Pandorum (film, 2009)
Five years after I started, and I’m very close to finishing my posting of my Death Ray archive online. I’ve got some large features and other bits and pieces left over from earlier issues, otherwise we’re now into matter created for the never published Death Ray #22. So, although I wrote this review of the film Pandorum over five years ago, it is in some respects, new material.
Any one who has read my book Crash will know that I love the “colony ship gone wrong” subgenre of SF, so I had a lot of time for this flawed film.
THREE AND A HALF STARS
Director: Christopher Alvart
Writers: Travis Milloy, Christian Alvart
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le
Cinema’s first ‘colony ship gone wrong’ movie. Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. Okay?
The generation ship that goes wrong is an SF classic. Usually the vessel at the heart of the story has been on a journey for centuries, and has overrun its target/ broken down/ gone mad, and whose ignorant inhabitants discover the shocking secrets behind their world just before real disaster strikes. They’re all pretty samey, but it’s one of those SF conventions that is traditionally narrow in scope. Like a ghost story, the pleasure comes not from the novelty of the ideas, but from how they are presented.
The Elysium is a craft with its crew in suspended animation, not a generation ship, but when our two leads Payton (Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster) awake, they’re initially amnesiac, so we get the prescribed dose of ignorance necessary for a voyage of discovery through the ship’s rusting halls; much else that follows plays by the sub-genre’s rules, to our delight. As you’d expect, the Elysium’s not in a good way: the reactor is about to blow, and it is crawling with carnivorous mutants.
Pandorum‘s been slated elsewhere, but we liked it. Naturally, as we all suspected, the Orc-like mutants are devolved crew members. How that actually happened is, like most of the back story, nicely handled and is not the movie’s main twist. Only the ‘pandorum’ aspect of the film – a deep space psychosis, and the movie’s singular original contribution to the conventions of colony-ships-gone-wrong fiction – is fumbled, being poorly integrated into the rest of the movie.
The film sags for twenty minutes in the middle, but manages to keep the tension up the rest of the time. The numerous twists come announced, but even the one every fan of this subgenre will be expecting from the opening credits (the one regarding their destination and journey time, without giving too much away) has a spin on it.
We suspect bad notices elsewhere are the result of a lack of familiarity with and fondness for this staple SF story – take away that, and you have a somewhat hokey action film patched together from many others (Alien3, Event Horizon, et al), but as we said, generation/ colony ship stories are derivative anyway, and Pandorum is a more than fair attempt to put it up on the big screen; that’s where the novelty lies this time out for the subgenre, in moving pictures. Regular audiences might be left cold, but we reckon hardened SF fans will have enough appreciation of the colony ship angle to get the most out of the film.