‘PASSENGERS’ FAILS TO REACH ANY GREAT HEIGHTS

PASSENGERS has met with critical hostility overseas. The previews concentrated on the action scenes in the film which in fact form a minor part towards the end. This created certain action movie expectations which were not met. I have to say that I did not mind the film, and stayed quietly engaged throughout.

This sci-fi film, directed by Morten Tyldum and written by John Spaihits, commences with a Star Ship Avalon transporting over 5,000 commuters to a commercialised planet called Homestead 2 which requires the passengers and crew to sleep in hibernation pods for one hundred and twenty years.

An asteroid hits the Avalon which causes a malfunction in mechanical engineer Jim Preston’s (Chris Pratt) pod. He awakens after only thirty years of the journey. With only an android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) for company Jim tries to overcome his loneliness by exercising and talking at length to Arthur. The film poses the ethical question as to whether a person has the right to sacrifice another’s future for the former person’s gratification. This is the moral dilemma Jim Preston wrestles with. Contemplating suicide, he spots a pod containing a sleeping beauty  Aurora Lane, played by Jennifer Lawrence, yes  the same name as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

You just know that he is going to wake her ninety years early as Jennifer Lawrence is the films co-star! Jim must also wrestle as to whether he should keep what he has done to her a secret. He hides the truth and predictably falls in love with her until after the bartender tells Aurora the truth.

Jennifer Lawrence is her typical luminous presence and has to traverse emotions going from love to fear and to resignation. This she does convincingly.

The first Act of this film could have done with some judicious editing. In the last quarter of the film when deck officer Chief Gus Mancuso awakens, the film switches to action mode. Pleas for help from Earth are meant with the same corporate spin  as when a product like Volkswagen or Samsung massively fail  ie the ship’s malfunction could not have happened.

The special effects are eye popping and the Academy Award nominated production design by Guy Hendricks Dyer and Gene Sardana owes a debt to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001-A Space Odyssey as well as the bar scenes from The Shining.

Lawrence Fishburne as Mancuso  is appropriately grim in a brief  one dimensional role and Andy Garcia appears for about fifteen wordless seconds and yet gets fifth billing?!

I found that Chris Pratt as Jim Preston succeeded in calling on more emotional depth than in his previous jokey hero roles.

Michael Sheen is excellent as as the android Arthur and injects much needed humour to this film.

The disappointing pace and predictability in this  overlong film greatly detracts from the film’s appeal. These shortcomings are mitigated only partially by the moral and commercial world issues which the film raises.

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