Monday, 13 December 2010

All Alone - More Or Less [Review: Pandorum]

Two astronauts wake from cryogenic suspension to find themselves on board the malfunctioning and dimly lit spaceship Elysium. They must find a way out of a locked chamber, discover the fate of the ship and their crewmates, and reset a nuclear reactor before it does something really, really naughty. They also need to figure out their own identities - the prolonged sleep has scrambled their memories and the only clues are the code numbers tattooed on their arms. And guess what? It turns out they are not alone.

Pandorum, directed by Christian Alvart and starring Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster and Antje Traue, has a narrative structure more typical of a computer game than a film: Bower (Foster) has to make a series of action-led journeys through different sectors of the giant spaceship, punctuated by brief encounters with other survivors such as paranoid warrior Nadia (Traue) and conversations that reveal bits of the backstory, while Payton (Quaid) feeds Bower directions and information from a computer terminal. The film is therefore similar to watching someone else play a particularly linear FPS, and there's fun to be had in kibbitzing and watching the characters ignore your advice.

However what is gradually revealed between bouts of jumping, climbing and melee combat, is an incoherent mash-up of ideas, as if the scriptwriters had brainstormed the plot and then included everything. The ideas themselves are OK and just one or two of these could have been made into a much more elegant plot. A climax at the ship's nuclear reactor is another weak point as the reactor itself is just not credible as anything other than a dramatic device.

Pandorum is yet another entrant in the Most Claustrophobic Starship open competition. It faces stiff opposition from classics such as Alien and Event Horizon and has been heavily influenced by such films. A nice feature of Pandorum's visual style is that it does not overuse or rely too heavily on overt CGI for most of the locations - it's pleasingly low-tech and it's nice to see there are still artists out there who know how to build a non-virtual set and make it look solid and satisfying. This in turn helps to make the action sequences feel a bit more realistic. Of course, blue lighting covers a multitude of sins too.


PillowNaut said...

I'm confused... was this a good review or a bad review??? LOL

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Despite your violent behavior, PillowNaut, the only thing you have managed to break so far is my
heart* ;)

To be clearer: I enjoyed some bits but overall I found this disappointing as although it was atmospheric & action packed, the plot is just a mess of ideas and there's not much else to recommend it. You may enjoy it more than me if you like dark coridoors in general, or watching other people playing violent computer games.

Having said this, I do like the idea of a film trying something other than the standard three act structure, and with a stronger story perhaps this approach would have worked.

*Please can we have a Portal movie now?