Director Morten Tyldum
Starring Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia
Released 21st December 2016
A few days ago, Forbes released yet another of their lists. This one featured the ten stars in Hollywood who were the best value for money – provided the most bang per buck, if you like. Top of the pile was Chris Evans, returning $135.80 for every $1 spent. Chris Pratt came in at number two, with a return of $125.40 and in joint ninth was Jennifer Lawrence, with just $17.70 for every dollar.
So you’ll forgive my cynicism about Passengers, which brings together numbers two and nine respectively. Whatever the plot of the film itself, the sub-plot goes like this. People love Pratt and Lawrence. They put bums on seats so let’s make a film where they’re never off the screen and fall in love. That’ll get the tills ringing.
Well, it may, but it also got my teeth grinding. The actual story is set on board a massive spaceship, taking 5,000 passengers to a colony planet. They’ve all been put into a state of suspended animation – or hibernation – so that, when they wake up about 100 years later on arrival, they won’t have aged. Except that, for some reason, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is woken up 90 years too soon. He’s the only one, which means he’s completely alone and, tired of his own company, he works out how to wake up a female passenger, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence). Constantly in each other’s company, they fall in love but the ship is malfunctioning until it eventually reaches crisis point and Jim has to locate the reason and put it right.
Cynicism aside, this is one massive disappointment, especially given the double act at the centre of the film. In that way, it’s reminiscent of Allied, which was a vehicle for Pitt and Cotillard. Now we have a vehicle – or should that be space ship? – for Pratt and Lawrence and, once again, there’s no magic or spark between them. A real problem when they’re carrying the film. They’re also constantly upstaged by Michael Sheen as droid barman Arthur, who lives behind the luxury bar and is full of platitudes, but never answers. Jim, as he points out, keeps asking him “non-android questions” and he simply can’t answer them. All he has is a nice line in insincerity and, if nothing else, it lifts the monotony.
Maybe that monotony is part of the point the film is trying to make – but, if that’s the case, it’s not doing it very well. Jim’s first year alone is something akin to Robinson Crusoe and his decidedly artificial looking beard definitely belongs on a desert island. But he knows there’s another 90 years before the ship arrives at its destination and the thought of all the time alone is too much to bear. Yes, even when it’s a luxury spaceship with all the entertainment on board he could wish for, from his own basketball court to a swimming pool with a view. He yearns for human contact and that’s where Aurora comes in.
The best moments in the film are down to the special effects, especially when the gravity function on the ship breaks down. Not only does it mean that Pratt’s floating around in the air, but Lawrence is taking a dip in the pool and finds herself nearly drowning in what looks like a spectacular tsunami. Fortunately, it switches itself back on and the effects are nearly as good second time round.
But it’s poor consolation for audiences patient enough to sit through it. Pratt has none of the cheeky charm we associate with him and is unusually subdued, while Lawrence never seems to have fully woken up from her enforced sleep. I’ve often thought there was a lot to be said for hibernation during the winter. I never thought I’d actually experience it at first hand in the cinema.
Passengers was released in cinemas today and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 22nd December.