Today: June 12, 2024

Passengers

There is a strange sense of parallel universes that play out between Passengers journey to the big screen and the story of the film itself. In 2007 Jon Spaihts’ screenplay was on The Black List – a list of Hollywood’s most popular scripts not yet produced. So, like the ship in the film itself, The Avalon and Passengers seemed to be off to a good start.

When meteors hit, with various directors including David Fincher and Marc Forster coming and going, the ship seems to be in choppy water. So to steady the vessel Oscar nominated director of The Imitation Game Morten Tyldum comes aboard. With a few systems failures in the shape of script rewrites and budget concerns, on the ship Jim (Chris Pratt) is rudely awakened 90 years ahead of schedule, with all the other passengers still fast asleep.

And from there the film settles into a groove. Jim, like the production, comes to terms with his new existence. He’s alone, he’s frightened, he tries everything to get back to sleep but nothing. And so he decides to wake another passenger in the form of Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora. So now the film is cruising, we’ve got two of Hollywood’s most popular actors of the moment sharing the screen, falling in love and going all Titanic in space.

Yes, there are moral questions over whether Jim should have woken Aurora, yes it’s mildly creepy that he never thinks to look at any other passenger as a potential shipmate – you know, like someone who might be able to help his predicament other than a writer -, yes there are softly-lit scenes of these two beautiful people having sex, swimming, jogging and flaunting their pin-up bodies all over space. And no, none of this really furthers the plot.

So by the time Aurora finds out what Jim has done you’re left scratching your head as to why you should still care? Sure, he’s essentially stolen her life from her, but, in a twist that feels horribly like a ghost in the machine, the damage done to Jim’s hibernation chamber was the tip of the disaster waiting to strike iceberg. Because the only way the ship can be saved is if there are two people. So now, morally at least, Jim is off the hook.

Here’s Passengers’ biggest issue. On the surface, probably in Spaihts’ original script, is a kernel of a really interesting idea; what if you were stuck in space all alone knowing that if you didn’t wake someone you would die alone, of old age, or worse? It’s the sort of film that could have played out on an incredibly interesting, existential, arthouse level. And that last point is key; arthouse. In other words low budget.

Because for all the star power of Passengers, all the staggering visuals, and they really are stunning at times, the whole affair feels too polished, too box-ticking plot wise and too glossy to ever hook you in. Instead, we’re left drifting around space with two very beautiful, but ultimately shallow, people witnessing a story unfold that you are never engaged with. It feels over produced.

What it needed was a smaller budget, unknown, or at least character actor, leads and a script that asked a lot of moral questions before leaving them up to the audience to decide on the best answer. Imaging this concept in the hands of an Andrei Tarkovsky or perhaps Duncan Jones (after his brilliant Moon) and the mind races with the possibilities of what it could have been.

As it is Passengers feels exactly as the title suggests, we’re here for the journey and little else, the destination being a place of little significance.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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