– Summary –
Director : Christian Alvart
Year Of Release : 2009
Principal Cast : Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Cung Li, Antje Traue, Norman Reedus, Eddie Rouse.
Approx Running Time : 108 Minutes
Synopsis: The last of humanity is traveling towards a new home planet, after Earth becomes uninhabitable, when something goes horribly wrong. Waking well before his shift to control the craft, one young pilot must make his way to the rear of the massive ship to kick-start the nuclear engines – his only concern: the appearance of vicious, voracious creatures who kill humans wandering the corridors.
What we think : Pretty decent sci-fi fare is a love-child of Event Horizon and Aliens, dark and foreboding, with a hint of surreal thrown in. Ben Foster does a top notch job carrying this film over Dennis Quaid, who spends the entire film in the cockpit. It’s dark, intelligent, and mysterious, and well worth a look for sci-fi hounds everywhere.
You know what I love most about my hobby of watching movies? Finding a film I had no expectations for is actually an undiscovered gem. Pandorum is just such a film, a film I was reluctant to pick up while perusing the rentals because I’d never heard of it, and didn’t think it would be much chop. Starring Ben Foster, an actor whose star isn’t so much rising as it is levitating in the Hollywood “under-appreciated” category, and Hollywood icon Dennis Quaid, Pandorum is a hard-edged sci-fi horror/thriller which, unlike some of the films it riffs on, is actually pretty decent. Okay, a horror film in space generally isn’t the main viewing staple for cinema junkies, that’s for sure, but for those who enjoy good scares in stuff like Event Horizon or Aliens, will love this film. It was such an unexpected surprise, this film, that I just have to share my thoughts with you.
Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) wakes up on the massive human starship Elysium, after years of hypersleep, with amnesia and no idea where he is, what’s going on, or even who he is. Also waking up from his hypersleep container is Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid), and the two proceed to try and activate the power systems on the seemingly dormant vessel. It seems something’s gone wrong with the Elysium, and while Payton remains on the dormant control deck, Bower must crawl through the bowels of the electrical conduits to another part of the ship – the bridge – to fire up the ship. On the way, however, he discovers that they aren’t alone on board, with some kind of crazed, uber-human creatures lurking in the darkness. Bower discovers that he’s woken up several years too early for his shift (each shift at controlling the ship lasting a few years), while Payton is well past the time for his shift to begin. The Elysium, it is revealed, is the last hope for humanity – Earth is ruined, and the Elysium is the futuristic of Noah’s Ark, holding the DNA and seeds of a new world. Humanity has forsaken Earth for a new world, a distant planet compatible with Earth where a new colony can be set up, and the Elysium is the key. As Bower makes his way from the control deck to the massive nuclear engine at the rear, in order to restart the power, he encounters Manh (Cung Li) and Nadia (Antje Traue), two survivors who’ve been eking out an existence when the mutant creatures aren’t around. Exactly what those creatures are is unknown, although they’ve clearly been on the Elysium for a long, long time.
On the outside, Pandorum seems for all the world like a bizarre mix of Event Horizon, Aliens and the Saw movies. To a point, it is a soup made of much of those mentioned films, although Pandorum has enough of its own identity to feel like something original. As original as monsters-in-space films can be these days, anyway. “Pandorum” is the word used by space travelers for the effects of extended hypersleep, such as hallucinations, paranoia, and homicidal tendencies – if that’s what it involved, why would you bother, right? This is the explanation best kept in mind while watching the film; Pandorum has a few twists and turns along its brutal, sweaty journey – the best of which comes right at the very end. And I’m nooooot gooooonna teeeeeellll yaaaaaa! If you guess it, you’re doing better than I did, because it caught me completely by surprise. Suffice to say, Pandorum is not without its secrets, some of which are obvious, and some of which are not. Its the ones which aren’t that take your breath away – while ostensibly a humanity without laws morality fable, Pandorum has just enough thrills to keep those struggling with the nuances of the script (by Travis Milloy and Christian Alvart) from turning off altogether. The creatures lurking in the bowels of the ship are depraved, super strong and without any kind of moral centre. They exist, it seems, simply to eat and exist, and if that means a touch of cannibalism, then so be it. One thing’s for sure, Pandorum ain’t for the faint of heart.
Where I think Pandorum’s main success is, is in the casting of Ben Foster as one of the two leading characters. I really rate Ben Foster as an actor, and I have always enjoyed whatever performance he’s delivered through the years – from the teen-centric Get Over It, to the darkly violent Hostage (an awesome film, and one you should try and see at some point, if you haven’t already!), even to the critically lambasted X-Men 3: The Last Stand (where he played a winged mutant) – I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently he knocks it out of the park in the dramatic The Messenger. Here, he does a solid job (in a pretty thankless role, it must be said) as Bower, and while he isn’t exactly leading man material from a visual point of view, this boy can certainly act. Comparisons aren’t something I’m comfortable with, in terms of actors feeling similar to other actors, but of all the modern acting talent I’d see Ben Foster most being similar to, it’s Christian Bale. The intensity, the method-acting Foster embodies in the role, the subtle physical attributes and strength of will, you can feel Fosters truly inhabiting his character. he’s forced to deal with some average dialogue at times, I admit, but the pulp quality of the films visual aesthetic allows some latitude with the scripting. Dennis Quaid, who spends the entire film in the one set, talking to fellow shipmate Gallo (Cam Gigandet) the whole time, has the worst time of all the characters. Payton is harder to connect to as a character, and his arc seems a little forced, a little strained for credulity – at least by comparison to the rest of the film.
Director Christian Alvert, who directed the Rene Zellweger thriller Case 39, and the German psycho-thriller Antibodies, handles this film’s foreboding, claustrophobic tension with the class of a long-time helmer. His camera goes into the tightest places, delivering sweaty palmed thrills and jump-cut scares with genuine skill. The production design on Pandorum, from the monsters to the sets and the lighting, is also superb: the darkness feels like a character itself, and Alvert isn’t afraid to put his characters into it, and his monsters as well. There’s a sense of vitality to his filmmaking style, almost an exuberance that seeps into the very film itself. The oppressive narrative, the dark and dingy sets and design, and characters with multiple flaws (and I mean multiple!) is enthralling and – I hesitate to use the term “entertaining” when dealing with a story of mankind’s last stand – eminently watchable. The film does have a few problems, though. The stark script does tend to the sci-fi cliche at times, using generic genre technobabble and cinematic shorthand to accelerate the narrative; I also found the films tense finale somewhat perfunctory, lacking in the same sense of purpose the rest of the film exhibits.
Overall, however, I was quite impressed with Pandorum’s low-budget thrills. Its grabbed me, made me sit up and take notice, and delivered some genuinely frightening moments of cinema. The acting by the cast is pretty decent, even if the script isn’t as superior as the production design, and this film marks yet another strong tick in the “Ben Foster will be an Oscar winner sometime down the track” box. It won’t be everyones cup of tea, and there’s bound to be those who feel its a wholesale rip-off of Event Horizon (in saying that, Event Horizon’s director Paul WS Anderson is listed as a producer on this film, so I guess if it’s okay by him, it’s okay by me!) or any other horror-in-space entry, so arguing the point with them is an exercise in futility. Pandorum is an exciting, thrilling, powerhouse sci-fi horror film, filled with moments of genuine terror, and with a solid enough cast to pull this film through its weaker moments. Definitely worth a look.