Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Pandorum [2009] finally made its way into my Blu-Ray player. The film was not at all what I had anticipated. It was a solid freak out with some truly fine white knuckle moments. I viewed the film around midnight on Saturday and I normally watch these things during the day. I normally can't stomach this kind of tension in the darkest hours like I did once upon a time. Breaking with one of my own unwritten, cardinal rules I opted to watch it late, in the dark and alone in the silence. The pause button worked well for the occasional deep breath. Spoilers ahead.

The film caught my attention visually when I first saw the trailer. It looks terrific. Dennis Quaid is one of the key components to the film. He's always more than competent, but like almost anything with Dennis Quaid the promise of his input always winds up being less than expected. He never seems to find the right film or the right role. I was particularly pleased to see the producers of Resident Evil, the guiltiest of pleasures, on board. Pandorum fits nicely alongside those films on the level of gore and violence. This film is arguably better in generating scares too.

Pandorum works with genre concepts, complete within the generation ship subgenre, like that found on Doctor Who's The Ark In Space, but with much improved special effects of course. The  idea of the ark in space is at the heart of this terrifying journey. There was a lot going on in Pandorum. In fact, so much is going on it's hard to get a steady foot. It's a touch chaotic with some awkward, disparate elements thrown into the mix. There is an almost nightmarish, vertigo-like feel to the film as Bower [Ben Foster] careens toward his end with little knowledge of his situation after waking from cryo-sleep in a safe compartment of the ship. We're all in the dark just like him. It's like a bad dream, but the pieces to the puzzle are not exactly clear to Bower along the way. The editing feels oddly assembled. On the whole, I did like what writer/ director Christian Alvart was attempting here. Clearly producer Paul W.S. Anderson [Event Horizon, Resident Evil] also liked the film's direction. My son, the Boy Wonder, walked into the room and immediately picked up the similar production values to Event Horizon. He called it "Event Horizon with monsters." Anderson has a thing for chaos and space horror. These are things I do enjoy which is why I am an Anderson apologist. That, and he's married to Milla Jovovich (bastard!). I am always willing to look past a genre film's flaws or shortcomings to appreciate its strengths. Objectively, the film isn't a complete success, lacking real substantive character development opting instead to push frantically through the story. On that level it is a thrilling, gripping journey of terror. The following clips will give you a sense of the film's mood, which is a huge selling point.

Pandorum refers to an illness acquired during hyperspace sleep. The year is 2174. All that's left of the human race is hurtling through space in the Elysium (sort of) en route to the planet Tanis. Unfortunately, a race of cannibalistic alien warriors have also managed to gain entry onto the ship or so it seems at first. There is some mention during the film these creatures may be of unexpected human design. These mutant things are potentially the result of a chemical mixture from the cryo-tubes adversely affecting the on-board human population as they exit cryo-sleep. This is clearly an understatement. Humans have transformed into these highly aggressive monsters that have adapted to their environment aboard the spaceship. The concept echoes the horrors of the Reavers as represented in frightening fashion for the film Serenity (2005), also inadvertently the creation of man. This was unexpected and quite contrary to my expectations. The creatures crawl about the ship looking for their latest victim. With thousands of human vessels aboard waiting to be born (in a manner of speaking they are given re-birth), there is plenty of human fodder for the taking. There's a particularly gruesome scene whereby a man is awakened from his cryo-tube, gasps for a few quick breaths, and is promptly devoured as the mutants thrust their razor sharp teeth into his flesh. He is quickly eaten alive. That's rough going and sadly it echoes the similar fate of calves that become veal, which is terribly tasty. Thus I may have to reconsider.

To make matters worse, the reactor core is going to explode unless Bower (Hostage), a technical engineer and Corporal, can fix it. A number of humans, unaffected by the cryo-sleep chemical mixture, have since reactivated throughout the Elysium, at different junctures and essentially live aboard the ship with a kind of every-man-for-himself survival mode. Each individual holds down their own particular corner of this massive spacecraft in the hopes of staying alive against transformed humans into marauding mutant animals. Bower, the glue to the film, brings them all together with a bit of "solidarity" as he puts it. Foster is very good as the film's anchor. He's an actor that has great potential and his supporting role in 3:10 To Yuma is his best to date. He's certainly a strong component of the film.

The creatures in the picture are particularly well-designed, and nightmarish in the vain of The Descent (2005). The ship, like the Event Horizon, is also exceptional. They run amok on the vessel and survival is the name of the game. It is an instinctive, base, animal drive that motivates all life aboard the craft.  The creatures will even eat their own, but the humans aren't much better. The cast is serviceable. One character (actor Cung Le) speaks no English. He merely informs the viewing audience that this is an international ark in space built for all cultures and species of life. Nadia (German actress Antje Traue) even eats locusts or grasshoppers for sustenance in one of the ship's ark preserves. To quote The Blues Brothers driving through a mall, "This place has got everything."  You'll spot a particularly frantic performance by Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead.

The film has received comparisons to films like Ridley Scott's Alien [1979], often generating unfavorable reviews indicating a lack of originality. But Alien had its detractors, thus Pandorum should age well. While Alien is a classic, and often the film by which many genre films are judged, Pandorum still offers some reconstructed ideas and some new looks on familiar terrain. I certainly respect the references in aesthetic, but the film still felt unique and holds its own.

The lighting throughout the film was deliciously frightful. My biggest gripe from a technical standpoint was the audio. The movie alternated between rousing physical sequences to the whisper of quiet exchanges between characters. Some dialogue was barely a mumble and therefore hardly audible. As soon as the volume was maximized I could pick it up, but then the film quickly to action and I wondered if the house might shake apart. This was slightly distracting as a viewer. The whispers were the result of characters keeping a low profile from the creatures that roamed the Elysium. The highs and lows were understandable, but fairly annoying in terms of audio adjustment.

The conclusion was hopeful if not entirely surprising. I was impressed by its optimism. It's not a great ending. It turns out the Elysium has arrived at Tanis, its pre-programmed destination, and has been there for some time. The ship has crashed into the oceans of Tanis, an Earth-like planet. Bower and his reluctant female partner Nadia survive and escape to the surface of Tanis.

The film symbolized the story of Adam and Eve and what appeared to be a planetary paradise. It was a new start and a vivid ending following the dark corridors of madness that drove the film. My reaction was tempered at the arrival of the remaining human passenger pods as they darted out of the ocean in their cryo-tubes. The ark had arrived and Earth was essentially being reborn.  But were they unlocking monsters as well and perhaps the kinds of violence that overruns Earth?

Though it is highly unlikely a sequel would be made other than a direct-to-DVD feature of poor quality, I could envision the potential in it. Further, I'm pleased Alvart concluded the picture without one of those silly cliffhanger moments that often dumbs down a picture. Those moments serve only to disrespect the audience and remove the sound technical efforts of a film's creators. Pandorum ends with Tanis Year One. The possibilities for a Year Two picture certainly exist. I can imagine Tanis resulting in a world strikingly similar to our own. I could see a planet of peace and tranquility quickly devolve into a planet of war. Tribes of competing interests jockeying for control of their hold of Tanis. There is much to mine from the imagination here regarding evolution. Let's face it, if the humans survived, there's a good chance the mutants did too.

The Pandorum reference to Tanis Year One made me consider Space:1999 Year One and I'm grateful Gerry Anderson's series was successful enough to grant its fans Space:1999 Year Two. Those second years may be problematic, but they are welcomed.

Pandorum is unsettling and while homage is paid to those that had come before it, it is a picture that holds its own in the pantheon of science fiction nightmares within the generation ship subgenre of sci-fi. It was fresh enough to make me ponder the possibilities. Thankfully the creators and distributors stay true to the R-rated vision of the film.  This film, like the creatures could have evolved or devolved into PG-13 territory.  As it stands the creepy, underrated Pandorum is a solid, atmospheric, piece of science fiction horror in the vein of other underappreciated efforts like Event Horizon.

Pandorum: B


Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I read your overall positive review of Pandorum (terrible title – it’s never a good idea in sci-fi to make up words, but it’s even worse to use it in the title) with great interest, Sci-Fi Fanatic. I have read many of the professional critics' negative reviews of this film, who inaccurately compare it to Alien. Many of our fellow bloggers negative reviews have unfavorably compared it to Event Horizon, which I just don’t get. Event Horizon is clearly influenced by the writings of H .P. Lovecraft, who used “other dimensions” to explain seemingly supernatural events. I’m a sucker for horror/science-fiction crossover films as you seem to be, but Event Horizon's use of a gravity-well drive to explain all the fantastical happenings in the film was just too much for my suspension of disbelief. On the opposite of this is Pandorum, which uses the simple premis of long distance space travel – and therefore hundreds of human years of time elapsed – to explain the genetically adaptive humans reason for devolving into primitive cannibals. Yes, it is gruesome, but entirely plausible. The gradual revelation of this premise is what makes Pandorum a truly excellent science fiction film and not just an action-filled horror/sf crossover (which it is also)! I do wonder why one of the major criticisms of this film is it’s lack of originality of design, which, considering that the “creatures” are in fact genetically adapted humans, they should look human-like because they are NOT aliens. I agree that Pandorum is still a flawed film, but lack of originality is not one of them. Good insights into Pandorum, S-FF. BTW: I too am a fan of Paul W. S. Anderson and consider the Resident Evil films to be a very good guilty pleasure.

SFF said...

I really enjoyed your comments Doc. Some really good points especially abou that title eventhough I still like it.

Yes, I thought Pandorum was successful and I am overall positive towards any film that can freak me out like this one did.

I loved Event Horizon and certainly some of the atmosphere is there for both films especially given the Anderson influence, but I agree they are different films entirely.

Loved your perspective on the creatures too. You made me appreciate the angle a bit more.

Still, I loved Event Horizon and I did do a review of that one on the site so check it out. It would seem I did enjoy EH more than you, but Pandorum is a solid film for the sci-fi horor genre, which is a niche genre that doesn't often receive newcomers. But you're right I do appreciate the genre a great deal which may explain, like yourself, why I seem to love the Resident Evil pictures so much.

Event Horizon, by Anderson, is one of my favorites by the man, but we have a lot in common here. Thanks for your additional commentary.

It's nice to present an outlet for film and television that doesn't receive a fair shake by the agenda driven critics out there. I'm with you.

Anonymous said...

I see that you liked the film as I did. I think you might be very interested in this analysis on mine on the film. I know this review is old but I felt compelled to show this.


SFF said...

Thanks for stopping by Devious One. I'll be sure to check out your link.

I did a brief look over and your analysis seems quite extensive and collegiate to be sure. I look forward to it.


Anonymous said...

Would like to hear your thoughts after you finish reading it.

Man of Sin said...

I enjoyed this as well. Though I disagree about the character development part. Here is my in-depth take on the film.