The Blue Lagoon meets 2001: A Space Odyssey in the new movie Passengers, an intense romantic drama about two lonely souls abandoned on a giant spacecraft.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, it's a small, intimate chamber piece with beautiful camerawork and gorgeous art direction ... until it loses its way in a wrongheaded bid for sci-fi greatness.
Pratt gives a natural, likable, vulnerable performance as Jim Preston, a mechanical engineer who is one of 5,000 passengers on a 120-year intergalactic trip to a colony planet. Lawrence is charming as Aurora Lane, an urbane writer along for the ride.
Directed with panache by the bold stylist Morten Tyldum (Headhunter, The Imitation Game), the story begins with passengers and crew in suspended animation for the long haul in cool-looking sleep pods straight out of James Cameron’s Aliens.
Then, about 30 years into the trip, an asteroid shower causes a series of systems failures that wake up poor Jim. He whiles away more than a year, enjoying the massive spaceship’s many amenities, including gourmet restaurants, a well-stocked bar, and a holographic dance machine. Eventually, though, the fun and games get stale and Jim is left to ponder 90 years of radical isolation.
Then Aurora wakes up, too. The sophisticated beauty is way out of Jim’s league. In the real world, she admits, she’d never give him a second look.
But theirs is a romance of necessity. In a very real sense, they are the only two people alive (or, rather, awake) in the universe.
Pratt and Lawrence play off each other with good chemistry. And then their intergalactic love story morphs into a hackneyed sci-fi thriller when the two face a mechanical crisis that could lead to a nuclear meltdown. Oh, no!
Passengers makes self-conscious references to a whole slew of classic space-exploration pictures, including Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, the Alien films, and Alfonso Cuarón’s sublime space ballet Gravity, but its own science-fiction elements are sloppy and full of lapses in logic.
For one thing, we’re supposed to believe that a spacecraft the size of a small town has only a single cyborg? (Named Arthur, he’s charmingly played by Michael Sheen.) And that our clever heroes never consider waking up a couple of nuclear engineers to fix the ship?
It takes a massive suspension of disbelief to overlook plot holes like that. I’m willing to do it for a love story, but not for a sci-fi movie that wants to be a cosmic contender.
As serious science fiction, Passengers falls seriously short.