Certificate 12A, 116 minutes

Director: Morten Tyldum

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen

Passengers opens in an unknown time in the future (although it's probably at least quite a few centuries). The starship Avalon owned by the Homestead Corporation (colonising worlds is big, and profitable, business) is on its way to the colony world of Homestead II. This isn't the first colony; there are references to "worlds" so presumably there have been quite a few successful ones so far. The ship is sublight and spinning. There is a crew of 258 and 5,000 passengers, all in hibernation, with the ship on autopilot.

The ship is huge, probably something like a kilometre from front to rear, although it's mostly comprised of various sections and wheels spinning around a central axis. It has a shield projecting from the front to protect it, as it's travelling at a pretty substantial cee-fractional velocity, which means that anything has the potential to cause massive damage. The shield starts being hit by a number of objects, and the autopilot directs more power to the main shield, as it approaches a, really quite dense for interstellar space, field of rocks. One of them is pretty big and, although the shield mostly protects the ship, the impact causes a power surge, which leads to a number of error messages, most of which are fixed, but one, relating to a hibernation pod, remains.

PassengersCredit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Passengers_2016_film_poster.jpgThe hibernation pod in question revives its occupant, James "Jim" Preston (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World, The Lego Movie). The computer greets him and tells him that they are four months out from Homestead II. After being directed to his quarters, he goes to see all the other passengers and crew, having been told to mingle with them and enjoy the luxury accommodation on the ship, but doesn't find anyone - not even at his training meeting. Interacting with several other computers results in Jim being directed to places where there quite obviously aren't any crew. Or passengers. Or anyone. The only person he does see is, in fact, an android - human-looking from the waist up - Arthur (Michael Sheen), the barman. The computers don't recognise that there is a problem, as hibernation pods are failsafe, and never fail. So Jim can't have come out early.

In the ship's observatory, Jim finally discovers just how bad his position is. Of the 120 year journey he was on, which was supposed to be only four months away from the final destination, only 30 years has elapsed, leaving him 90 years away from where he should be. That is not a survivable length of time. He decides to communicate with the Homestead Corporation back on Earth, and is given a customer service number. Unfortunately, he either wasn't paying proper attention when the computer told him that the message would be sent by laser, or wasn't exactly in a fit state to process it, for it will be an estimated 55 years before he gets a reply.

Being a mechanic, he tries to get his pod to reactivate and send him back into hibernation, but fails. Jim is a passenger, and the most important areas of the ship - engineering, the bridge and the crew hibernation pods - cannot be accessed using his wristband. Or, for that matter, a sledgehammer, blowtorch or cutting lance, to name a few of the things he tries - the doors protecting those areas are seriously strong.

Arthur, being the considerate bartender, basically tells Jim to enjoy the moment, so he makes use of the Avalon's facilities - at least those he can access. He isn't a gold class passenger, so many things are denied to him. As time passes, Jim becomes more and more a mess, psychologically speaking. Not surprisingly, his thoughts turn to suicide, and he would have succeeded, if he hadn't changed his mind - the safety protocols on the Avalon's airlocks are a bit lacking, as they don't detect that a person in them is not wearing a spacesuit.

Immediately following his abandoned suicide attempt, Jim sees another passenger still in her pod, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), an author. He starts reading about her and watching her interviews, becoming more and more obsessed, before finally having what even he realises is not e brilliant idea - Jim will revive her, so that he will no longer be alone. This isn't an immediate process, but he eventually does. Aurora is desperate when she is revived, as she realises that she will die before the ship reaches Homestead II, not the trip she had planned on, but Jim doesn't tell her that he was the one who brought her out of hibernation, not an error. Eventually, she does find out of course (at which point she doesn't take it well; hardly surprising, really) but their relationship develops and blossoms until that point.

In the background of these events are a growing number of malfunctions on board the ship. When one of the crew, Deck Chief Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne, Contagion, Man of Steel), is brought out from hibernation when his pod suffers multiple failures, his wristband gives them access to all the places on the ship they couldn't get in before, such as the bridge. At which point they find out just how bad things really are.

The film is available in 2D and 3D, with the 3D version being the one watched. The 3D is a bit variable; those shots outside the ship in space are impressive, but most of the action takes place inside Avalon; a ship which, despite being huge, is built for humans, and has human-sized spaces inside it, meaning that the interior scenes lack the distance and perspective - or the special effects - to really make use of the 3D. The exterior shots are impressive, as is the Avalon; the interior of the ship is largely a bunch of empty white spaces. Totally uninteresting to look at, but pretty realistic for a ship that's almost totally unoccupied.

The trailer for Passengers is a bit misleading (perhaps utterly inaccurate would be a better description). Watching it gives the impression that the film is quite action-heavy, but this isn't the case. The majority of the film is actually about relationships - a love story in space if you will - with the action only coming in the last portion of it. Prior to that, it's purely about the relationship between Jim and Aurora, how it develops, how it blossoms, how it changes. For the vast majority of the film there are only, at most, three cast members - and one of them is an android. So it's the relationship between Jim and Aurora that is the focal point of the entire story - Arthur being more of a sympathetic ear to talk to than anything else - and fortunately they work quite well together, but there is a lot of time before Aurora wakes up.

Jim's behaviour is interesting, and it does lead to questions about what anyone would do in his situation. Yes, his actions in bringing Aurora out of the hibernation pod early were pretty reprehensible (which he realises himself), as he's essentially killed her, but they are also somewhat understandable, as he was trapped, alone, by himself and no longer in a state of mind that could truly be classed as sane. The horror, denial, attempts to fix things and, finally, acceptance that both Jim and Aurora go through on finding themselves awake decades early makes them seem very human.

This isn't really an action film, although it has a few action elements near to the end. It's not really a science fiction film, even though it's set in the future on a starship. What it actually is is a love story, one which could have been set on a desert island (something mentioned in the film) with a few modifications. So don't go into the film expecting an action/adventure/science fiction epic; it really isn't any of those. Passengers is not a stand out film, even though the exterior shots are quite impressive (though some of the logic regarding how the ship operates seems overly, and, as it happens, unjustifiably, optimistic), but it's enjoyable enough, and the relationship and chemistry between Jim and Aurora - the most important part of the film - works and seems believable.

Passengers egdcltd 2016-12-21 3.5 0 5
3.5/5