Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, we’ve awoken from our sleep chambers in order to discuss Passengers, which premiered in the United States on Wednesday, December 21st, 2016.
Sound Off! is meant to be a group of reactions, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places. You may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching, but it’s safe to say that if you haven’t yet seen Passengers and you read this post, you WILL be spoiled in some form or fashion.
Now, join Nicole and J.L. Gribble as they talk about Passengers!
Nicole: Initially I heard about Passengers through Beth Revis’ tweets stating that no, it wasn’t a rip-off of Across the Universe. Curious by this and intrigued by the trailer, once the movie was out I was in the theater.
Jim (Chris Pratt) is awoken after the ship transporting him and over 5,000 other people has a bit of a run-in with an asteroid belt. His cryo pod is the only one to hiccup enough to reanimate him and thus he is alone — and will be for a very long time since the planet everyone is traveling to takes 120 years to reach. At first I thought, “See? This isn’t anything like Across the Universe.”
…And then Jim does something. Something desperate. Something bad. And then OH MAN suddenly it’s just like Across the Universe — but only for a moment.
While the trailer makes it look like action for the bulk of the movie, it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s slower, quieter, but with a lot of stuff going on. It’s about people and what they do — what they might go through — when faced with such extreme situations. With Jim’s decision, while yes there is definitely a creepy factor going on, I tried to look at it from all angles. He’s alone with no one to talk to (I don’t fully count Arthur the android bartender). He’s desperate for human contact. So desperate that suicide doesn’t look half bad. And clearly his decision eats away at him from start to finish. It’s easy for everyone to think, “Well, I’d never do that.” Sure. You’ve also never been on a spaceship with no way to go back to sleep and with full knowledge that you’re never going to see the planet you originally intended to go to, nor will you ever see Earth or another living human being again. Slip into those shoes. Then we’ll see how you fare.
Perhaps it is unforgivable, but you can also look at it from fate’s perspective. What are the chances that of all people he would stumble upon Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), and that they would somehow click perfectly, and that it would take two people to save the ship. And I like to think that Jim did a fairly decent job of redeeming himself at the end.
Setting aside that one moment, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Yes, dare I say it, more than Arrival. Maybe because it’s a science fiction movie that isn’t your typical science fiction movie. Maybe because I like the idea of being in space. Surrounded by all those stars and emptiness, as equally terrifying as that might be, so visually it was a treat. I like how it’s a seemingly simple story that isn’t so simple after all, and that it’s not all action all the time (though I do love actiony goodness). Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence were fantastic in their roles, and I must say that Jennifer Lawrence in full on angry/upset/panic mode is impressive and believable in every way.
I did have to overlook some of the tech stuff — I was mentally yelling about how they were using power that wasn’t meant to be used and what was that doing to the power cell the ship was using? — as well as why the company who made the ship didn’t even bother to take into account the possibility of a pod malfunctioning or why none of the crew are slated to wake up when the ship starts to seriously break down. But I chalked that up to, well, big companies being too stupid and too confident. Call it Titanic syndrome, I suppose.
I did find myself wondering about the names a little: Jim (Kirk?), Arthur (C. Clarke?), and Aurora (fantastical lights in the sky or the Roman goddess of Dawn?), but that might just be speculation. And as the movie opened I thought the score sounded similar to the style of Wall-E. Turns out my soundtrack Spidey-sense did not fail me. Good job, Thomas Newman.
J.L. Gribble: I was really looking forward to loving Passengers. This movie had gorgeous science-fiction special effects. It had amazing actors. And the premise portrayed in the trailers seemed very promising.
Unfortunately, the premise we saw in the trailers wasn’t the whole story. The major twist at the beginning of the movie was spoiled by a poorly-timed Internet misclick on my part about a week before I saw it in theaters. While I didn’t experience the same outrage expressed by a lot of people, I was uncomfortable with the story idea. However, this did not stop me from seeing the movie with my husband and friends. I had genuine hopes that the story would redeem the characters, especially once the film revealed that this wasn’t a typical “first colony ship” adventure. As someone who enjoys going on cruises, I could immediately identify with Jim Preston’s explorations of the deserted ship.
But it was definitely icky and uncomfortable to watch Jim’s character make his final decision regarding Aurora Lane. Then, everything else that followed became so predictable that I was able to time my bathroom break and not miss any integral plot developments (I definitely left for the lovey-dovey montage after the characters’ first kiss). I am someone who never takes bathroom breaks during a movie in the theater, to the point that my husband apparently considered coming after me to see whether I was okay.
Alas, the story did not redeem the characters when I resettled into my seat. The only major plot twist that I didn’t foresee was the awakening of Gus, an actual crewmember aboard the Avalon. But the second he attempted to justify Jim’s actions to Aurora, I no longer felt any sympathy for the character, even if I hadn’t already predicted his final fate. And I am in no way claiming to be a better storyteller than the scriptwriters. However, I am experienced in the science-fiction adventure genre, and even the terrible spaceship design of the final plot MacGuffin had me rolling my eyes rather than fearing for Jim’s life.
The only reason I did not truly despise this movie rather than just being bored is completely due to the quality of the acting. Even as I shook my head at Jim’s character, Chris Pratt brought a realism and honesty to the role. Jennifer Lawrence portrayed one of the most accurate extreme anxiety attacks that I’ve ever seen on film. And Laurence Fishburne brought gravitas to a role that only had a short time onscreen to make his mark.
Passengers was certainly not a terrible film. But I could easily spend another 500 words telling you about the unique alternatives to the story I thought up just by the time I made it home that night.