'Passengers' Review: A Decent Premise Made Awkward

passengers

Rating: 3 Stars out of 5

Passengers is Sony's latest foray into the Sci-Fi arena, with a spin on the Robinson Crusoe story. It would be a pretty good film, if it didn't take a turn that causes the audience to spend a bulk of it trying to decide how uncomfortable to be with one of the protagonists. The trailer itself gives the gist of the story – the "passengers" are 5,000 colonists kept in suspension while on a 120 year flight to Homeworld II. 30 years into the flight the ship encounters an asteroid field and navigates through most of it, but winds up taking a few strikes, and in the aftermath both engineer Jim Preston (played by Chris Pratt) and writer Aurora (played by Jennifer Lawrence) wind up being woken up early. This leaves them in the position of being stranded on a ship with 90 years to go until it makes landfall.

The only other pseudo-person on the ship is a ever-perky and too-helpful robot bartender Arthur (played by Michael Sheen). Jim and Aurora try everything to get to the flight deck (they don't have access to those areas), and to figure out how to get back into hibernation. If they can't find a way, they'll be stuck without any other contact as they live out their lives on the ship in transit.

That's a perfectly fine setup for a movie, and when I saw the trailer I was excited about it – being a fan of science fiction genre films as well as both actors. The story however, isn't quite the vibe as advertised which is why I don't mind getting ready to jump into some minor spoilers. After the image, we'll touch on where things go south.

passengers

Alrighty, if you're still with us – it's minor spoiler time. The issue isn't that there's an accident and that Jim gets woken up due to a malfunction – the issue is that Jim is the ONLY one that gets woken up. He spends a full year trying to cope with the fact that his only real interaction is with the bartender. Finally one day he comes across Aurora's sleeping pod and becomes enamored. She's a writer, beautiful, and from constantly watching her passenger video smart and engaging. He comes to wrestle with the fact that he desperately needs company, but that if he wakes her up, he'll be consigning her to death in space on the long voyage as they have no way to put themselves back to sleep. He wrestles with it for months, and only then finally decides to short circuit her chamber to trip the wakeup sequence.

The time takes time to make sure the audience is aware that he's struggling with the decision – that waking her up would be wrong, he regrets it immediately as soon as he did it. But by that point we've spent 45 minutes leading the audience to believe that Jim is a good and well meaning guy. Now he's picked a random victim and decided to take any choice away from her and wake her up. Perhaps if we'd seen a longer process of mental breakdown – something more akin to Tom Hanks in Cast Away where he at least lasted four years and he only had a soccer ball for company. It felt like after only a few months of deliberation, Jim picks Aurora because… well, she's pretty and he likes her writing. Many writers are comparing it to rape, which isn't far off of the point, even Aurora herself at one point says that he murdered her.

Had he been a bit more out of his mind from solitude, or if she had a skillset that might help solve the challenges at hand (a ship engineer or officer), it might be more palatable. Instead the rest of the film goes with it's challenges of the ship still having cascading failures from the original damage forcing Jim and Aurora to race to fix the systems before the entire ship dies. It's fine, it's fun, but you can't get out of your head that Jim did something that really can't be forgiven, no matter what happens afterwards. Yes, events do happen which requires that he have another person with him to solve obstacles – but he didn't know that at the time that he woke her up.

It's clever when character names have some deeper meaning, but when it is as self-indulgent as naming Lawrence's character Aurora, it becomes even more problematic. Aurora is the name of Sleeping Beauty – which puts Jim in the role of Prince Phillip (her Prince Charming – which has it's own heavy rape connotations).

As a Sci-Fi film, it's fine, with good effects and some novel designs on the ship's propulsion and shield system. I really would have liked to be able to genuinely dig this one – it might have been a 4 star rating, but this is a time where the one point is a big enough of a drag on it to pull it down to a 3.

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About Bill Watters

Games programmer by day, geek culture and fandom writer by night. You'll find me writing most often about tv and movies with a healthy side dose of the goings-on around the convention and fandom scene.
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