Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Passengers: Passable #Scifi #Romance #review with spoilers

Warning: Spoilers Ahoy!

The Story
A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

First Impressions
Wow! It opens with the spaceship travelling through space, then suffering a meteor shower before moving into the interior of the ship and diagnostics. Nothing really new in terms of special effects, but it's very pretty! After that, we have a long stretch of not very much happening, which is no doubt supposed to correspond to the empty, tedious existence of our hero and the motivation behind that dastardly deed that provides the only real plot twist (lazy!).

The Plot
Well, I had some issues here. First up, I kinda wish we weren't shown what had happened to the ship as it made it more frustrating to see the characters trying to figure it out and failing (although some of the best scenes of the ship in space other than the finale). Also, why just one pod? Why not a whole group or even a whole bay? (and that could have made it even more interesting, like The Poseidon Adventure in space, and maybe got rid of the ew factor). Also, I disliked the convenient waking of a crew member who survived just long enough to point them in the right direction to fix things, then died so they weren't stuck with an awkward triangle (Jim is supposed to be some kind of technician - would it really have been so impossible for him to work it out?!). I also didn't get why the barman Arthur blabbed the truth to Aurora after being told to keep it a secret (shouldn't he have some kind of discretion programmed, or maybe client confidentiality?! Okay, so she needed to learn that bit of information for reasons, clearly, but that seemed too convenient a way. It could have been done after the crew member woke and they were running diagnostics, and again taken the film in another direction. Personally I'd rather her pod had been an accident too, because as a plot twist the idea sucked).
Finally, I'm not convinced by Chris Pratt playing the straight guy - he's much better as Starlord with the witty banter (I didn't quite buy his character in Jurassic World either - he's much better in something with a humorous edge), and Jen Lawrence's kissing style? That was much more an ew factor for me personally. Sorry, Jen, but even my daughter who adores you said the same thing...

The Ew Factor
Okay, so, yes, what Jim did was completely and utterly wrong and reprehensible (and as Aurora says later, tantamount to murder), but totally made sense (a year in space alone with the prospect of decades ahead? Not sure I wouldn't have done the same thing). Some people say he got no punishment
I think Aurora beating the cr*p out of him and the guilt was at least some payback? And in the end, she decides to stay with him even when given the choice, so she must have forgiven him. She could even have stayed for a while, then said 'nah, this isn't working, put me to sleep'. Considering how popular romances involving kidnap/abduction, and even forced seduction are, I'm kind of confused by the reaction to Passengers in that respect (although I don't personally like those kind of romances myself yet enjoyed Passengers. Go figure!). While I found the romance too rushed (I didn't get a real sense of time passing, like I didn't realise Jim had been awake for over a year until we're told) so perhaps that could have been better conveyed.

What I did like
Despite all the above, I enjoyed the film - it made for entertaining, thought provoking and visually attractive viewing. The basic premise was cool, and I loved the design of the Avalon. Although we expect that standard of CGI now, I did love all the special effects too, especially when the ship lost its gravity (although I know the whole science is supposed to be wrong on that. Sometimes I can be forgiving in that area if the visuals are spectacular). The barman Arthur was probably the best character in it (and it was cool discovering he was an android. His character provides the little humour in this film).
While I don't think Lawrence or Pratt were 100% perfect for the roles, they played them well enough to mostly be believable (and yes, as an author, I'm somewhat biased toward Aurora). The heroine gets a turn saving the guy, and while the earlier part of the film runs frustrating slow, there's tension throughout, with action and explosions in the finale (though not nearly enough for me). I'm not sure about the level of nudity - I was watching with my 14yo so there was a certain level of embarrassment for both of us, and I definitely wouldn't have taken my younger two. :P

In Conclusion
I'm glad I didn't read the reviews and had decided to just go see the film (as with Suicide Squad). I can't help but feel it got an automatic 'scifi with girl cooties'='shoot it down in flames' like the all-female Ghostbusters.
However, while being an okay/good film I do think it missed out on being much more and hope this is just some test run for greater things. I'd really like to see Starship Titanic (Douglas Adams and Terry Jones) done as a film - you can guess the storyline from the title, AND there's a double romance in it with all the promise that entails. ;) (Adams also did something similar in Mostly Harmless, part of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, while the comic SciFi TV series Red Dwarf also deals with a lone surviving human left on a ship after a nuclear disaster, kept company by a hologram of the crew member he hates most, a humanoid evolved from his pet cat, and a dysfunctional android servant they rescue).
Meanwhile I'm still waiting on that breakout Scifi Romance film (where it's clearly labelled and portrayed as such)...

I give Passengers 3 out of 5 emergency flares, and I will be investing in the DVD (though not another cinema trip).

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