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Friday
Sep252009

Pandorum

Looking at the myriad of posters that were released for the new film Pandorum, one might think that it actually has some merit. They promised ingenuity. They promised scares. They promised intrigue. But it delivered nothing. Pandorum is all missed opportunities. The filmmakers landed Dennis Quaid, a terrific actor (sans G.I. Joe and the straight to DVD thriller, Horsemen), and keeps him locked in a room by himself for the majority of the movie. They create a huge ship with plenty of areas to explore, but make each corridor more generic and boring than the last. They create monsters that are so derivative of other, better movies that I'm almost positive they were stolen directly from the excellent 2005 horror flick, The Descent. There is potential in Pandorum, though little is realized.

The film takes place a couple hundred years in the future and things are looking bleak. As time went by, Earth's population continued to grow as its resources continued to dwindle. Tanis, the only other known planet similar to Earth that can sustain life, seems to be mankind's only hope. With no plans to journey back to Earth, a ship called the Elysium takes thousands of people and species and embarks on this journey. Onboard, Bower (Ben Foster) has just woken up in a cryostasis chamber and has amnesia, an unfortunate side effect from his extended period of hyper sleep. His superior, Payton (Dennis Quaid) awakens shortly after and they realize something is wrong with the ship. The problem is that they can barely remember their names, much less their purpose on the vessel. As Bower makes his way through the halls to fix what he hopes is only a technical complication, he encounters other survivors as well as a strange group of creatures who have taken over the ship.

Pandorum, like many movies these days, is a mediocre effort that produces mediocre results. It borrows heavily from other films like Event Horizon and Alien, even going so far as to downright steal one of its most tense scenes, but leaves no shred of originality. It doesn't so much feel like its own movie as it does an homage to other ones. Paying respect to other genre films is fine, but you've got to create a quality product around it and Pandorum doesn't. It holds the conventions of sci-fi horror in such high fidelity that you would barely be able to tell the difference between this one and others had it not been so bland and predictable.

Part of its banality stems from its laziness to create a convincing and ambient environment for the characters to probe. As evidenced by the first shots in Alien that wander through the corridors of the Nostromo, building an atmospheric ship is essential to any sci-fi horror film set in space. That ship had enough original, distinguishable features to make what would eventually become a terrifying deathtrap. By showing the initial calmness in its features, it made the impact of the alien presence unbearably scary. Pandorum doesn't have that realistic feeling that made Alien such a visceral experience.

Like the hit Fox show, 24 (and the hilarious South Park episode that spoofed it), much of Pandorum's dialogue consists of intense whispering that stresses urgency, or as Cartman put it, "Whispering really loudly for dramatic effect." Most of this loud whispering comes in the form of generic sci-fi banter like, "We're the only ones here," later followed by a "We're not alone," when they realize their previous statement was wrong.

As you would expect from a film as commonplace as this one, it has a ridiculous amount of jump scares that quickly become annoying. It's the type of movie where a character approaches a body in the darkness, but inexplicably points his flashlight towards the ground so the music can jump in and hopefully get you with its "Boo!" moment, which almost never works, partly because you simply can't see what is happening.

Along with the frantic camera movements, the cuts came fast and furious, not to the same extent as the recent Gamer, but crazy nonetheless. But unlike Gamer, Pandorum is very dark and if you combine that with the shaky camera technique and quick cuts, it becomes nearly impossible to see what is going on during some of its pivotal horror scenes.

Pandorum refers to the insanity one can experience by being in deep-space for long periods of time. Its symptoms include paranoia and hallucinations which eventually lead the sick person to murder the people around him. The disappointment in that narrative tool comes from how interesting it could have been. As Bower ventured throughout the ship, it would have been great to see him battle the symptoms, delving into his weakening mental state and providing some creepy imagery, but its only significance comes from the final twist, a twist that really isn't all that impressive because the events leading up to it are so dull.

Though credit must be given to Ben Foster, who has given superb performances in everything from the underrated Hostage to 3:10 to Yuma, the overall outcome of Pandorum pales in comparison to its genre brethren it holds in such high regards.

Pandorum receives 2/5

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