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Passengers Review

PASSENGERS Review 01/5/17

Passengers is an odd but entertaining film.  It has an Oscar pedigree: Sony brought in Morton Tyldum (The Imitation Game) to realize Jon Spaihts' blacklist screenplay, and they signed Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt to star.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, three things: First, that assemblage of talent put huge expectations (and a huge target) on its back, and it seems some critics couldn't wait to pounce--several attacked it even before they saw it, others graded it on the curve of Oscar-bait films when all it ever tried to be was a fun popcorn flick with a hook that's meant to provoke thought.  Second, that hook.  The movie features an existential question of moral ambiguity that audiences generally accepted but that some critics self-righteously abhorred.  More on that later.  Third, and this is my biggest complaint, Passengers is a romantic dramedy/Sci-Fi action movie with a thought-provoking, art house core conflict.  This was simply too much turf to cover in a two-hour movie. 

As the film opens, the starship Avalon cuts across the galaxy, carrying more than 200 crew and 5,000 passengers on a 120-year journey to a colony planet.  Suddenly, a meteor field appears, and a huge blast penetrates the ship's deflector shields, foreshadowing problems to come, one of which is the deep hibernation pod of a passenger. Jim Preston (Pratt), a mechanic whose skills are obsolete on Earth but will become valuable in the colony.  Jim soon finds out he is alone; worse, he is only 30 years into the journey, meaning that he will grow old and die alone, his only companion an android bartender named Arthur (a terrific Michael Sheen).  Arthur convinces a despondent Jim to make the most of the situation and enjoy all of the amenities of the Avalon.  Jim dances, he plays basketball, he tinkers, but he can't overcome his loneliness.  When he is at his lowest point, another passenger awakens--Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a writer who wants to be the first journalist to cover life on a colony planet.  Aurora goes through the same grief that Jim has already processed, albeit in somewhat greater luxury as befits her first-class passage.  The relationship between Aurora and Jim develops and deepens until a terrible act of betrayal is revealed, driving them apart.  When it seems that they will live out their lives parallel but separate, the effects of the Avalon's technological and structural problems begin to cascade.  The awakening of deck chief Gus Mancuso (Lawrence Fishburne) offers some enlightenment but no solution and it dawns on them that they are, as Aurora says, "on a sinking ship" and the only hope for the sleeping colonists and crew.

There is a central dichotomy that is both blessing and curse to Passengers: The core conflict that brings the film its originality and thus elevates it above the run-of-the-mill Sci-Fi genre movies also creates the illusion that it aspires to be an awards contender.  Ironically, had it left out that element, it would have been a lesser film, but it probably would have been better received by critics and some audience members.  The two stars have charisma and charm to spare, although our group agreed that, put side-to-side, Lawrence has acting chops that Pratt, for all of his likeability, cannot match; in fact, several of her scenes are as good as we saw all year.  The film is visually stunning; the VFX and set designs are sumptuous and beg to be seen on the big screen, and yet the small cast and the claustrophobic sense of being entrapped with no escape will transfer well to a cold night on the home screen with a glass of Cabernet.  The major drawback of the film is trying to do too much in two hours.  With all that transpires, we are asked to intuit character transformations and some crisis interventions, and, as such, one character's transformation and the film's ending are a bit rushed and ultimately too pat.
As a post script, I stated above that several critics of national publications decided before they even saw Passengers to judge it harshly, and others, lemmings that they are, quickly picked up the narrative, torpedoing the film for viewers.  (It is true that they committed the same mob mentality assassination of Will Smith's Collateral Beauty--see below.)  A polarizing complaint about Passengers is a moral dilemma facing one of the characters, a fatal choice for which there is no right answer.  Given the moral self-righteousness and mob mentality of today's critics, I wonder if they might have condemned the entirety of Lawrence of Arabia because T.E. Lawrence assassinated the helpless Gasim in cold blood and later admitted that he enjoyed it.  And I have yet to hear any complaints about Stockholm Syndrome as it relates to Beauty and the Beast.  That is not to compare Passengers to these classics, but rather to condemn the petty prejudices and hypocrisy of the critical body.  

In the end, consider this companion piece in light of the film Passengers:

8 out of 10

FilmZ with Guy S. Malone, Researcher


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