The Film: Pandorum (2009)
The Principals: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Eddie Rouse, Andre Hennicke, Norman Reedus, Wotan Wilke Mohring.
The Premise: Two crew members of the deep space transport ship, Elysium, awaken with no memory of who they are and an initially deserted ship. As they slowly start to get their memory back, they try to find out what their mission is and look for other signs of life. They find it in the form of cannibalistic humanoids (but not underground dwellers) who run rampant through the ship and kill anything that moves. Eventually, they come to realize that they’re on a 123-year journey to a new planet after Earth has been destroyed. But something has obviously gone wrong, and now they have to survive the cannibals, and other people they meet along the way, in order to fix a malfunctioning reactor before the ship is destroyed.
Is It Good: Ehhh…no. Basically, it’s a mish mash of about three different ideas for a sci-fi film that neither mish nor mash together very well. On the one hand it’s a psychological deal. And that’s where it probably could have had the most success. A blank memory on a large, seemingly uninhabited ship would be the perfect place for the mind to screw with itself. A mystery to solve, provided the mystery was good, probably would have been a better go of things. Because on the other hand, Pandorum is The Space Descent, only nowhere near as well done.
The ship’s cannibals are the source of the majority of the action, but they’re really nothing we haven’t seen before. They’re the extras of Doomsday with slightly better makeup. Pandorum is also a study of the affects of long-term isolation, which also isn’t altogether insightful as presented here. As the film puts it, you’re alone long enough, you go amoral, or apeshit, or amorally apeshit. Big surprise. Lawrence Fishburne said the same thing, only better, in another sci-fi flick last year.
The film is also bloated, trying to fit in all of the ideas shoehorned into the story. Encounters with the cannibals become repetitive and the film frequently resorts to cheap jump scares to try to keep the intensity level high. And other than a bit of exposition, what was the real point of having Eddie House’s Leland in the story? With concepts of morality, the fate of humanity, the mind turning on itself, paranoia, survival, exploration, Noah’s Ark, etc., it’s no wonder that many of them come off as only partially fulfilled. It’s not that big a surprise though, considering that director Christian Alvart and writer Travis Milloy put two distinctive stories into a telepod and got a monster out the other end.
The production design on the film is quite good though. And Dennis Quaid, even when a character isn’t up to snuff, can usually do some good with it. Ben Foster gives a game performance, and German actress, Antje Traue, looks particularly good in grime. Having Cung Le in the film though, seems almost as an afterthought, like a “we need some space kung fu to round out the idea buffet” scenario. Alvart and Milloy should have figured out what film they really wanted to make and gone after it full tilt boogie, because as either Space Doomsday/Descent or a grander version of Solaris, there could easily have been something there. But as is, not so much. Or actually, too much.
Is It Worth A Look: I don’t ever need to see it again. You might want to, just once.
Random Anecdotes: Honestly, I got nothin’.
Cinematic Soulmates: Did I mention Doomsday or the Descent?