Pandorum (2009): United States/Germany – directed by Christian Alvart
Rated R by the MPAA – contains bad language, violence, gore, goo, and unnecessary cleavage
It’s interesting; while searching for a poster to put with this review, I had trouble finding any that accurately represented the film. Maybe that’s because the film itself doesn’t understand quite what it wants to be.
We start with a brief explanation about where in time the movie takes place. You would do well to pay attention to this part, because after the first three minutes the film doesn’t explain anything for quite some time.
The earth has become dangerously overpopulated and food and water are in short supply. However, a planet with Earth-like qualities has been discovered and a ship has been sent to populate it. It would be quite an understatement to say that something went wrong with the flight.
Corporal Bower (played by Ben Foster, from the 3:10 to Yuma remake) wakes from his sleep chamber. Due to the standard amnesia that results from extended hypersleep, he can’t even remember his name at first. Pretty soon Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid) wakes up beside him and together they go about putting the ship back in order.
The next 30-40 minutes are amazing. We are treated to an incredibly atmospheric sci-fi setting. It’s dark and foreboding and very reminiscent of Alien. Nothing is explained as Bower and Payton attempt to figure out what’s been going on with the ship and why they’ve been pulled out of hypersleep at the wrong time. This first section is creepy and effective as they start to unravel the mystery and discover they might not be the only people left on board.
Unfortunately, as explanations are given the film starts to lose its way. For a while I was reminded of The Descent, as the characters crawl through the claustrophobic passages of the ship. Eventually, though, the film turns into something more similar to Aliens, with bits and pieces of Event Horizon thrown in. This would not be a bad thing if it had focused on one or two aspects instead of four or five. At times we are treated to an interesting science fiction story, but that gets lost with elements of losing your mind (the “pandorum” of the title) and all-out action. Add in a female character, Nadia, (played by Antje Traue) and things get even more confused. Her character suffers from damsel-in-distress syndrome. When we are introduced to her she is strong and powerful, more than capable of taking care of herself, but the more time she spends with the male characters the more reliant on them she becomes. She also offers totally unnecessary and distracting cleavage, for no discernible reason.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad movie. I knew next to nothing about it going in, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It could have been so much better had it been more focused. The production is smart and capable, and it looks better than the budget would let on. The acting is solid, which is vital for the psychological horror element. The directing is generally fine, though the action sequences are filmed with such a freneticism that they stand in stark contrast to the rest of the cautious and creepy scenes. While I think that the film could have and should have been better, it is still an enjoyable science fiction movie. I love some of the ideas it explores (though I can’t mention them here without spoilers), and despite some of its shortcomings I would heartily recommend it to fans of sci-fi/horror films.