At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Pandorum “09”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Sci-Fi Horror/Stars: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Eddie Rouse, André Hennicke, Norman Reedus, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Niels-Bruno Schmidt/ Runtime: 108 minutes

I think it is safe to say that the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 2009’s Pandorum is a film that has some alright ideas at play and then subsequently executes them in a way that is fairly well done. Sadly, this slice of cinematic pie is also one that as hard as it tries can’t shake itself from a way too overwhelming vibe of “this has all been done before” that really cripples this movie and thereby prevents it from ever having the opportunity to try to match some of the best that the Sci-Fi Horror genre of movie magic has been able to gift audiences with. To that end, this movie feels more like someone decided to compile a lot of the best components of movies from the past and put them all together in one film. As a result, we get a film that is both engaging yet far from mind altering and one that is unyielding in regards to its tone and pace, but severely lacking in novelty and reason for existing. Yes film helmer Christian Alvart manages to provide the film with a run of the mill tone that is both pitch black and quite moody, but this is a tone that is also something of a necessity whenever you are making a film where all the different internal components of humanity find themselves caught up in a dire conflict. Not only with the locale that they have been placed or with that which we do not know, but with each other in a place where the most immersive aspects of humanity are forced to deal with a situation that horrifically has managed to merge the more primal instincts of man with those aspects that are more advanced from a technological perspective.

The plot is as follows: Pandorum takes us to a possible future for our species where we see that in the far-off year that is 2174, the population of the planet Earth has managed to exceed the planet’s life-sustaining capabilities. As a result, we see that the over 24,000,000,000 inhabitants living on the planet have managed to take the Earth to the breaking point which has caused humanity to launch a new state of the art long-range space vessel by the name of Elysium to a recently uncovered planet that is similar to Earth known as Tanis with the idea in mind that everyone on board the ship can set up a colony on this alien world and have a fresh start at life. To that end, we see that when our cinematic adventure opens proper a young man by the name of Corporal Bower (or at least that’s what his nametag says) has just been aroused from cryo-sleep with no idea of his identity or even how he got on board the ship in the first place. With a little bit of time though, we soon see that our intrepid hero is able to reacquire some level of cognitive skill and memory and is also given a partner of sorts in the shape and form of an also recently woken up Lieutenant by the name of Payton, who also is suffering from a lack of memory due to how long they have been in cryo-sleep. However when he finds that he cannot get to the bridge of the vessel or even get in touch with the people that they are supposed to be the relief crew for, Bower, with Payton’s aid over the radio, decides to embark on an odyssey through the ship to find them. An odyssey that will result in both men discovering that there is perhaps much more to this vessel than meets the eye….

Right off the bat I guess it should be noted that this movie is one that has quite a few in the way of layers covering a surface that is quite immense, but when you peel them all back all that remains is a thin narrative that is also tragically not novel by any stretch of the imagination. At the same time though, this film to its credit is at least fairly riveting and worth watching. Indeed here is a film that manages to function with a relatively speedy tempo as hands on the edge of your seat action beats are blended together with settings that are a perfect mix of bleak and ominous and from there this dynamic duo then sets out to conjure up a fairly spooky locale that also has its fair share of secrets to uncover. It is also due to the rapid fire pacing that this film makes the choice to devote as little time as possible on backstory. As a result, what could have been a drag to sit through at the beginning is made palpable. Plus by choosing to do things this way, the film is then able to slowly but surely give us more in the way of backstory as the narrative propels itself along thus making sure that both the action beats and the narrative are able to run swiftly from beginning to end and even at the point where key things are finally revealed. Yet this uncover-flee-combat-revelation style of doing things does tend to become a fair degree of run the mill. Thus this film may choose to work with the most elementary formula possible whilst also not going too far off the beaten path, but the big positive this movie has in its favor is how by and large it does manage to keep things somewhat engaging in the right areas.

However it is also in this compare/contrast from other, typically more well-made, slices of cinematic pie where this film suffers since it tends to engage in this compare/contrast without really trying in any way to hide in what ways this movie is similar to all those others. For example this film, much in the same vein as the iconic sci-fi horror film Alien, is one that gives audiences a look at one possible future avenue space travel could go down that is perhaps the exact opposite of that which is shown in something like Star Trek. Indeed less like the Enterprise and more in the vein of something resembling the Nostromo, the ship in this film is bleak and not exactly the Hilton. By that I mean this is a ship that was built to serve a specific function and at no time was a sleek design plan or regard to making it comfortable for human occupants considered to say nothing of all the tubes hanging everywhere and the halls all colored in that delightful paint style known only as Rustic Futuristic which aid films like Alien and this one in being quite potently ominous. At the same time, this film also makes the creative choice to borrow from movies like Event Horizon and The Descent with the former contributing how this film utilizes paranoia and the latter in regards to design work for some of the antagonists. Suffice it to say then that whilst this film is nowhere near as scary as Alien or even paced as the other 2, this film is one that does to some degree manage to entertain with a speedy tempo and action that is potent, but not exactly iconic.

Now I also think it is safe to say that this slice of cinematic pie’s cast of characters also do a wonderful job at personifying this film’s very unpleasant visuals to say nothing of all the secrets which seem to onboard. Indeed each actor literally looks like they just came right off the set of the latest Mad Max movie where clothes are meant to be useful for combat purposes, they have dirt all over, and facial hair is most assuredly a thing (at least on the guys). This is crucial though because the people involved in this story are supposed to reflect both the general state of things and the enigmatic puzzles on board the vessel itself. Indeed yes it is another example of this film copying rather than being its own thing, but like other aspects of the film it once again works on the level that it needs to thus keeping the film from falling down the proverbial black hole of harmful repetitiveness. Also worth taking note of is the fact that this movie’s de-facto lead duo in Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid manage to give fairly good performances. Indeed not only do these two really play up the potential peril, but also the befuddlement that is key to this film wonderfully and thus give us turns in this that seem to be as genuinely surprised, anxious, and scared as the viewer is with every new wrinkle that gets thrown their way.

All in all I think it is safe to say that by the time you as the viewer manage to get to the conclusion of this particular slice of cinematic pie, you will most assuredly discover that regardless of the fact that this movie provides movie goers with a collection of intriguing wrinkles that all add up to a resolution that arrives right when you think it will even if the context of it is one that is both run of the mill and one you can see coming from a mile away. It is with that in mind that I think it is quite safe to say that the slice of cinematic pie that is Pandorum is one that looks like it is just plain and simply good, but is at the same time one that is not going to be remembered by the vast majority of those who see it as no more and no less than a tad bit better than a run of the mill thrill a minute cinematic ride. This is because from how it looks to the thematic concepts it chooses to operate with and darn near everything that exists between those 2 there is not that much in the way of novelty at work with this film. At the same time though this is a film that is potently and competently brought to life to say nothing of being in possession of some fairly well done performances especially from Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid respectively thus resulting in this slice of cinematic pie being one that is worth viewing as no more than dumb and see through entertainment that will more than anything hopefully conjure up a desire in the movie goer to find and watch (or rewatch) the iconic movies that this film shamelessly draws its inspirations from. On a scale of 1-5 I give Pandorum “09” a solid 3 out of 5.