I guess whenever I see a giant, cavernous space-faring vehicle in a trailer, made of cold steel, barely lit, and filled with all sorts of hellish, nightmarish imagery from the coldest reaches of space or the darkest circle of Hell, my expectations fall very quickly. Because most sci-fi films set in dimly-lit space stations or dimly-lit off-world research facilities housing freaky shit aren’t very good. Let’s look at the statistics; for every Event Horizon out there, there are dozens of movies like Pitch Black, Ghosts of Mars, any Cube sequel, Jason X, the first Resident Evil, Doom, or Wing Commander that just stink the joint up. The sub-genre itself is just riddled with cliches, and while it seems tempting to do a movie about the horrors that might exist at the borders of space, there are too many risks involved that could just lame it up. Today’s film, Pandorum, falls prey to a few of your standard, um, let’s call them horror-fi, films. But it succeeds where the others fail with a surprising originality that rises above the future muck to make something quite enjoyable.
It all begins in (brace yourself) THE FUTURE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Man is running low on resources in the year 2XXX and we’re all pretty much screwed because of overpopulation (it’s called a condom, guys; wrap it up!). So we send a ship out dubbed Elysium to a world far away that’s possibly inhabitable. The film begins midway through the ship’s journey, with one of the crew members, named Bower, waking up very violently after an extended sleep in hypersleep. He doesn’t remember much, if anything, as staying too long in a stasis like that can cause extreme memory loss. And, as it turns out, he’s been asleep for much longer than anybody anticipated. His commanding officer, named Payton, wakes up alongside him, and together they try to reassemble what happened along their voyage to the new world. The ship’s reactor is misfiring, the crew of thousands is seemingly missing, and strange noises are heard throughout the ship. Can Bower piece together the mystery of the Elysium while trying to restart the ship? Can he find the rest of the crew members? And can he survive the onslaught of bizarre creatures that now infest the ship and cry out for his blood?
It’s good. Surprisingly good. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Part of it is that Pandorum keeps you guessing until the very end. It has an air of mystery that is impenetrable because of its first traumatic, claustrophobic scene. You go in knowing about as much as Bower does as he painfully awakens from a deep hypersleep. It’s disorienting but engaging as you follow the crew and solve the puzzle. So many of these films give it away in the trailer, but fortunately the makers of Pandorum were wise enough to keep it all under wraps. There will be a few things that you WILL NOT see coming, and that is refreshing as hell.
You know what really sells this movie? Rising star Ben Foster. I am really digging his choice in roles, and his turn as Bower is just what he needs in his ascension to leading man. He’s been the obsequious second-banana long enough, and I feel that with more roles like this, I could see him becoming the next A-lister, like a more versatile Shia LeBeouf. He’s heroic, he’s athletic, but most importantly he’s immensely talented, and I hope this becomes a vehicle for him to land even bigger, better roles in the future.
It’s not all sunshine and roses. There are a number of stock horror-fi BOO! scares that disgust me completely. The kind of scare where you just turn the volume up to the max and flash something on the screen. That doesn’t stick with you, that doesn’t make for a memorable moviegoing experience; that just makes you jump, big fucking deal. It’s more than a bit annoying, and it happens a lot. Not to mention the usual sci-fi exposition can be as clunky as a push lawnmower (OF THE FUTURE!!!!). Director Christian Alvart has a lot of interesting ideas, but some of them come out in a most unnatural way. Whenever Bower mentions something to Payton, played by Dennis Quaid, about a particularly horrifying type of cabin fever (or space madness) called Pandorum, Quaid starts explaining it like he’s reading from a space encyclopedia. It was a little much, and although I know that there’s a lot of exposition to give out for a sci-fi movie, don’t dump it on us like it’s research for our term paper.
Oh, and there is a scene where Bower shaves with a laser razor. It’s like a regular razor, but a beam comes out of it and the hair comes off as if he were wiping a window. Is that really necessary? Really? How extraneous! What else do we have in the future that’s unnecessarily laser-powered? Combs? Ceiling fans? Feminine products?
The rest of the cast excels, for the most part. Dennis Quaid is Ol’ Reliable, and he does fair enough. I can’t complain, seeing as how he’s doing high-profile work again, so congratulations for getting back in the saddle again, Quaid. Cam Gigandet is here as Gallo, a mysterious character who may or may not have Pandorum, and I found him to be a little grating. All of his scenes seem to involve him whining or crying or begging, sometimes in the nude. And that’s not something that I’d like to see from that guy for an extended period. Two breakouts here for me are two characters I’ll leave for you to figure out. Their names are Antje Traue and Cung Le, and respectively they play Nadia and Manh. These two really impressed me with their individual skills. Cung Le barely talks, as he is supposed to be foreign, but his stunt work is pretty damn amazing and I liked his wise Tonto-esque demeanor, which is a great, if not slightly demeaning, foil to Foster’s Bower character. Antje Traue speaks quite a bit more, and this is her American screen debut! Her English is pretty flawless, and I was blown away by her character, who is a consummate survivor and independent woman. There need to be more Nadia’s in today’s film-making world, although they don’t all need to be so traditionally beautiful as she is.
I think you’ll like Pandorum. It’s satisfying in a lot of ways. Good cast, creepy atmosphere, plenty of interesting creature effects, and a story that will keep you from walking out of the theater at the end claiming you “called it”. I hope there will be more in this planned series of films, and I hope Ben Foster returns for them, because I really feel that this is his vehicle, through and through. It might not have the best time expressing itself or how it is to live in the future, but I still stand by it for the simple fact that it transcends almost all the pitfalls it could have been susceptible to, and it comes out of the horror-fi genre looking like a champ rather than a chump. I give Pandorum 8 laser-powered feminine products out of 10. Check it out!
I’ll be back with another review later tonight! Keep watching the site! I’ll have SOMETHING for you!