March 18, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: PASSENGERS

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia. Directed by Morten Tyldum. (2016, 116 min).

Passengers is not the movie it was promoted as, which apparently pissed off more-than-a-few critics & moviegoers. Perhaps touting the film as space lovers in peril was a bit deceptive, especially with box office darlings Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt in the lead roles, but the fact that its undertones are much darker raises it above the by-the-numbers multiplex fodder it could have been.

The Avalon is a massive starship on a 120 year voyage to colonize another planet. Its 5,000 passengers & crew have been placed in hibernation for the trip, but when the ship is damaged after passing through a meteor storm, Jim Preston (Pratt) is accidentally awakened 90 years early. With no way of returning to hibernation, he's alone with only a robot bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), for company. He manages to last a year before loneliness and despair (and thoughts of suicide) threaten to overwhelm him.

Then Jim sees Aurora (Lawrence) asleep in her pod and becomes fixated on her, learning every aspect of her life through the ship's files, which, in a way, is tantamount to cyberstalking. Being a mechanical engineer, he figures out how to wake her up, and even though he's well-aware doing so sentences her to life on-board the ship with no chance of making it to the new world alive, Jim can't bare to face the rest of his life all alone. Over time, the two fall in love, but Jim doesn't tell Aurora he took it onto himself to wake her, maintaining a ruse that it was another pod malfunction.

"Ruff! Ruff! I'm a bad doggy!"
This is where Passengers gets interesting. Jim knows what he has done is morally unforgivable, and the guilt of his facade does weigh on him, yet at the same time, how can he possibly endure alone without losing his mind? This disturbing undercurrent is present throughout the romantic montage of their first year together, and effectively forces the viewer to ponder whether or not they would have done the same thing if they were in Jim's shoes. Then Aurora learns his secret and understandably freaks out. She can't forgive what he's done and refuses to continue living around him.

Passengers does such a great job making the viewer unsure of how to feel about the creepy aspects of this relationship that it's almost a shame when the film focuses on the actual plot: This entire time, various functions of the Avalon have been breaking down, and it turns out the meteor shower did a lot more damage than popping open Jim's pod. The malfunctions become increasingly serious and life threatening. A crew member, Chief Mancusco (Lawrence Fishburne), prematurely awakens just long enough to inform them that the ship is doomed unless they can find out what's tearing it apart. While this third act is suspenseful and exciting, it's also pretty predictable, as is the Stockholm Syndrome aspect of the resolution.

"Do we really have to watch American Hustle again?"
Until then, Passengers offers a compelling situation, and somehow, Pratt's inherent congeniality renders his character sublimely sinister; the fact we like and identify with him almost makes us co-conspirators. Since her character isn't quite as interesting, Lawrence has a less challenging task, but she's nonetheless appealing as the hapless object of Jim's affections. The special effects and production design are also very impressive, the Avalon, in particular. It's one of the more imaginatively conceived space vessels I've seen in quite some time.

Passengers may not be the straightforward sci-fi love story some people signed on for, but it would be a shame to dismiss any movie that practically forces the viewer to think long and hard about what they'd do in the same situation. Is it possible to empathize with someone who has no right to decide someone else's fate? Discovering one's own answer to that question is what makes Passengers unique. It isn't often you can say that about a big-budget, high-concept film aimed at a mass audience.

"On the Set with Chris Pratt"; "Creating the Avalon" (ship and set design); "Space on Screen: The Visual Effects of Passengers"; Casting the Passengers"
"BOOK YOUR PASSAGE" - This is a multipart mock 'infomercial' for Homestead's colonization cruise.
"PASSENGERS: AWAKENING" - A promo for the VR video game
OUTTAKES (Blooper Reel)

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