Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pandorum (2009)

Title: Pandorum (2009)

Director: Christian Alvart

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Antje Traue


Don’t know about you guys, but lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the “end of the world”. There has been a recent slate of films where the films main premise and main theme is that humanity either has already ended, or is about to end. This recent fixation with “end of the world” movies probably stems from the coming of the year 2012. Some people out there actually think the world is going to go caput on that year. It could also have something to do with the economy, and how life isn’t really as easy as it used to be. My take on it is that every generation eventually ends up thinking that the world is going to end during their time. The sometimes chaotic nature of life can make us think that way. One look at sci-fi movie posters from the 50’s will let you know what I’m talking about, back then, people were just as obsessed with 'the end of life as we know it' as they are now. So many movies back then exploited this angle, this fear that the human race will one day disappear from existence. Truth is, time keeps going, the planet keeps going, and so far, so do we. My advice is to take it easy, soon it will all blow over, well get old and realize there was really nothing to worry about. Or maybe a giant meteorite will wipe us out and we wont even know it. In the mean time, we got some movies to watch. Like Pandorum, a film that also explores this notion.

On Pandorum, we are presented with an interesting premise. Planet Earth as we know it ceased to exist. It’s not specified how (“it was probably nuclear!”) but planet earth and all of humanity disappeared from the cosmos. Fortunately, one last spaceship was sent out into space with the last of the humans. They are headed towards a new planet that has been discovered and that has shown signs of being “earth like”. Only two people are needed to run the ship, the rest are safely kept away in hyper sleep. Movie starts out when two members of the flight crew wake up from hyper sleep to an abandoned and lonely ship. No one is running it, the power has failed, and no one really knows why. This is where the mystery begins. What has happened? Why is no one flying the ship? Did we make it to the planet or not?

So I liked that about this movie. It starts out with a great big mystery. No one knows anything, and we along with the two awakening crew members are slowly figuring everything out. It’s that initial sense of mystery that pulled me into the movie immediately; the not knowing what’s happening. I loved the setting of this gigantic haunting spaceship. It’s one of the main reasons why I love Event Horizon (1997) and The Black Hole (1979) so much, these are films where we explore a gigantic and ominous spaceship. The art direction was great in this film. The corridors of the spaceship look dark and ominous, the different rooms in the ship were well executed, and yeah, its true, more then a little influenced by Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), the film that Pandorum uses partially as its blue print, at least in look and feel. Its whole first half is a lot like Aliens (1986) as well, specially when it comes to those scenes with the crew waking up from hyper sleep. We even get a mysterious girl who has been surviving on her own and has turned almost savage in nature, ala Nute in James Cameron’s Aliens.

The makers of Pandorum fed from more then just the Alien franchise to make their film. It’s also got elements from films like Silent Running (1971), Wall-E (2008), The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) and Knowing (2009). It even fed of some sci-fi novels. I’m a huge Arthur C. Clarke fan, for those who don’t know, he is the Author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and many other excellent sci-fi novels. A lot of Arthur C. Clarkes books dealt with this premise of a spaceship with the last remaining members of the human race. The one that comes to mind is Songs from a Distant Earth (1986). In that novel a spaceship with the last remaining humans are on their way to another planet they hope will be their new home. It’s a very interesting premise to work with; unfortunately this angle wasn’t explored so much in Pandorum because the film was more concerned with becoming just another monster movie, and not a very original one at that.

Personally, I’m burned out on movies that go for the “good guys running from the monsters” premise. And that’s entirely what this movie turns into. This is one of the main reasons why I was absolutely bored to death with Quarantine (2009). It’s so boring when we know exactly what’s going to happen in a film. I totally disconnected from Quarantine for this reason. But I stuck with Pandorum because I liked the “last members of the human race” premise and I wanted to see where they were going to go with that. But basically, these cannibal like creatures are running through the space ship and the good guys have to fight their way through them so that they can arrive at the ships power generator. Good guys need to turn the generator on so that the ships power is restored and they can make their way to this new planet they are supposed to reach at some point. That whole second act of the film, where we start to figure out what the creatures are, their behavior and how much of a threat they are, bored me to death. There’s nothing new or different about it.

To me, if you are going to do something dealing with the good guys running away from the monsters, you have to make sure it’s something original, something we have not seen before. Unfortunately, the original route is not the one this film wanted to take. The creatures resemble those we have seen in many other films. The one that first popped to mind was those creatures we saw in Neil Marshall’s The Descent (2005) where these creatures have been in the dark for so long they have become cannibals, they have begun to breed, they have pale skin and white eyes. If you’ve seen The Descent, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect from these beasties, they even have a similar scene in which the good guys fall in this pool of blood and skeletons...just like in The Descent! To the films credit, I will say that the make up effects were handled well, but these creatures don’t go past the guy in a suit thing we’ve seen thousands of times before. They are violent and filled with rage, similar also to “the reapers” seen in Joss Whedon’s Serenity (2005).

Somewhere around its third half, the film kicks back into an interesting gear; when the whole mystery is completely unraveled. Interesting thing is that with each human we meet on the ship, the further away from being civilized they are. I thought that was cool about the movie, obviously commenting on how easily our civilized behavior can disappear in extremely difficult circumstances. Also, the film has a very interesting twist in its last half that I loved.

Performance wise everyone did a good job, but nothing to call home about. I mean, is it just me or has Dennis Quaid been phoning in a lot of his performances lately. I don’t know, the guy just doesn’t seem to be trying anymore. His presence in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) for example was so replaceable. No special effort is put into his performances, same goes for Pandorum. His character works, but its nothing special.

Overall, this film wasn’t that bad. But it wasnt good either. It just wasn’t too original. Its second half with the monsters running after the bad guys almost had me disconnecting from it because it felt so “been there done that”. Same problem I had with another recent science fiction film called Outlander (2009) which was yet another sci-fi film that fed off a gazillion other movies we had already seen before. If I referenced a bunch of other films during this review, its because I couldnt help it, this movie rips off to many others. Here’s a message to all those filmmakers out there: you have to try harder with movies! You can’t keep given us the same old drivel we’ve seen on countless occasions before! You might have the budget, the production values, good direction, but if its more of the same, you risk audience disconnection. This is Lt. Film Connoisseur signing out, reporting from the blogosphere, anybody listening out there?

Rating: 3 out of 5


HorrO said...

I think you liked this movie more than I did. I agree, it started off good with all the mystery, but after that it went all down hill for me. The movie was able to draw you back in, but not me. I hated the characters that he met on his journey to the power generator. I thought the movie was going to be scarier and more intense than it turned out to be. The ending did surprise me. The movie definitely doesn't replace "Aliens".

Franco Macabro said...

I dont think it was trying to replace Aliens, but it was trying to be something like it. It failed.

Only reason why I gave it a 3 is because it had good production values, I liked the sets and the mood of the film, but I just couldnt give a rats ass about what was going on because I new it was just going to be about running to the power generator, fighthing some monsters, turning the thing on and thats was giong to be it.

Truth be told, about half way through I was going to give up on it, but I figured, Id give it a chance, just to see if they ever make it to the new planet.

This movie needed to be about more then just the monsters. It needed to complicate things more. Be more ambitious then just a monster movie.

It did get a bit philosophical there with the whole backstory behind what really happened on the ship. Thats one thing I liked about it, but by then, it was already too late.

James Gracey said...

Cool review! I enjoyed this, though I'm not sure it's the kind of film that would withstand much scrutiny... Many plotholes and inconsistancies - BUT! So atmospheric and claustrophobic. Agreed - the ending was surprising too.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Yeah I want to see this one but it didnt jump out at me despite the decent praise it got during the theatrical run. Ill give it a netflix

Franco Macabro said...

@James - Yeah, not much to scrutinize, its a simple film. Though when they meet that crazy nut, they go into themes of a king "playing god" and all that...but it was really just too little, too late, still, a nice atmospheric piece.

@Carl - If you got anything better to watch, then watch it, but if you feel like wasting some time on a simple yet atmospheric monster flick, then indulge!

Man of Sin said...

It wasn't just about getting to the reactor. That looking it at just the surface. It's really about exploring aspects of survive like social Darwinist. Wrote all about it here.

I like to pick apart my movies.

Franco Macabro said...

I too enjoy picking movies apart, and I agree with you in that the film does have a bit of philosophy to it, especially that scene with the crazy cannibal guy and all that he talks about, but, it was still a bit superficial, it didn't go deep enough. But that's just my take on it man, I will be reading your review for it, thanks for posting that link, I will be checking it out.


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