Sunday, January 15, 2012

3 short paragraphs: Pandorum

2009, Christian Alvart -- Netflix

Pandorum is not a well-liked film, at least not by general critics, and I can kind of see why.  It's an incredibly derivative work borrowing from nearly every closed-ship sci-fi movie, including but not limited to 2001, Silent Running, Solaris, and, of course Alien, amongst others.  It also feels like a space version of the cannibalistic creatures film the Descent, and liberally influenced by such hunter/hunted movies as Predator and Pitch Black. In spite of this, the film, swollen with ideas, actually is quite rewarding in its own way.

Christian Alvart isn't a Quentin Tarantino figure who can mash and rehash countless "seen it" scenes but portrayed in a new context, but he does manage to build an effectively dizzying world aboard the spaceship Elysium, wherein two figures, Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid, awake from hypersleep to find that they are, seemingly, alone, and that their prolonged sleep has rendered them with temporary (hopefully) amnesia.  As they start to unravel the mystery of exactly what their mission is, a second puzzle plagues them... what happened to the rest of the crew?  Searching for the ship's generator to manually power it back up to full capacity, Foster trucks through vents and cable shafts --  with Quaid at a monitoring console guiding him.  Separated, Foster encounters an ass-kicking woman (Antje Traue) who refuses to cooperate with him, but finds she must as there's predatory species aboard the ship now hunting them both.  Quaid, meanwhile, fights delusions, perhaps the onset of Pandorum, a sickness found in deep-space voyageurs, as well the unexpected arrival of a crewman from the previous ship who already seems deep in the throes of the affliction.

The film also delves into some more philosophical territory, explaining the mission as the last hope for humanity's survival, with Earth having blown up, and all.  It's an additional, unnecessary layer, but it adds to some interesting set-pieces, particularly the reservoir of every DNA sequence, and the finale.  A quick skim through wikipedia finds that the script actually existed as two separate scripts which were then amalgamated and bolstered, which makes sense as there is definitely two or three, perhaps even four different types of movies clashing with each other here, and yet it's not as big a mess as it could have been and is enjoyable in its own regards.  Alvart's visual sensibility is quite sharp, and the set design and practical effects are very well devised with a heavily industrial aesthetic.  There are moments where the digital effects don't work but they're actually not as prominent as one tends to expect from sci-fi these days.  For genre fans, this won't be an instant favourite but they should find something to enjoy out of at least one of the plotlines, while the casual SF viewer might just find it confusing or tedious.