Passengers – A Bumpy Ride Through Space

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

After this rather fascinating drama plays out, Passengers changes gear and becomes an amateur mystery/romantic movie with an unsatisfying climax. The very philosophical questions either remain unanswered or are given vexing solutions. Seven out of 10 Stars.

Adam and Eve are the progenitors of our ancestors, at least according to the Judeo-Christian canon. Adam was created first, but he found himself to lonely, too bored. God, the holy creator, realising that Adam was his most precious invention, and should adequately be looked after, had to come up with something novel.

And no, God did not give Adam an IPhone, but created Eve. The rest (expulsion from heaven, human migration, the medical revolution, the Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, WWII, 9/11, the election of Donald Trump), as they say, is history.

The Christmas flick Passengers, so to speak, is the story of Adam and Eve retold in space. Making its way into theaters during the holiday season in the West, it was a film expected to entertain, as well as, enlighten. It has a fantastic director, a very interesting concept and all the money in the world to turn imagination into virtual reality.

So, why did it fail to fulfill its grand expectation? More importantly, why did critics hate it?

Stephen Holden of the New York Times accused the film of succumbing to “timidity” and the plot of feeling “stale and secondhand.” MaryAnn Johanson of was even more dismissive, subtitling her review, “lost in sexist space,” asserting that the lead male character gets away with too much evil (he does).

Review aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic showed that only 32pc and 41pc, respectively, of critics approved of the flick. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and what one sees in a movie, another may completely miss. But today’s film criticism seems to me to be overly concerned with the race and gender of the cast members, even if the film is trying to make a point.

This is the age of Facebook and Twitter, one off hand misguided post from a user may usher a ripple that causes the critic to get fired. So, I entirely sympathize with my fellow critics who have to walk a tight rope of political correctness.

Back to Adam and Eve in space. Jim (Chris Pratt) is a mechanical engineer in hibernation abroad the starship Avalon, which is heading for Homestead II, another colonized planet somewhere in the cosmos. The journey is to take 120 years, there are 5000 passengers on board, and the ship is programmed to wake everybody up just four months before Homestead II is reached.

Along the way, though, an asteroid hits the starship, something malfunctions and poor old Jim is woken up 90 years too early. Let’s put ourselves in Jim’s shoes. The ship is entirely adequate to sustain him with all the basic requirements (food, clothing, oxygen) he needs until he dies, but he is strictly and intolerably lonely (except for an artificially intelligent bartender that is friendly, but unavoidably robotic).

He is not able to get himself back into hibernation and any type of communication he sends back to earth will take 55 years to be responded back to. The crew of the starship is located in a separate hibernation pod located in a room that is unauthorized to him or cannot be broken into. So he does the unthinkable. He does to another person, knowingly and rationally, what the universe did to him. He wakes up a passenger whom he learns from databases he likes.

Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) is a journalist whose dream it is to make a round-trip from Earth to Homestead II and back to Earth, 250 years later. Harsh reality – she wakes up on the starship heading to Homestead II 89 years too early. Much worse, after she meets and falls in love with Jim, she finds out that her one and only companion sentenced her to this unique situation. I admit the third act isn’t as good as it could have been.

After this rather fascinating drama plays out, Passengers changes gear and becomes an amateur mystery/romantic movie with an unsatisfying climax. The very philosophical questions either remain unanswered or are given vexing solutions.

Was Jim correct to subject Aurora to what is essentially murder without her say-so or does it make her a weak woman that she loves him even after finding out the truth?

Would the whole situation be a lot less controversial if the characters changed places, and it was Aurora who did the unthinkable? The film does bite off way more than it can chew. The script was written by Jon Spaihts, and it remained on the high-valued but unproduced list of Hollywood scripts for 8 years before finally finding a home at Columbia Pictures.

I can’t help but suspect that if Spaihts could write such a satisfying first half he would be able to square off an equally gratifying climax. I say this because of the other talent involved with the movie’s creation Morten Tyldum, who must have made demands for a better third act. He made the very good The Imitation Game, which also had a tricky story to tell.

The cheesiness of Passengers is entirely out of context when seen from the perspective of The Imitation Game. It maybe that, when Tyldum and his crew and cast screened the film for studio executives and producers, someone went and made a a box office friendly final edit. Still, the film is very enjoyable. The performances are all well attuned. The overrated, overpaid Lawrence successfully deflects the cliché moments while Pratt easily tiptoes around his emotionless character.

The supporting characters though may be the reasons to watch the movie. Lawrence “Morpheus” Fishburne is effectively grumpy and sad. On the other hand, Michael Sheen is fantastically joyful and composed as an android bartender. And then there are the gorgeous visuals of Avalon. The interior of the starship is notable for its cold and deliberate design, bringing back memories of Stanley Kubrick’s dauntless 2001: A Space Odyssey. Regrettably, no Hal though!

By Christian Tesfaye
special to Fortune

Published on Jan 03,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 870]



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