SEPTEMBER 25, 2009
Coffee. Most movie theaters around here serve it. Even the New Bev, which doesn’t even have a credit card machine and will sometimes go without butter for the popcorn for a week straight, has coffee. So why doesn’t the AMC Burbank 16, the only theater in my vicinity that shows movies around 11 am on a weekday, serve it? Worse, why the fuck won’t they let me in with one I bought elsewhere? The whole purpose of not allowing outside food in is because it cuts in on their snack sales (for things they actually sell - i.e. candy, soda). But it’s 11 am - I don’t want a goddamn Coke. I might have actually bought a snack from them to enjoy with my coffee, but instead they piss me off and I have to toss out half my cup (can’t really chug it when its piping hot) so I can get into the theater for Pandorum, and they get nothing (and I won’t bother going there again unless I have no other option). So go fuck yourself, AMC Burbank 16.
As for the movie, it’s OK. It’s got a lot of stuff to like, but it never quite gels together into a really engrossing experience. I experienced a lot of Déjà vu during the film; everything from Resident Evil (main character wakes up with amnesia after a catastrophic event, trapped inside a location with mutated beings), Alien (duh), Sunshine (ship on mission to continue humanity), Event Horizon... hell the final twist even reminded me of a certain landmark genre film, though to say which would be sort of spoiler-y and it was one of the two twists I didn’t see coming.
The other one I did though, and I hereby declare that we need to put an end to this particular twist style. I won’t spoil it (it involves Cam Gigandet’s character), but it’s not the first genre film this year to be weakened by it. Let’s cut this nonsense out.
Oddly, the weakest aspect of the movie is the flat-out horror stuff. I’m all for mutants killing people, but the compact cast keeps the body count to a surprising minimum (most of the 5 or 6 deaths occur in the film’s final 10 minutes), so it gets a bit tiresome to have scenes of mutants scrambling toward our heroes and then they either escape just in time, or team up to fight/kill one, and then run from the rest of the mutants who are now approaching. The film works much better when it sticks to the psychological aspects.
For starters, nearly all of our characters have amnesia, and part of the fun is seeing them figure out their purpose and try to understand why they were on the ship in the first place. They also might be suffering from the titular sickness, which is a cooler version of Armageddon’s “Space Dementia” (cooler because you might really go nuts and kill your friends, instead of just making Dr. Strangelove references). And Foster has fragmented flashes of his super-hot wife, who may or may not be on the ship. Had director Christian Alvart, who wrote with Travis Milloy stuck to these more mystery-based elements more than the mutant stuff, I think the film as a whole would have worked better. They’re stuck in space, they don’t know who they are, and they might be going crazy. Isn’t that scary enough? Why bring on things that look like the love children of LOTR’s Orcs and the things from The Descent (more of that Déjà vu I mentioned earlier)? I guess there’s a reason "Psychological Action Sci-Fi Horror Thriller" isn’t a more popular genre.
Their Orc-like costumes do have a hilariously ironic payoff though - one of them is actually killed by a spike that he had on his shoulder armor. Had he not taken the time to craft some armor to protect himself (despite the fact that the mutants had no reason to believe they had any enemies on board), he might be alive today.
I was also disappointed that Dennis Quaid’s character spent the entire movie in a control room. He never even really sees a mutant! I love Quaid, and was looking forward to seeing him kick some ass, but it’s only in the film’s final moments that he springs into action. The rest of the time he’s merely looking at monitors and talking to Foster over an intercom. Between this and G.I. Joe, I’ve just about had it with people wasting the awesomeness of Dennis Quaid. He better kick some ass in Legion.
Ultimately, the best way to look at the film is as a video game adaptation for a game you simply haven’t played yet. Waking up with amnesia (and subsequently having to figure out how to get out of a locked room) is a video game standard, and one can’t help but think of Dead Space (which was released around the time this film was shooting, so it couldn’t be an influence unless producer Paul WS Anderson played his Resident Evil card and got it early) as Foster runs around the ship trying to restart reactors while fighting off enemies with a laser gun. Hell, there’s even a couple of platforming sequences, and at least two occasions where you want to keep going with the run n’ gunning but have to stop to listen to a character deliver 5 pages’ worth of exposition. Essentially, you are the Foster character, Antje Traue (I love this woman by the way) is your largely useless AI partner, and Quaid is the big name voice actor (in a game this would usually be Lance Henriksen or Keith David) who makes a few appearances in the game but never really interacts with your character in any memorable way. I’m actually kind of baffled that there isn’t a tie-in game in the works (or already on shelves). Christ, they made games for Charlie’s Angels 2 and Wayne’s World, why not the action packed sci-fi monster movie?
In the end, it’s not a bad film, just one that never finds its focus. I wasn’t bored or anything, but I kept waiting for it to kick into higher gear and add something fresh. Everything here has been done before, and Pandorum doesn’t do it better (or worse) than those movies (well, better than Resident Evil I guess). Any one scene in the film is good - there’s no bad acting, very few lulls in the pacing, exceptional production value, etc. But when you put them all together you’ll see that it brings nothing new to the table; the genre film equivalent of a TGIFriday’s sampler - offering mild satisfaction on several levels instead of full satisfaction on one.
What say you?