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Passengers (3D Blu-ray Review)

13 Mar, 2017 By: John Latchem



Street 3/14/17
Sony Pictures
Sci-Fi
Box Office $99.4 million
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD/3D BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sexuality, nudity and action/peril
Stars Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Lawrence Fishburne, Andy Garcia.

For all there is to enjoy about Passengers, there’s a big plot turn right in the middle that threatens to drag the whole thing down. It’s only through the considerable charms of leads Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence that the film has any chance of surviving what many critics labeled a fatal flaw in the story.

Set hundreds of years in the future, Passengers tells the story of an interstellar spaceship called the Avalon ferrying 5,000 colonists in suspended animation for 120 years on a journey from Earth to a new homeworld.

About 30 years into the trip, the ship encounters an asteroid field that causes significant damage. Though everything is automated on the long voyage, the ship deploys hundreds of robots to clean and repair itself. However, the damage is severe enough to cause a malfunction in one sleep pod, causing an engineer named Jim (Pratt) to wake up 90 years too early and forced to deal with the idea of living the rest of his life on an empty ship.

After a year of isolation, Jim discovers Aurora (Lawrence), whose name is clearly a nod to Sleeping Beauty, and makes a decision with a profound impact on her future. When they become the only two people awake on the ship, the audience is burdened with knowledge that casts a pall on their potential relationship, and drives the story when she learns the same.

This is one of those movies where to really expound upon the story invites a mountain of spoilers, so that analysis is saved for a separate blog (click here). It would suffice to say, however, that the movie manages to make the naturally likeable Pratt come across as a huge creep, which makes the middle part of the movie rather unpleasant on first viewing.

This could just be a factor in how the filmmakers chose to edit the material in giving the audience information about what is going on. The fact that the story is told linearly puts the audience in a particular mindset and gives the film a distinct point of view, whereas a bit of cutting and pasting to create a flashback at a key point might have made things a bit more interesting by keeping certain plot elements ambiguous, giving equal weight to both major character arcs while enhancing repeat viewings.

In either case, whatever sympathy we have for Jim from his solitude is nearly wiped out when he performs an act many would consider unforgiveable.

To a large degree, those willing to dismiss the film outright seem to do simply because they’re so caught up in outrage that the story’s primary moral failing is even broached that they miss how it’s just one of several larger philosophical themes being explored. This is a movie that invites discussion, even if it eases up on following through on the ramifications of the ethical dilemmas it presents.

These are the kinds of situations that are begging for the filmmakers to record a commentary track to discuss some of these issues. Alas, there is no such commentary on the Blu-ray, though there is some discussion of Jim and Aurora’s moral conflicts in the behind-the-scenes featurettes (with even J-Law attempting to justify what happens to her character as ultimately a good thing).

Be it fundamental problems with a script that was in development for nearly 10 years (Keanu Reeves and Emily Blunt were slated to star at one point), or studio demands for an audience-friendly blockbuster, Passengers ends up trying to be both a romantic date movie and an intense sci-fi thriller. In what can only be described as either an expertly crafted clockwork story or a skilled feat of audience manipulation, each of the film’s two personalities sort of needs the other quality to make the movie whole, while at the same time each half contributes to inherent tonal disparities that detract from what makes them interesting.

Still, director Morten Tyldum, who delivered the brilliant The Imitation Game in 2014, does his best to balance the opposing forces, and despite some swerves to convention toward the end, manages to end up with a film that is ultimately entertaining and though-provoking, even if much of the message is left to the audience to decipher. There is a lot more context here than most critics have given the film credit for, especially when considering the nearly 10 minutes of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray that give better meaning to several references in the movie (it's a shame some of these bits couldn't have found their way into the film anyway).

What really carries the day are the terrific performances of Pratt, Lawrence and Michael Sheen as a robot bartender who helps the characters refine their understanding of what they need to do. Pratt and Lawrence have a winning chemistry, all things considered, and she is simply amazing showing off her acting chops as her character is run through the emotional wringer, leaving little doubt why Jim would fall for her.

On top of that, the film’s technical credentials are impeccable. The production design of the ship is first rate — futuristic but not over the top, and both inviting and sterile, not unlike the space cruise from Wall-E. The visual effects are breathtaking and really pop in 3D, which contributes to the feeling of isolation in the vastness of space. And the distinct music of Thomas Newman provides just the right atmosphere regardless of when the film is trying to awe us or unsettle us.

All that good, ultimately, is enough to recommend the film, despite its problems.

 


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