A couple of weeks ago, I saw ‘Passengers’, the new sci-fi film directed by Morten Tyldum, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. I had reservations about this film, as I was worried that it was going to be exactly what the advert showed (a couple lost in space, having accidentally woken from hibernation pods before they were supposed to, on an unmanned malfunctioning spacecraft in the middle of space). Luckily, there was more to the film than just this.
As briefly mentioned above, ‘Passengers’ begins with Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) accidentally waking up 90 years before he is supposed to. Jim is a technician by trade, and discovers that his hibernation pod (which was supposed to have put him into a deep sleep until he arrived on a new planet) has malfunctioned, and so has to figure out what went wrong. Before long, another passenger awakes, a journalist called Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), and a multitude of strange things start to occur on the ship as these 2 strangers start to learn to live together.
For me, this film was actually a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Firstly, I love the cinematography of this movie. Recently, I have started warming to sci-fi as a genre in general. I am not sure whether it is because film technology (special effects and CGI) is so much more advanced now that space scenes can be made to look seamlessly good, or whether it is because I am finally watching big blockbusters like this on the big screen, where they are intended to be seen (or possibly it is a combination of both things).
Secondly, the fantastic special effects are beautifully showcased by the sleek set and stunning architectural design of the spacecraft itself. For example, there are massive windows within the ship, specifically created to view the spectacle and vastness of space, which (along with scenes of the couples out in space in their spacesuits) symbolise the immensity of space in comparison to humanity. If I was a passenger on this spacecraft, I would be very impressed with its grandeur.
Finally, in the same way that the sets enhanced the special effects, the accompanying music of this film meshed both these cinematic components flawlessly. This was composed by Thomas Newman (who has worked on films like ‘WALL.E’ (2008), ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1994), and ‘Skyfall’ (2012)), and complemented the variety of emotions that the film exuded at appropriate points (whether that being expressing the sheer vastness of space, the frustration of isolation, the intimacy of human contact, or the raw passion of human survival).
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the film, and thought it had so much potential! Sadly, this was let down by the second half of the film, which was extremely lame. I was going to give this a 7 out of 10, but developments in the latter part of the film made me reconsider, and left me to rate this film with a merge 5.5/10.
For me, the ending of a film can make or break it, and the end of this film broke it. Firstly, as this is a film about re-colonisation in space, the idea of American Manifest Destiny (the 19th Century idea that America had the right of Westward) is addressed. Now obviously it has to be addressed at some point (because the whole concept of the film is about humans settling on a second planet in the universe millions of light years away from Earth). However, the manner in which it was addressed was extremely sickly. It glorified the fantasy of the original American Dream (the idea that equality of opportunity is available to anyone in space) in a nonsensical way. The script extremely weak at this point – it was unbelievably idealistic, unrealistic and arrogant of expansion into the unknown. This fantasy dominated the second half of the film, turning it away from something that would have been great (which I will get onto below).
Secondly, I did not like the idea that such a rigid class system would still exist (with Aurora Lane as the journalist being upper class, and Jim Preston, a technician, being lower class). The portrayal of this just reminded me of a Titanic of the skies (with its different classes segregated to different sections of the ship), and did not sit comfortably with me. I am aware that a class type system will always exist (certain people will always be better off than others). However, it could have been addressed in a better manner…
Finally, I did not like the love aspect of the film. I do not want to give too much away, but the ending of the film is diluted (and in my eyes spoilt) by this… Essentially, the ending felt rushed, and it detracted from all the brilliant aspects of the first half of the film, in which Chris Pratt gave a fantastic performance. His portrayal of a lone man losing the sanity that social conventions and interactions instil into a civilised human-being was so believable, and showed his vulnerability in a touching way. My favourite scene of the film, in fact, was a scene where Pratt lets himself go as he begins to lose his sanity from having to live by himself for so long. I saw the video of how this look was produced, and it was pretty amazing what the art/make-up department did. Ultimately, ‘Passengers’ was a mixture of this unstable isolated psyche examined in ‘Castaway’ (2000), the re-colonisation aspect of ‘WALL.E’ (2008) and the loneliness of ‘Moon’ (2009) thrown into one – all of which I adored. Then it became about survival, and then love (which ensured its demise)…
These three points countered the three factors I loved about the film (the special effects, the sets and the soundtrack), and undermined them. I do not want to give too much away, but overall, there was good character development and more of a plot than I expected, but when Jennifer Lawrence entered the picture, it got real shit real fast. Now I am not saying that Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was not good (it was), but as soon as she came into the film, it became a wish-washy, predictable film.
Ultimately, this film started strong and then floundered. It had a lot of ideas and ended up running away with it self. It should have ended 20 minutes before it did, and if it had, it would have been a great film with cheesy Americanised elements, but something different and great. Chris Pratt was extremely good at certain points in the film, but these efforts were eclipsed by the uselessness of the final aspects of the film. Initially l liked the romance scenes between Pratt and Lawrence’s characters, but as soon as the plot altered track, I became annoyed and disillusioned by it. Overall, I think the reason I was so upset with this film was because I went in expecting little, began to really like it, then became disgruntled as it became frustratingly predictable and twee, rather than punchy.