Pandorum


Pandorum

Dennis Quaid still has The Right Stuff.

(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

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New Releases for the Week of September 25, 2009


 

 

 

Bruce Willis reacts to finding out that this isn't the next Die Hard movie.

Bruce Willis reacts to finding out that this isn't the next Die Hard movie.

SURROGATES

 

(Touchstone) Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames, James Cromwell, Boris Kodjoe, Francis Ginty, Michael Cudlitz. Directed by Jonathan Mostow In the future, people will experience life through surrogates, mechanical constructs that are linked to their user directly through the brain, allowing them to feel and experience everything the surrogate does. This allows people to do things they never could in the flesh, things too dangerous in reality because while the surrogates can be damaged and even destroyed, it is perfectly safe for the user; that is, until a pair of users turn up dead. It is the first homicide in 15 years, and for a detective who hasn’t left his home in at least that long, suddenly he is embroiled in something far more sinister and far-reaching than he could imagine. Based on an acclaimed graphic novel, directed by the man who gave us U-571.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene)

Bright Star (Apparition) Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Thomas Sangster, Kerry Fox. Respected director Jane Campion returns with this period romance about the legendary English poet John Keats, and his affair with Fanny Brawne. Starting out at odds as two people from different stratum of society, they are drawn together as soulmates. As Keats’ eventually fatal tuberculosis worsens, he is moved to write some of the most astonishing and romantic poetry ever penned.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some sensuality, brief language and incidental smoking)

Cold Souls (Goldwyn) Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Lauren Ambrose. Is your soul weighing you down? No worries! A new high-tech company can remove your soul and store it for you. Actor Paul Giamatti (playing himself…sorta) stumbles across an article in the New Yorker that convinces him to give it a go. All is going well until his soul is stolen from the storage facility, and he must chase after it to Russia, where a smarmy, talentless soap opera actress has possession of it. A black comedy in the tradition of Being John Malkovich.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for mature sexual content, language and thematic material)

Fame (MGM) Debbie Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth. One of the most iconic movies of the ‘80s gets a remake…or perhaps more accurately, a sequel. The movie that made a star (briefly) of Debbie Allen sees her return to the New York City High School of Performing Arts, this time as principal. A new generation of artists, dancers, actors and singers takes on the hopes and heartbreaks of the most prestigious public school for performance in the country.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for thematic material including teen drinking, a sexual situation and language)

It Might Get Loud (Sony Classics) Jack White, Jimmy Page, The Edge, Bono. Documentary director Davis Guggenheim, who gave us An Inconvenient Truth, switches gears and focuses on three maestros of the electric guitar; Led Zeppelin’s guitar god Page, U2 virtuoso The Edge and up-and-comer White from the White Stripes. The three get together and discuss their love for the instrument that has dominated music in the last 50 years and above all, play those instruments. Playing music that inspired them as well as new compositions that haven’t been released (at least at the time of the documentary’s initial limited run), watching this may profoundly affect the way you hear music.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements, brief language and smoking)

Pandorum (Overture) Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Norman Reedus. Two astronauts wake up on a spacecraft, alone and disoriented in the pitch darkness with no memory of who they are or what their mission is. As they explore the ship, they soon come to realize they aren’t alone. And as the mystery deepens, it soon becomes clear that their actions will either save mankind – or doom it.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong horror violence and language)

The September Issue (Roadside Attractions) Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington, Andre Leon Talley, Oscar de la Renta. The September issue of Vogue magazine is the most critical in the fashion industry. It is the largest issue the magazine publishes, over four pounds by weight. The size of a big city Yellow Pages directory, it establishes what is fashionable for the upcoming year. At the heart of this is Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the woman who was the basis of the Meryl Streep character in The Devil Wears Prada. She allowed unprecedented access to documentarian R.J. Cutler (The War Room) who shows us what goes into making the most important magazine in the $300 billion fashion industry.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)