Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Passengers" Gets Seriously Lost Into Orbit


     Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood today, starring together in what is perhaps one of the biggest box office risks this year: An original non-tentpole project with about a $100 million price tag relying on star power in a day and age where superhero and brand franchises are bigger movie stars than actual movie stars. But when you leave two stars hanging in space, trapping them in a film with a misguided script and poor execution, why else would you think this is such a huge risk?

    Passengers is set in a spaceship carrying 5,000 passengers to a distant, utopian planet so they can move away from Earth. After an asteroid shower, one of the passengers, Jim Preston played by Chris Pratt, accidentally wakes up from his hibernation pod, leaving him stranded on the spaceship, unable to go back to sleep. An android bartender, played by Michael Sheen, ends up being his only companion. That is until he wakes up another passenger named Aurora played by Jennifer Lawrence, leading to them falling in love along with further complications.

    Now the plot point of Jim waking up Aurora is one aspect of the film that has been subjected to major criticism and is what ultimately drags the film down. It did not gel with me that I would sympathize with a man that wakes up a strange woman that he fell in love with while she was asleep, dooming her to die with him. While Jim was alone on the spaceship and the filmmakers make an effort to justify his decision, I feel that no matter how you slice it, it is bound to cause uncomfortability. Right after Jim wakes Aurora up, I immediately found him irredeemable.

  However, the script is plagued with flaws. For one, how is it that despite the spaceship being incredibly high tech, if someone were to wake up from their pod, there is absolutely ZERO way for them to go back to sleep? The people behind the ship can create fancy cappuccino machines yet they can't come up with some kind of emergency method in case one of the passengers wakes up early so that they don't die? Also, why would all those passengers leave their loved ones on Earth behind? They're tired of how overpopulated and overpriced Earth is? What bullcrap. Why not just rewrite the script so that they're leaving Earth because it is slowly dying?

   Also, I wish the script had delved into the ramifications of Jim's decision to wake up Aurora more. Though maybe it is described in its original draft in more detail. I don't know. Maybe there was more focus and it was left out of the editing room. Personally, I would've preferred that they went with a director that has experience with science fiction films that focus on character drama. Someone like Denis Villeneuve or Alfonso Cuaron because director Morten Tyldum, to me, was the wrong choice to helm this project. He focuses too much on the film's spectacle aspects rather than giving it much substance.

    Now that I've gotten my major griped with the picture out of the way, how are the two actors? Well, they do give it their all. Chris Pratt proves that he is capable of carrying films on his shoulders and as for Jennifer Lawrence, what can I say? She's great in everything she does. She was perhaps the most sympathetic character in the entire film. Even when her character becomes reduced to a stock worrying girlfriend role towards the end, she still delivered.

  The fact that Aurora becomes a stock girlfriend actually irked me. Granted, the script doesn't do the character a whole lot of justice minus some backstory thrown in. But when you look at how we've seen such rich, complex sci-fi heroines like Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, Imperator Furiosa, and even Michelle from this year's 10 Cloverfield Lane, it's unfortunate that Aurora isn't allowed to really be a hero. Heck, Jennifer Lawrence has experience playing complex sci-fi heroines with Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Why waste her talents in such a way?

    Anyhow, despite its star power doing what they can with what they're given, Passengers fails to deliver in execution. It had a lot of potential to be better and more thought provoking than it actually is. But it's not. Not much more I want to say here.

Grade: D+