(Overture) Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Eddie Rouse, Andre Hennicke, Norman Reedus. Directed by Christian Alvart
It is inevitable that someday, barring some sort of technological fix, we will exhaust the resources of our planet and/or overpopulate it past the breaking point. This may well lead us to seek out a new home, but once we find it we may come to discover that not only are we amazingly adaptable mammals but we are also our own worst enemy.
Cpl. Bower (Foster) and Lt. Payton (Quaid) wake up from hypersleep aboard a gigantic space vessel called the Elysium. They have no memory of their mission or their journey, and only vague memories of a previous life on Earth. One thing they do know – there should be more people aboard the vessel. A lot more, in fact.
Mystery piles upon mystery. Where are they headed? What are they supposed to do when they get there? How long have they been asleep? They need to get into the command center to find the answers but they can’t – it seems the power is out and the ship’s reactor needs to get re-started. Payton decides to hang out by the command center while Bower goes off to fix the reactor.
As he descends into the bowels of the ship, Bower discovers that a horde of flesh-eating mutants rules there, with the few human survivors completely paranoid and violent. Bower begins to wonder if the space psychosis Pandorum – also known as Orbital Dysfunction Syndrome, a delusional paranoia complete with hallucinations that is caused by being in space too long and exacerbated from the process of awakening from hypersleep – may be at work on the crew. He also begins to wonder if Pandorum may be at work on him as well.
German director Alvart goes for a very dark look here, literally. With the power nearly gone, the lighting is dim in nearly every scene, so much so that the company that processed the film had the filmmakers sign a waiver that they wouldn’t be held responsible if the film was unwatchable. However, what you can see is magnificent, a kind of industrial Gothic that conjures of visions of Metropolis and Alien at the same time. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the filmmakers were very much influenced by the latter film, references to which are peppered throughout this movie. The production design makes this movie a visual treat.
One of the drawbacks is that the movie was constructed from two scripts that were similar in theme; cobbling together a movie out of parts like some sort of celluloid Frankenstein is almost never a good idea. However, it seems to have worked fairly seamlessly here for the most part.
Quaid has played spacemen so often he could do it in his sleep – reference The Right Stuff, Innerspace and Enemy Mine – and he kind of does so here. Aside from periodically barking into the intercom “Bower do you copy?” he is given very little to do. Fortunately, Foster gives a fine performance as the aforementioned Bower, a man a little bit terrified of what he doesn’t know but completely focused on the task at hand.
I get the distinct impression that there were two warring schools of thought behind this movie. The filmmakers intended to make a thoughtful science fiction movie laced with horror, while they were pressured instead to make a horror movie with a science fiction setting. The latter won out, and I think the movie is poorer for it; the albino space mutants don’t really break any ground, and the visceral horror is really at odds with the movie’s thoughtful tone. It’s a lot like listening to William F. Buckley telling fart jokes.
A note here; Alvart is very much taken with quick cuts, which means that at times you are going to feel like rewinding and playing back a scene because you’re sure you missed something. I have nothing against quick cuts when used reasonably, but not when used constantly – it gets irritating, like the filmmakers think I have a three second attention span. Of course, maybe they’re marketing this towards people who do have that kind of MTV generation video game instant gratification mentality.
The sad thing here is that the movie’s payoff doesn’t meet the expectations of the premise, which is actually a pretty good one. At just a hair under two hours, the movie drags quite a bit in the middle as well, and by the time the amply endowed Traue and mixed martial arts champion Le show up to amp up the action quotient, it’s far too late to rescue the film from its own psychohorror morass. However, it is a fascinating movie to watch at times, and Foster’s performance makes it worth sitting through some of the gratuitous gore. I suspect that if the filmmakers had made the movie they wanted to make, there’d be a higher rating at the bottom of this review.
WHY RENT THIS: Fantastic production design, alternately claustrophobic and grand in scale. Foster does a bang-up job, particularly in the first half.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Baddies look too much like the mutants in The Descent. The intent to be thoughtful science fiction is subverted by the reality of trying to be a visceral horror movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of violence, lots of bad language and some fairly horrific images. If you think your kid is ready for the Alien trilogy, they’re probably ready for this.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ben Foster insisted on eating actual living insects rather than prop insects, dead insects or using digital effects (the other choices he was offered).
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of decent shorts on both the DVD and Blu-Ray edition; one is an explanation of what happened to Nadia’s team (I’m sure you can guess) and the other is a simulated training video for prospective flight teams for the Elysian. The latter is actually a kind of interesting look into the backstory of Pandorum.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: Sleep Dealer