PANDORUM - 2009
Constantin Film Produktion, Impact Pictures
Ratings: Australia: MA / Brazil, Canada: 14 / Finland: K-15 / France: -12 / Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway: 16 / Hong Kong: IIB / Italy: VM14 / Japan: PG12 / Malaysia: PG-13 / Mexico: B15 / New Zealand: R16 / Philippines: R-13 / Portugal: M/12 / Singapore: M18 / South Korea: 18 / UK: 15 / USA: R
Imagine that you watched Neil Marshall's DESCENT and thought, 'You know what would be even cooler than this story taking place in a cave?' and you find yourself saying, 'This story taking place in a freaking SPACESHIP!'
Flush with the euphoria of your own creativity, you'd follow with the icing: 'Except in my movie, I'd replace all the chicks with guys!'
And then, for the final cherry on the top, you'd say, 'Those varmints in Neil Marshall's DESCENT are too weak. Our monsters will be way stronger and faster! Like in Neill Marshall's DOOMSDAY!'
So Travis Milloy and Christian Alvart wrote their story. And then Travis wrote the screenplay. And then Christian (ANTIKÖRPER, CASE 39) decided he'd be director. And then they got the producing team of Paul W. S. Anderson and Jeremy Bolt (RESIDENT EVIL [all], THE DARK, DEATH RACE. Jeremy also produced Anderson's EVENT HORIZON), who brought along their frequent partner Robert Kulzer (RESIDENT EVIL [all], WRONG TURN, THE DARK). Then they all got moneyman Martin Moszkowicz, who has funded lots of good movies as well as RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION. Sadly, but not surprisingly, when these producers got involved they added an EVENT HORIZON subplot with a RESIDENT EVIL motivation for the main character. Finally PANDORUM starts off with the whole Umbrella-style opening text exposition. You know, something along the lines of,
By such and such date the population of the earth was this big. Then later it was this big. Then 175 years later, as we colonized the galaxy, the population on the earth was this big and we had to look for new earth-like planets because earth ran out of resources.
SCOFF ALL YOU WANT! I GOT PAID FOR THIS!
No, no. I'll wait until the SCIENCE MOMENT.
Then, because this is a Paul W. S. Anderson & crew movie, we also need a second exposition narrative, showing that the earth-like planet, Tanis, not only has life, but advanced life-forms living in their own villages and such (a disturbingly interesting hint of a possible subplot that goes nowhere). So we're sending off a massive spaceship to colonize a place that is already colonized. It will take 100 earth years to get there, and the people on board will all be in suspended animation for most of the trip.
Now we cut to Corporal Bower (Ben Foster: X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT). He's RESIDENT EVIL's Alice waking up from EVENT HORIZON's Cryogenic sleep. He doesn't know where he is or how he got there, but he knows something bad happened. We spend a lot of time with him as he explores the dark interior of the spaceship, Elysium, using 175 year old technology^. That is, exploring what little part of it he occupies.
Bower seems to be locked in a very small section of the ship and can't find a way out. He eventually finds the cryo tube of Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid: THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW), and thaws him. The two of them try and figure things out, but being in suspended animation temporarily discombobulates your memory. Thanks to their training, they do remember what the tattoo on their arms stand for and what their jobs were. According to the tats, Bower is an engineer and both men are on the 5th shift. That is, the periods of crew who are in cryo and those who are active move in rotation. So why weren't they woke up by the 4th shift? Why does no one answer their communication calls? Why can no one, anywhere on the ship answer them, and why does the ship's power keep turning off and re-booting up again? Something went horribly wrong while they were asleep and they need to find out what.
NO, THIS ISN'T A POSTER FOR ANOTHER SAW MOVIE.
While Lieutenant Payton mans the helm, Bower crawls through the duct system of the ship. The ducts are stuffed with large rubber tubes and hoses and he has to squeeze through seemingly endless claustrophobic inducing tunnels as if he was ponderously traveling through an artificial birth canal.
Director Christian Alvart could have played this, so within seconds, we get a sense of how long these travels took. Instead, we go through an inordinately long and tedious period of film where Bowers is in a tube, crawling, and crawling, and crawling. You can go to the bathroom, wait in line at concessions, get a refill on your popcorn and drink, return and Bower is still in those rubbery tubes. Sheesh. And knowing that this movie, at 108 minutes, is only 12 minutes shy of two hours, I'm seriously thinking about how much time could have been trimmed here.
Eventually, finally, Bowers gets out of the tubes and the movie picks up again. He travels through the ship, glow stick at the ready, and gets attacked by a knife wielding warrior woman - NOT from DOOMSDAY. But before she can rob and kill Bowers, a blue light at the far end of the passageway scares her off. Bowers realizes that, whatever the hell the blue light is that scared off his assailant, might not be so good for him either. So he hides. Blue light bearing "things" that look like the pale varmints from DESCENT move past.
In relative safety, Bowers continues to explore and comes across a man caught in a trap. The man's name is Shepard (Norman Reedus: MIMIC, 8MM, BLADE II, ANTIKÖRPER) and he's part of a different shift. Bowers frees him, tries to question him, but Shepard is terrified of something and runs off.
Eventually, Bowers, well into about an hour of the movie, has still learned nothing about the ship and what went wrong with it: save for the fact that it is now filled with monsters from somewhere that are feeding off the living humans. People arbitrarily pop from their cryos (after a re-boot from the ship's computer randomly makes them malfunction), and are often butchered while still coming to terms with the fact that they are alive at all.
After a second run-in with the warrior woman, Nadia (Antje Traue) and getting saved by a man who can't speak English, Manh (Cung Le: KWOON), Bowers realizes that their spaceship was a colony ship (which we know from the opening exposition); was supposed to carry thousands of people to the new earth-like planet (which we know from the opening...), and bring along various earth plants and animals to help us survive (which we know from the...). But something went wrong!
GAH! What the HELL was the point of all of that foolish opening exposition?
Here's something I didn't know, and that's the fact that PANDORUM also gets an
!!!UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHÉ ALERT!!!:
Many people have commented on the UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT (URCA). If you don't know what that is, check out the URCA page. Then go to URCA/Pandorum to see why this movie got one. But beware! The URCA page on PANDORUM will have spoilers.
Chem-lights - that would be akin to us going into space today using whale-oil lamps
A fictional disease brought about by extended periods in space - like the idiomatic term, Cabin Fever, only science fiction-ier.
(like THE FINAL DESTINATION and 9 movies released earlier this year) was released in some theaters using the new D-Box Motion Code experience. What is that? It's a specially designed theater chair that, in response to encoded movies, sends waves of vibrations across your seat cushion to highlight certain parts of the film.
With D-Box you not only see and hear the movie, but now you can actually Sit and Feel the movie:
In Your ASS!
When the mystery is finally revealed, it is worthwhile, but getting there is something of a cheat. I expect a mystery to have a lot of red herrings, not only to throw off the audience, but because the main protagonist wouldn't know the truth either and as is natural, can only be expected to follow false leads and sometimes even come to wrong conclusions before the final resolution. But holy crap! There is so much padding in this film!
I'm not referring to scenes that build up the tension leading up to a scare or terror. I'm talking about the scene after scene of crawling through tubes, walking through the craft, and absolutely NOTHING is happening. During one of these extended forays, Bower, speaking on his comm link to Payton, wonders aloud if a member of the crew went mad from Pandorum. Payton's answer? Still more drawn out exposition, giving way to a sort of, kind of, historical memory cum personal flashback. Quaid attempts to deliver his monologue with all the gravitas of Rick in Casablanca. "Pandorum! Oh WHY'D you have to mention Pandorum? Of all the spaceships in the blah, blah, blah..."
Pandorum* as it turns out, takes us right back to Anderson's EVENT HORIZON and humans going homicidally ape shit in deep space.
Actor Cam Gigandet (TWILIGHT, THE UNBORN) is getting pretty popular these days and he seems to like making Horror thriller movies, but since his appearance as Gallo doesn't come until much later, and by then the mystery cat is out of the mysterious bag, this is all the comment he gets from me.
That Director Alvart would take certain scenes from other movies and stitch them into his own tale, is one thing: I've no problem with that. But that he would do this and be so On-The-Nose as to seemingly copy the actual scenes, shot for shot, and lighting for lighting (shots of the cavernous crawl and trek aka DESCENT, also Lit aka DESCENT with the damn Chem-lights? WTF? There is obvious, and then there is overtly obvious)?
And since this is a science fiction film, it's also obvious that there should be a
Science and technology aren't always the same thing. Science can be about theories and ideas that have no real world applications. Technology on the other hand, deals with solving scientific engineering problems to produce actual material results. I'd like to focus on a major plot device in PANDORUM which employs the ever present use of Chem-lights.
Continued at ScienceMoment/2009/Pandorum.
PANDORUM has that scary ALIEN "Haunted House in Space" feel and many scenes in the creepy set design are very cool, until something dumb happens.
The fight & fright scenes would have also been cooler if it didn't employ split second quick cuts and Shakey Cam (I've yet to meet anyone who appreciates the Shakey cam substitute for action).
NO, THIS ISN'T A POSTER FOR CRANK OR ANOTHER MATRIX SEQUEL.
Bower's flashbacks underline his loneliness and when the spaceship isn't making him claustrophobic, it highlights his and Payton's isolation. So it
would have been wonderful if the characters discovered what was going on through interactive dialogues with each other: new characters confronting the mutual danger but also their sense of loss.
Or, it would have been cool if the characters discovered what was going on piecemeal and slowly solving the mystery as a whole - like you get with most good mysteries from Sherlock Holmes to Columbo. But what we get are characters like Payton, Nadia, Leland (Eddie Rouse: THE NUMBER 23), and Gallo that, upon introduction, launch into long, long monologues, adding huge cheesy wedges to the puzzle that, when you are being chased by ravenous, flesh eating varmints, you really can't stop and pay attention to.
Clearly, a big part of the problem is that producer Anderson's ALIEN loving, EVENT HORIZON thumbprints are all over this film and that's not a good thing. Anderson works best when someone is producing him.
PANDORUM wasn't out to be original, and that's okay. We've praised movies like CRITTERS, TREMORS, and THE FACULTY for evoking a retro-1950s monster movie feel. We've even praised movies like DANCE OF THE DEAD and ALIEN RAIDERS for evoking a retro-1980s monster movie feel. But this film attempted an awkward assembly of established formula and cut-and-pasted parts from other better movies (often, it seemed, for no other reason than just to do it): except for those times when it didn't have either to borrow from and then it dragged.
I hope they haven't torn apart the Elyseum spaceship set. It was so darkly lit that I'm sure it could be reused many times over for any number of superior Scifi movies.
Two Shriek Girls.
copyright 2009 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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