Take the sparse loneliness exhibited in Gravity and The Martian, marry it with a nifty idea that would have been right at home as a Twilight Zone episode, throw in two of today’s most engaging movie stars in Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, great production design, special effects and beautiful cinematography and you have Passengers. This big, expensive holiday release from Sony joins Rogue One on the sci-fi circuit this month, but it could be described more like Titanic in space.
The nice twist here is the disaster is really only happening to our two stars and not the other 5,000 passengers aboard the Avalon Starship, which is en route to the very distant colonized planet of Homestead II with the expected arrival time in a mere 120 years, if it stays on schedule. Our travelers have been hermetically sealed and tucked away in individual chamber pods where they will get a long sleep before reaching a new, and apparently better, life than the one they left on Earth. Unfortunately Jim Preston (Pratt) is jarred awake unexpectedly when the ship hits some sort of meteor and his chamber malfunctions. Left alone in the attractive, if sterile, surroundings of the Avalon, he discovers this new solo lifestyle might be a depressing Cast Away-style existence for the rest of his natural life since he can’t get back to sleep.
His only company turns out to be a pleasant android (Michael Sheen) who serves drinks at the bar, the place Jim spends most of his newfound time drowning his sorrows and trying to figure out how he got to this point. Jim also has been eyeing the lovely Aurora (Lawrence), a sleeping beauty if ever there was one. What follows could be a bit of a spoiler if you don’t want to know specific plot turns,so beware as you read the rest of this paragraph. Out of sheer selfishness, after a year or so by himself, discovers a way to jar her awake so he can have someone to share his life with, as the rest of the voyage is expected to take another 90 years or so. She doesn’t know that her wake-up call came from him, and not something that was unavoidable, so these two impossibly gorgeous people naturally start a relationship out of necessity as much as anything else. They dance with androids at the disco, play basketball together, take spacewalks — and life seems idyllic again, if a little empty. The big question is what would happen if Aurora were to discover that her dream future actually was destroyed by new lover Jim performing his own act of God, as it were? Complications arise, the intensity level increases, and there are a few twists and turns.
No, this isn’t Oscar-caliber stuff, despite the release date and pedigree that includes Academy Award-nominated Norwegian director Morten Tyldum behind the camera for the first time since his much-acclaimed The Imitation Game. But as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), it is gorgeously crafted in the best style of studio moviemaking and keeps you hooked throughout — no small feat considering this is basically a two-hander. Tyldum is helped by Jon Spaihts’ clever screenplay, Rodrigo Prieto’s lensing and some truly spectacular effects work, particularly with the swimming pool sequence that has Lawrence rolling in increasing waves of chlorine. The production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas is first-rate, and Thomas Newman delivers another pro score. This is what I would call a smart popcorn picture, nothing less, nothing more, but a thoroughly entertaining ride for those so inclined.
Producers are Neal H. Moritz, Stephen Hamel, Michael Maher and Ori Marmur. Sony Pictures releases the film Columbia made in association with Village Roadshow, Wanda Pictures and LStar Capital on Wednesday.
Do you plan to see Passengers? Let us know what you think.