Passengers movie cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Passengers movie director: Morten Tyldum
From the hibernation pods to the machine serving the day’s menu, from the many-floored spaceship to the small robots picking up the litter, from the well-stocked bar to the swimming pool jutting out into space, from the interactive machines to the correspondence with Earth, from the two stars to the well-known faces who make barely an appearance — Passengers appears to be serious about its business.
For a while, it is. In a script that takes one constantly by surprise till more than 20 minutes in, a spaceship carrying more than 200 crew members and 5,000 passengers to a new planet suffers a minor collision while it is on autopilot, with all the people on-board in induced sleep. All seems fine till another minor occurrence — merely a blip — causes Jim’s (Chris Pratt’s) hibernation pod to pop open. Things are as they seem still, till Jim makes his way to a “briefing” and realises that what was to happen when all of them were four months away from the new planet has happened, in his case, 90 years too early. In other words, of the nearly 5,300 people on board, he is the only one awake, and unlikely to survive the nearly century long journey left to the new planet still.
The premium spaceship Jim and the others are on is perfect — perhaps among the best routinely churned out by Hollywood. Everything has been thought of to make the passengers’ stay on it while awake comfortable, including a dance floor and a basketball court. How the rooms and corridors light up automatically, and gravity comes into play in unexpected corners, as Jim takes a panicked tour of the ship, are almost fascinating to watch. When he runs into the bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) at a shiny bar — clearly, clearly inspired by The Shining — you embrace him almost as eagerly as Jim does. Even if Arthur turns out to be an Android.
Director Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and writer Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange, Prometheus) shed barely any sweat establishing how cruel and mocking cold, robotic efficiency can be, when all Jim wants is some human touch.
Then Passengers takes another surprise turn as a desperate Jim, now with long, scraggly hair and beard and unkempt clothes, chances upon a fellow passenger whose hibernation pod identifies her as a writer, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). He feels drawn to her almost instantly, and more when he listens to Aurora talk about herself. Will the loneliness push Jim enough to do what we fear he will do?
It’s an engaging dilemma, calling out to the best and worst in us. Passengers clearly had an opportunity here to make a one-of-a-kind space film where humans are, well, just Earthlings.
If only. Not only is it all downhill from here, the film drags down with it Pratt and Lawrence, two winsome stars who have also shown themselves to be wonderful actors. There is a romance strung on Aurora’s so-called brilliance with words, which is anything but. There is an affair that quickly loses its charm. And there is the inevitable crisis aboard that is so hilariously unexplained that the best “engineer” Jim can come up with is: “Look for something broken… something big.”
Aurora actually does come up with two words to explain Passengers. She talks about Jim and her finding “accidental happiness”.
With space travel offered up as the new adventure tour, she and Jim are actually accidental astronauts. And that is a real disservice to the impressive science of Passengers.