365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

3Jan/170

Passengers (2016)

Passengers is one of those movies that your interest would be better served if you looked at the audience score rather than the critics' scores. A 30% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes would suggest that you skip this one. But a 70% audience score suggests something more. This was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Plus I try to see everything. But even I was skeptical when I saw how it was getting panned by so many different critics. Even my most respected site (Roger Ebert's site) only gave the movie 1.5 stars. But I talked to a couple of different people who go to the movies a lot, and they said, despite some holes, that they recommended it. The only thing I knew about Passengers going in (I never saw a trailer) was that it starred Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, Joy) and that they were lost in space. And while I suppose there were holes in this movie, they didn't in any way deter my enjoyment of this film. The parts that I found more troublesome than anything else were the personal emotions and the relationship between the two leads and, really, I didn't even have a problem with that.

There are only four characters...well...really just three in the entire film. Yet I found the premise to be highly engaging. Jim Preston (Pratt) is the only human for the first 30-35 minutes of the film. And while he wasn't Tom Hanks (Cast Away), James Franco (127 Hours), or Robert Redford (All Is Lost), Pratt did a fine job. His circumstance was quite different from that of the three actors I just mentioned. Each of these characters had to be frantic. They had to survive on limited resources and/or find immediate safety or they were going to die in a very short period. Pratt's Preston had plenty of resources at his disposal and decades of time before he would likely meet his end. Nonetheless, loneliness is loneliness, and while some of us like to have more time by ourselves than others, I don't think there are many of us who like to want to experience vast amounts of loneliness. That includes Jim Preston. Jim is one of 5000 passengers, along with 286 crew members, who is in a hibernation pod on the Avalon spaceship. The Avalon is headed from Earth to a colony planet called Homestead II. It takes 120 years to get there. When they arrive at Homestead II, everyone that they know back on earth will no longer be dead. A new life will be established among the passengers while I believe, the crew will go back to earth for its next mission. The crew is set to wake up six months before arrival while the passengers are set to wake up two months after that. Each passenger has an account and a scan wristband on them. The wristbands show the passengers which room they have for those final months and what they are permitted to eat (i.e. if you have the gold account, you get a bigger room and access to better meals).

But 30 days into the mission, the Avalon goes through a meteor shower which messes up the extravagantly designed giant of a ship. We don't know this at the time, but there are a number system failures that result of this meteor shower, some of which happened instantly and some of which cascaded over time. But the only one that matters to us at the time is that Jim's hibernation pod opens. At first, he doesn't realize it and spends the first night in his room. But the next morning, there is no one in the large cafeteria. He is the only one at his orientation session. Soon, he discovers that his pod opened by mistake. Fortunately for Jim, he is an engineer by trade. His reason for going to Homestead II was to make an immediate impact for future residents on the new location while also building a home for himself. He goes through all of the training manuals on board in attempts to get into the control room and also to get himself back asleep in his pod. He is unsuccessful at both of these things. So instead he spends his days playing shooting basketballs in the gym, playing a virtual reality station that features games equivalent to those like Dance Dance Revolution and hanging out at ship's bar where he can have his only real conversations (albeit with a droid bartender named Arthur in the form of Michael Sheen (Showtime's Master of Sex, Kill the Messenger)). A message is sent back to earth about Jim's situation, but he is informed that it will take 59 years to hear a response and even when he gets the message, he knows it won't matter. There will be nothing he can do. Once the realization starts to set in that Jim will die on this ship alone, a deep depression begins to settle in. This is when he is forced to make a gut-wrenching decision which I will save for the spoilers section.

Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game, Headhunters) did a fantastic job of setting the tone for this film. The first two scenes were methodical in establishing chemistry and building up the tension. The best part about Passengers is not knowing what is going to happen next. It takes quite a few different turns along the way and you're well over halfway into the movie before the high-level drama and fright start to set in. And while you know SOMETHING has to set in to give the movie some sort of conflict, climax, and resolution, you don't know what that will be. And though it takes awhile for this develop, you certainly aren't turning in your seat or looking at your phone waiting for something to happen. And while the third act isn't nearly is good as the first two, it was needed. We've seen some of these science fiction movies set in spaceships or on other planets that don't have any sort of climax. Tyldum does make this into an adventure film in the last 45 minutes. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything unique about it. It became just your typical run of the mill, do what you've got to do to survive disaster scenario. It was a little reminiscent of Armageddon, and that's usually not a good thing.

All in all, this was a nice little space adventure movie that was made in the mold of movies like Solaris, Interstellar, Apollo 13, Gravity, and Moon. The first two acts were unique. Some will think they were too slow. I thought they were perfect. I liked the tone setting. I like the moral decisions that Jim had to make. I liked the implications of these decisions. While certainly a science-fiction/fantasy movie, in certain ways it felt very relatable. Ignore the critics and give the movie a chance. I think you might like it. Worst case scenario, I'd feel like you might say, "Eh, it was okay. I guess I'm glad I saw it."

Plot 8.5/10
Character Development 8.5/10
Character Chemistry 8.5/10
Acting 8.5/10
Screenplay 8/10
Directing 8/10
Cinematography 10/10
Sound 9.5/10
Hook and Reel 9/10
Universal Relevance 7.5/10
86%

***Spoilers***

I liked the moral decisions that the characters, particularly Jim, had to make in this film. He was overwhelmed when deciding whether or not to wake up Aurora. It's almost like an addict who hasn't conquered his addiction and doesn't have the resources around him to help. It became a matter of time when he was going to wake Aurora up not if. I'm glad it wasn't an easy decision. I'm glad he was racked with uncertainty before he did it and guilt after he did it. It made Jim both human and likable. Who knows if he would have ever told Aurora had Arthur not spelled the beans (you had to have the sense that this was coming, but it was still surprising). I think Jim would have eventually told Aurora, but only after all hope of any type of survival had been exhausted. But, then again, who knows. He went over a year without telling her and never gave the hint that he was going to anytime soon. At the same time, I think he felt that there was no point in rushing it. What's a couple of years when you have a lifetime to go? Why make something bad when you didn't need to? But by seeing Jim on his own for so much at the beginning, we knew he was a good man who was tempted by a decision that he felt could bring him happiness in a world that completely deprived him of this. I did find it interesting that he thought he could trust a droid without really knowing anything about the droid. I think if I was put in the same situation, I might have put the droid out of commission. At the same time, I don't know if I would have told the droid of my plan to begin with. But until Aurora, Arthur was his only contact with someone who could carry on a conversation. The two of them had a year where they were able to bond and I don't think could have handled not having that.

The love story between Jim and Aurora worked for me. I know some people didn't like the love story and while they didn't have the greatest chemistry in the world, I would think it would be a little bit harder to do than if there were others scenes from time to time. I am a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence, but her part wasn't utilized as much as it could have been. I don't think anybody could have played her part better, but I think you could have had an actress who wasn't quite at her caliber do her role. This would have allowed Lawrence to pursue a project that could have better used her talent.

Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix, What's Love Got to Do With It) is the fourth and final actor (if you include Sheen's droid) to appear in this movie. His part is short lived but, ultimately, is needed for the story to go where it needed to go. They HAD to get into the control room and at least one crew member was needed to explain the chain of events to so that Jim, Aurora and the audience could understand what was happening. Unfortunately, it appeared like Tyldum might not have had this in his initial plan so, instead, inserted him into the story, had him say his piece, and then killed him off. And, as mentioned, the third act brought the movie down. The uniqueness of the first two acts was abandoned in an attempt to add even more suspense to the movie. It didn't affect how I felt about Acts I and II, but it did lower my impression of the overall movie. With all of that said, Passengers seems to have gotten a bit of a bad rap with the critics.

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