DIrected by Morten Tyldum
Written by Jon Spaihts
Passengers is one of those films that is provoking a love-hate reactions from audiences. Both responses are way overboard, folks. Even narrowing it down to best sci-fi film of the year? Nope. That would be Arrival, hands down. Worst film? I’m to come up with something worse than Neon Demon…give me awhile. Not even the worst five minutes, because that would without question be Nocturnal Animals‘ opening. But, is Passengers a good movie? Prepare to lose your shit: Yep. Let’s continue.
In case you’ve missed the media blitz, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) and Jim (Chris Pratt) are on a luxury liner headed on a one-hundred-twenty-year voyage to a beautiful, habitable corporate world of wonders. One of those wonders is the first What Would You Do? question of many in the film. All crew and passengers will sleep for all but a few months of the time in order to arrive healthy and strong, ready to colonise Homestead II. Foolproof plan. With computers tuned to detect the slightest variation from one hundred percent compliance and repair any problems, a failure is impossible. Except, with thinking like that, no one takes into consideration what happens when the inevitable massive collapse happens.
Jim Preston — passenger, not crewmember — is the first to experience an effect from this decline. He awakens, eager to meet his fellow colonists and prepare for the new world, only to realise a ship that should be buzzing with excitement is silent, but for the chillingly cheery voice of the ship that doesn’t recognise or admit that something has gone horribly gone. Jim is part of the Engineer/Mechanical group, but he doesn’t have the training to understand what has happened other than it is horrifying. Aurora Lane emerges from a pod in another area, a higher rent area. For Jim, it is love at first sight, of course. At least, that allows him to be strong for her while she is panicking. The only other sentient, conscious being on the entire show is that always wise, ever debonaire Arthur the Andriod, as only Michael Sheen could play him.
Because, what that ship refuses to recognise is that Jim and Aurora have awakened ninety years too early with no way to put them back into hibernation. In other words, even with the best odds, the two of them will be long gone before anyone else on the ship regains consciousness. They will never see this amazing new world, never start over, never see another human face. They may not maintain their sanity. Another thing the ship refuses to recognise is that it is dying in fits and starts. If it does realise it, it’s not telling itself. Confusing?
Now to the part everyone is arguing about… and I can’t really tell you about it. It’s plain in the trailer that Chris Pratt’s character is dreading telling Aurora something about the ship, but is it what you think it is? Before I forget: stay away from the viewer “reviews” on Rotten Tomatoes! Some bombers on there are leaving spoilers without a warning. (And I will track you down you little ass munch and teach you what some of those obscenities you used mean.)
What I think the problem we face again and again in films like these is wanting characters to be stronger, more fearless, and all together greater creatures than we are. You can’t have that because, when you do, you pillory the film as being completely unrealistic, ridiculous. It’s all right to have five thousand people sleeping for over a century, but you want the to be superhuman, too? No, no no.
So, you have to ask the questions the film proposes (and there are many and they have been asked before, just not on such a massive time-frame) and answer them honestly. Don’t answer them awesomely. Answer them honestly. Start with: If one could leave Earth for another planet, what would the decision be? And imagine that it was only possible to afford fare for one and that one person would never see anyone they know ever again, what would the decision be? Because, we always assume the person going on is us; we will survive on that new world and the one staying behind will probably perish alone.
Think about it the other way for a change. What exactly would we be willing to suffer to let someone else sail off into the sunset? Would we be just as willing to make the sacrifices if we knew we weren’t going to get the credit? That’s a much tougher one, isn’t it? If were are willing to put up with hell for the sake of someone we have only loved from afar or someone who can’t remember our name or…or…or… The farther away you get, the less awesome we may be will to be. That’s why we must answer honestly. That is part of what Passengers is asking us to do.
It is also asking us to appreciate that space — vast sound stages that give the feel of a luxury ocean liner gone mental — and outer space are what 3D was always meant to do. The depth of the decks upon decks that the brain knows should be filled with strolling passengers carrying colourful drinks are painful to view when those people are absent, when only one man and one woman try to fill the empty space. A fully-interactive hologram planetarium that puts the viewer in the center of the universe is jaw-dropping. Passing what appears to be far too close to a star is breathtaking and utterly gorgeous. Even the closing credits gift you a few minutes of beautiful pass-throughs of gas giants and nebulae that are well worth the wait. (No stingers after the credits.)
Special effects abound: zero-g swimming, space walking, gravity coming and going, and Arthur the Amazing Android. It’s got everything available in the world of movie-making and making up a lot of its own stuff. It’s harrowing, tense, horrifying, and heartbreaking. Is it Oscar calibre? Probably in the technical categories, especially since it squeaked in at the end of 2016 and voters seldom remember beyond October. It’s not a fantastic movie; it’s a good movie and an enjoyable one. It’s definitely eye-candy. (Can you have too many Chris Pratt ass shots? I submit you cannot.) And there is JLaw and all the special effects.
Just don’t expect people in movies to do things you could not, unless you mean DeadPool, because he can do anything.