Today’s title is brought to you by my viewing of The Faculty this morning. Despite the quote, I will not be talking about The Faculty, but rather Pandorum. I would apologize for the confusion, but I don’t respect you enough to do so.
Pandorum is the monstrous offspring of two space-based spec scripts smashed together in an unholy union, and boy does it show. More often than not, it feels like we’re watching two equally boring movies: one a creature feature with some generic space mutants, and the other a…Dennis Quaid sits-around-athon, I guess.
One of the aforementioned spec scripts, Pandorum director Christian Alvart’s No Where, seems to be what early announcements of Pandorum promised: a couple of people trapped on a spaceship with no memory of who they are or what their purpose is with all the possible paranoia and suspense that might entail.
That sounds genuninely interesting, and the casting announcement of Ben Foster seemed spot-on, as the man does solid crazy. Even in this less-than-stellar outing, Foster acquits himself nicely. He even draws fond comparisons to the better days of Nic Cage by actually eating a live insect a la Cage in Vampire’s Kiss. And much like Cage in his lesser fare, Foster is easily the best thing in a lackluster movie.
Pandorum starts off well enough, at least. Foster awakes from hypersleep far later than expected and finds himself in lockdown with nobody around. Finding Dennis Quaid in a nearby sleep pod, he wakes him up as well. Neither seems to know who they are or what their mission is, a common enough side-effect of hypersleep, it seems, likely exacerbated by their long period in stasis.
This is all handled quite well, strengthed by Foster’s performance. There is the wonderously creepy visual of Foster peeling off what appears to be several years worth of dead skin. Each moment is filled with a nice sense of dread. Granted, it’s broken up a bit by the goofy lazer-razor Foster uses to shave.
Seemingly alone on the ship, the two men have to find a way to open the door to the bridge to have any chance of surviving/getting home. And thus our plot is underway: Foster is gonna walk around to find a door-open button while Quaid sits on his ass and talks to him over the radio. Also monsters.
This is where the movie ceases to be interesting and where I stop having good things to say about it (also where I stop recapping). Actually, scratch that. Norman Reedus shows up briefly only to die. That’s pretty awesome. But I can see him die in better films. Okay, now I’m out of good things to say.
These monsters, generic humanoid beasties echoing The Descent, are about as lame as lame gets. Honestly, Descent-monsters + spikes pretty much sums them up. Their one interesting feature is their apparent bonding with the ship – wherever they go, the power turns on – but not much is made of it. Hell, as neat as it is, it’s terrible from a hunting position, immediately signaling their arrival before they give chase. They stalk our heroes in a relatively ineffective manner until such time as they are ready to kung-fu fight.
Yeah, you read that right.
For some reason, the guys behind Pandorum thought we needed some kick-ass fight scenes in our space horror. They even go so far as to bring MMA fighter Cung Le onboard as a completely pointless character, notable only because he’s this hulking ass-kicker who was part of the Agriculture department/crew in some fashion. Maybe he was assigned to break trees in half or something.
But Foster and Le don’t exactly consitute a band of heroes, so we also get Hot Foreign Chick. HFC is also an accomplished kicker of asses, making Le all the more irrelevant. She, like the monsters, crawls around like a spider monkey, muttering oft-unintelligble exposition and drawing Foster’s crazy eyes to her lithe physique.
Speaking of unintelligble, this movie also features a character whose name is apparently Leland, but hell if I knew that watching the film. Aside from giving us a spaceship’s worth of exposition, I have no clue what his purpose is. He doesn’t actually do anything aside from talk and slow up the movie. And what’s worse is I honestly had no clue what he was saying 3/4 of the time he talked.
Now, I don’t have the best hearing in the world, so I can forgive the characters’ constant whispering (it makes sense to be quiet in their situation), but combine that with super-thick accents and you just lose me.
You might notice that I haven’t mentioned what ol’ Quaid’s been up to this whole time. Well, that’s mostly because the answer is “not a whole hell of a lot.” He pretty much just sits and deals with the titular pandorum, a form of space madness. In this case, space madness seems to be incited by extended interaction with Cam Gigandet. Which, in all honesty, makes perfect sense. You win this round, Pandorum.
The movie’s main fault (aside from the shitty monsters) is the jumbled nature of its narrative. It often doesn’t know what it’s trying to be. At times it seems to building toward big reveals, but has trouble presenting them.
Quaid’s portion of the story, for example, seems to be working toward the reveal of a twist. But it’s such an obvious story point revealed with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. There’s just a complete lack of suspense. Now, any one who has watched at least a handful of movies will know what is up immediately, but the movie could have at least tried to be mysterious. I honestly couldn’t tell if the movie wanted me to be surprised or completely in on it from the get-go.
Similarly, certain plot elements are just kinda wrapped up in matter-of-fact moments. Foster’s early eagerness to explore the ship is motivated by a search for his wife. He then later remembers that she didn’t come with him on the ship in a “oh well” kinda of moment and proceeds to be chased around by monsters some more.
If I might briefly rescind my previous statement regarding good things in Pandorum, I will say that I kind of loved the matter-of-fact revelation that Earth just blew up. Nobody knows why, or how. It just did, and possibly took a few other planets with it. Brilliant.
More than anything, Pandorum is a massive disappointment. What might have been had we gotten something more akin to the proposed No Where? A paranoia tale set amongst the vast emptiness could have been great. Instead, we essentially got a shitty adaptation of the video game Dead Space.
Join me next time on Fine-Toothed Coombs when we discuss dementia in penguins. Or Showgirls. Pretty similar write-ups really.