example of the sheer laziness and stupidity on display. The ship’s core is going critical.. or nova.. or whatever.. and the only way to save the ship and all its crew is to vent the fumes. But in order to do so, someone needs to go outside, open it manually and stay there while the molten hot jet erupts past them. Having woken Aurora up, effectively killing her, Jim realises he has to sacrifice himself to keep her alive. Aurora, moved by his devotion and heroism (I guess), decides she can’t live without him and laments his choice. While he is ultimately successful, Jim is shot out into space and with his tether severed starts to drift away and die in the cold recesses of space. Not willing to let him go, Aurora dons a suit and flings herself out of the airlock to catch him. Miraculously and against all scientific logic she brings him back in then gets him and herself out of their space suits and drags his arse all the way the medical pod to try and revive him. The computer, understandably says, “this dude is dead.. like.. there’s no way he’s coming back.” Remembering she has Chief Mancuso’s authorisation band, she orders the machine to do EVERY SINGLE MEDICAL PROCEDURE loosely connected to revivifying a corpse. The computer says this is not only unwise but basically stupid so she screams something and it does it anyway. AND THE FUCKING THING WORKS! Love and all the medicine are the two factors. God, if only doctors these days knew that, so many needless deaths could be avoided. I will admit, this also sort of happens to Chris Pratt in Guardians Of The Galaxy but, in that film’s defence, Quill isn’t entirely human. And it could have been even a little bit redeemable if Pratt had died and after another year or two of isolation, Lawrence does the same unforgivable thing Pratt does. But she doesn’t and they live happily ever after. One wonders if that medipod thing can ascertain psychological disorders too, if only to highlight the extreme case of Stockholm Syndrome. And that’s before we get on to the question of if either of them is infertile, given the sheer wealth of 12a/PG-13 rutting and no babies.
Outside of Pratt and Lawrence’s performances, the only other individual who spends a reasonable amount of time on-screen is the animatronic, bartender/sage, Arthur played by Michael Sheen. The necessity for such a character is obvious and the performance is sufficiently amusing, charming and forgivably silly that he borders on endearing. On the other hand, this does not mean he’s such a necessary component that when the ship is tearing itself apart and everything is malfunctioning, Jim and Aurora should take the time to stop their robotic friend from pounding his face on the bar. It’s the equivalent of a car careening out of control because the driver is asleep at the wheel but taking the time to make sure the radio is tuned in to something appropriate – why would you bother?
“If you live an ordinary life you’ll only have ordinary stories”
In A Few Words:
“An unfortunate, wasted opportunity that doesn’t say or do anything of note, positively or negatively”