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Sep282009

"Pandorum" is enjoyable for sci-fi fans and videogamers (Review)

Pandorum might be the best videogame movie adaptation I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it’s not based on a videogame. Many of the ridiculous plot points we commonly dismiss in survival horror games are not so forgivable on the big screen. The biggest problem I have with Pandorum is the same major problem I have with Gamer (which is terrible btw): this movie doesn’t know what it wants to be or accomplish. I really wish it did, because I like a lot of what’s here.

Back story. Pandorum takes place in space. It’s a couple hundred years in the future and there are 25 billion people living on Earth, far exceeding the planet’s population capacity. So the people of earth launch a giant 60,000-person sleeper ship on a 123-year mission toward the first life sustaining planet we’ve ever detected. It’s called a sleeper ship because everyone onboard (save for a rotating shift of officers) is in a form of deep hibernation. This ship is mankind’s last hope.

The entire opening half-hour is amazing. We see a shot of the ship, then Cpl. Bower (Ben Foster) wake up, covered in goo and seemingly in pain. He doesn’t know who he is, and we don’t yet either; hibernation messes with your memory. He’s in a small locked room with one control panel and another hibernation pod. A man named Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid) is in it. Soon Payton awakes, and Bower heads up into a vent to investigate what’s wrong with the ship. Lt. Payton stays back to provide support from the room, though he never seems to be of much help.

Bower is one of the ship’s engineers. Good thing too because the engine reactor is failing. The halls and corridors Bower investigates look a lot like those in Aliens, as in they’re black, dreary, dirty, lifeless, and every sound you make echoes uncontrollably. Interior design must be a dead field in the future. Bower starts exploring and periodically talks to Payton for advice and to figure out what happened to the rest of the crew. This opening is full of excitement and mystery. Like a great survival horror videogame, I felt like I was there. I wish the film would have stuck to this theme of loneliness and emptiness. Sadly, screenwriter Travis Milloy chose a path more trodden.

Through Payton and Bowers’ conversations, we learn about Pandorum, which is a disease that drives people absolutely homicidal crazy after long space flights. Since that’s the name of the movie, it should be a focus of the plot right? Well, not exactly. Instead, there are a bunch of man-eating humanoid beasts onboard who take up most of our time. They have giant pokey gear on their back and emit blue light, somewhat resembling the aliens from Resistance: Fall of Man (PlayStation 3), though they look and act quite tribal. (These creatures would be a blast to fight if it were a game.) Bower also encounters human survivors who look equally tribal and would rather fight him, a non-alien, than explain anything. This is where it goes downhill. Before long it’s run from the tribal aliens, find a quick sanctuary, run from the tribal aliens, find a quick sanctuary….yawn; we’ve seen this before. Pandorum isn’t brought up again until the third act, and it isn’t fleshed out enough to make much sense.

Pandorum missteps, but it remains a fun movie to watch if you are a fan of science fiction. It certainly won’t be converting anyone to the subgenre, but it shows a level of competence above traditional Hollywood. This doesn’t turn into a Resident Evil or The Hills Have Eyes, though it could have if not for the talent of the director, Christian Alvart. Someone feed him a better script next time.

Score: 3 out of 5

(Only those who love movies about spaceships and people in spaceships will like this, or those who appreciate survival horror games. If you like those things, it’s a decent movie, though it could have been better.)

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