I saw “Passengers” 2016 (Spoilers)
This review will contain spoilers. Don’t read if you don’t like that.
TL;DR version This movie starts off with an interesting trolley problem and then chickens out of it.
I was intrigued by this movie, to begin with
The premise, as seen from the ads, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence wake up from hibernation in what old sci-fi nerds used to call a “Slow Boat” but then, things begin to go wrong.
I was reminded of Frank Herbert’s “Destination: Void”
A quick run down of that one, because I was dead wrong.
In Destination: Void, a highly trained crew of astronauts are launched in a slow boat to colonize a distant world. But things begin to go wrong. Then Wronger.
At a certain point, the crew finds out that they are not the original crew. This is not the original ship. They are the 5th copy, replicants of the people they remember being.
The ship is breaking down for stupid reasons, stuff ship designers SHOULD have taken into account. Almost as if the mission were designed to fail.
Then, they hit bottom. The mission was so poorly done, they have no hope of getting anywhere.
Their only hope is to cobble together a true AI to help then defeat their problems. Out of desperation, they do.
Here Herbert does a thing I’ve seen others do, and it makes no sense to me. The AI becomes super intelligent and then becomes God.
It is revealed that this WAS their mission – The goal all along was to put these very talented people in a position of desperation, where they could invent AI because they had no choice. It was do or die.
The AI runs off with the Survivors to make it’s own new Eden.
Why Herbert, or anyone thinks super intelligence becomes God is beyond me. Stephen Hawking is the smartest guy there is, and not only is he wrong about stuff, but his illness had taken his body and his hands away. He can’t defeat that with raw smart. He needs tools and assistants.
Smart does not equal Do.
The 2015 Film “Lucy” also commits this error. It’s in a fun way, but still.
So Passengers is something else entirely.
In one way I was reminded of “Wall-E” – the slow boat is a space going Titanic. Pure Luxury Liner. I wouldn’t mind getting stuck there.
In the story, Chris Pratt’s character wakes up from an unaccountable error in the ship’s systems. The ship is traveling at sub-light speed. It isn’t due to reach its destination for 90 years.
Pratt cannot return to hibernation. it’s a complex process. The ship was only equipped to maintain hibernation, not put anyone INTO hibernation.
Pratt is trapped for the next 90 years on Space Titanic. Alone.
Now, Pratt and Lawrence’s characters have names. I am sure Pratt and Lawrence talked Director: Morten Tyldum and Writer: Jon Spaihts almost to death psychologically reverse engineering these people and breaking them down into emotional particles to understand them.
There is no point. Pratt’s “Jim Preston” is a well-meaning, competent enough everyman and Lawrence’s “Aurora Lane” is a creative, deep and intellectual person, besides both actors being smoking hot cinema idols.
I will call then Pratt and Lawrence because the back stories don’t matter.
So – Pratt is stuck in isolation. His cage is gilded and luxurious, but he’s going to die in it.
There are over 5000 hibernation tubes filled with people.
He can relieve his isolation
By condemning someone to die in the gilded cage with him.
Now, this is a hell of a trolley problem. It’s great.
It has two serious, serious problems.
A) We already know what he decides to do because Lawrence appears in the previews and movie posters.
B) Anyone isolated is going to break down. Humans weren’t meant to handle isolation. Research shows that if you want to take someone and just smash their sanity to pieces. Solitary Confinement is a good start and over enough time, it’s all you need.
So even though the question is “Would you condemn someone to die in a gilded cage, to soothe your own insane loneliness?” Sounds like a good trolley problem it’s broken because if you leave anyone alone for long enough, they’re going to do it. All they have to do is be weak ONCE and the deal is done.
So the movie proceeds on as a sort of Rom-Com with Pratt and Lawrence falling in love until she uncovers his dirty secret. She didn’t wake up by accident, which is what he let her believe. He deliberately woke her up and condemned her to live out her life on Space Titanic. He killed her, albeit really slowly and luxuriously.
She freaks out appropriately and they become tense, angry roommates on Space Titanic arguing over split custody time schedules of the Bar Tender Robot.
But then, who appears but Lawrence Fishburne! His character has a name, too and there’s no point.
Fishburne is a member of the crew who has woken up and has two problems. He feels like crap and Space Titanic is breaking down.
They find out that Fishburne’s hibernation tube malfunctioned rather more aggressively than Pratt’s. He is dying. Also Space Titanic is fixing to come apart at the seams. Pratt and Fishburne waking up are the first symptoms.
Turns out that just before Pratt woke up, Space Titanic hit a space iceberg. Unless Fishburne, Pratt, and Lawrence make with the fixing, they and 5000 other hapless people are going to suck vacuum.
As he dies of the painful icks, Fishburne heroically hands Pratt and Lawrence his keys to the Space Titanic and tells them how to figure out how to fix it.
Although Lawrence still is not a big fan of having been murdered, she and Pratt must work quickly, heroically, with lots of techno-babble, broken machines to fix, CGI fire and impending explosion.
Pratt heroically puts himself at extreme risk to save the ship, and Lawrence realizes she actual does like him after all, So she rescues him
Using Fishburne’s keys to the ship, Pratt discovers that the ship’s autodoc CAN, indeed put a person into Hibernation. But only one and it occupies the autodoc.
Pratt points this out to Lawrence and offers her the place in the autodoc. She declines and instead elects to stay on Space Titanic with Pratt
The story ends with the rest of the crew waking up to find the Space Titanic as remodeled by Pratt and Lawrence as they spent the rest of their lives happily redecorating their own tomb.
I think that the storytellers introduced the Space Iceberg, and the cumulative damage as a way to resolve the essential conflict without actually resolving anything.
Pratt’s character Jim behaved in a deeply unethical fashion, but it’s hard to blame him. He was in a situation where his own sanity, moral compass, and agency were slowly painfully being compromised.
But he did what he did.
Lawrence’s character reacts with understandable and justifiable anger when she finds out.
This is ugly but it’s akin to being kidnapped or raped. She was going to a place for a reason. She will never live to get there, now. Her personal boundaries were profoundly violated.
And now that can not be undone. She’s stuck with the consequences of that.
And Pratt is the kind of guy, who, when things got ugly for him, was the sort of guy who did that and now must live with that.
But the move cuts that off at the knees and uses the crisis of an impending explosive end to the Space Titanic to rewrite the whole first half of the movie.
And that robs this thing. It didn’t have the courage of its own convictions.
I think Morten Tyldum and Jon Spaihts had some severe executive interference to tack on a “Happy Ending” to this movie. To take it from a Trolley Problem in Space to a Space Adventure with a Happy Ending.
Here’s a very sad thing – You can spot places in this movie where, probably with no intention at all, they echoed Red Dwarf.
You could almost see this as an American Pilot for a Red Dwarf like series.
Except they didn’t watch Red Dwarf. They didn’t steal *enough* from Red Dwarf to make this thing anything but Generic Space Movie #5
Movies like “Battle Beyond the Stars”, “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone” or “Ice Pirates” beat this movie like it owes them money.
A fraction of the budget, a fraction of the Special Effects. And bluntly a fraction of brains, space and science literacy.
All of the older movies were dumber in many ways, but they were real about what they were, and even if their tongues were firmly in cheek, they were more honest with their stories and their characters.
I give this one an A+ for its look, and a D- overall
If you enjoy Chris Pratt or Jennifer Lawrence being on screen and saying things, but you don’t care at all about what those things are, then this is an adequate movie.
This is a movie for putting on in the background, while you and your friends talk about stuff and don’t pay much attention. The science fiction equivalent of elevator music.
Which is sad because Pratt, Lawrence, Fishburne and gigantic Space ships have all shown that, when used properly, they can be fun to watch.
Michael Sheen does steal the show as Arthur the Bar Tending Robot. And the Character’s limitations are very interestingly played. But that’s not enough to save this movie.
I don’t recommend it.