Movie Review: ‘Passengers’
Director: Moten Tyldum
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Plot: Jim Preston is an engineer in hibernation during a 120 year migration to another planet. A malfunction revives him 90 years early, leaving him stranded on the ship alone. After a year of isolation he revives another passenger, writer Aurora Lane. She is unsuspecting of how she came to be awake and the two begin a romantic relationship.
Review: The first thought upon leaving the screening for rom-sci-fi-com Passengers: was there a scene missing?
As has been widely reported, the marketing focuses more on the love story aspect of the film, implying heavily that the two of them have both been waken by accident. There’s a much darker aspect to the story that we only learned when watching it – Jim (Pratt) deliberately woke Aurora (Lawrence) and condemned her to a life stranded in space after a year in isolation.
That in itself isn’t the problem. This leads to much more interesting conflict. It’s basically acting not only out of desperation and loneliness but from a somewhat stalker mentality. Jim doesn’t know Aurora and has been reading her books and articles and looking up information about her in the ships records. He’s got it into his head that she will make his life more worthwhile, and although he struggles with the consequences at what he wants to do, he still does it and hides this information from her. As you’d expect, after they’ve fallen in love, she discovers the truth and is none to thrilled with her life having been stolen from her.
Now this next paragraph has some fairly predictable spoilers…
This is the point that Passengers stumbles and does not recover. The timeline of the story runs for more than two years of the character’s time, and this is compressed to fit the movie. We get a rugged Pratt beard to indicate the time passing during his year alone, but we get very, very little indication of time passing between Aurora discovering the truth and the events of the final act. We do know that time does pass but we don’t get the sense of it, we just see Aurora is much more forgiving of Jim’s actions by the time of the finale. If we’d spent more time with her during this time, and saw how they’re relationship changed and even perhaps see her experience the loneliness that drove Jim to perform his despicable act they’d be more reason to understand their behaviour in the third act. Instead we’re left with her brushing aside the fact that he has essentially kidnapped her – taken her out of her own life to fulfil his needs, and she has no escape.
At the end of the film, instead of developing these conflicts and studying the characters we get a big disaster so they can all try to sacrifice themselves to prove they aren’t that bad. It does feel like a wasted opportunity.
So there’s that one very large, very awkward sticking point. Does Passengers offer anything else?
Absolutely, yes. The design of impressive throughout the entire film, clearly drawing on influences from many sci-fi classics including 2001, Aliens and more. The way the ship and it’s mechanical components look are impressive and immersive throughout. Whoever designed some of the safety protocols must be a complete loon, however. There are automatic magnetic boots and tethers whenever someone goes for a space walk but nothing to stop an unsuited person without any safety equipment from hopping into the airlock and flip the switch? Not really good design there. There’s a number of illogical choices that science and engineering nerds can spend hours picking apart.
Casting Pratt and Lawrence is a good move, as they are the answer most people would have for the question “who would you want to be stranded with”. They’re both good actors and have poured a lot of emotion into their roles. They both have to spend quite a bit of time acting by themselves or with Robo-Michael Sheen being the only person to swap dialogue with.
So we have good actors providing good performances against a nice setting with a questionable script and some disconcerting morals. Split the difference.
Rating: FIVE out of TEN