Directed by Morten Tyldum

passengers6In 1944, Alfred Hitchcock, for all intents and purposes, invented a genre with a great film called “Lifeboat” (I’m sure someone will correct me on an earlier incarnation). Hollywood has been remaking it ever since with varying degrees of success. But now, with the development of fx technology and 3D theaters, these movies all take place in the emptiness of space. In the last two years we’ve had “Gravity” & “Interstellar”, both of which, for the most part, succeed. Alas, the newest incarnation, Morten Tyldum’s “Passengers,” does not.

Which is a shame, because it’s really close to good. The world of the film is stunning and realistic. The story is intriguing, if not original. The actors give it one helluva try…and often succeed. But, for whatever reason, it never adds up to…good. A large part of the problem is that Tyldum can’t decide what he has on his hands…a problem his previous helming effort, “The Imitation Game,” also suffered from. Is this a psycho-social examination on the nature of isolation, or is it a heavily focus-grouped sci-fi thriller. You can see how those two ideas don’t quite lend themselves to an enjoyable two hours and change audience experience.

Not that Chris Pratt or Michael Sheen are to blame. They’re both terrific. Pratt’s take on the Last Man on Earth situation is charming, funny, heartbreaking and committed. And Sheen is the android bartender of our dreams. Jennifer Lawrence, however…sigh…I don’t know. Maybe her film persona has become over-saturated. She has a couple good scenes and the chemistry between her and Pratt sometimes crackles. But overall there’s just not that much there there. She is at her best when she makes character choices…ANY character choices…as she did in “American Hustle”. But here, she is simply “J-Law” and it’s not enough to carry us through the interminable second act…which is a much bigger disaster than the ship’s malfunctions. It is now several films in a row where she has been mediocre to just plain awful. “Hustle” seems like an eternity ago. She’s banking big bucks, so the laugh’s on me, but her choices are not helping her catalogue.

Now…let’s get to my rants that this film brought up in me:

Rant #1: Is it me or has Thomas Newman completely forgotten how to write an original score. Four of his last five scores have almost identical feel and voicing…with certain compositions being literally cannibalized from the first of the four, “The Judge”. Listen, the greatest film-music composers have a sound that is there own. I can tell you within a few notes if a score belongs to Ennio, or Johann Johannsson, or Ryuichi Sakamoto, or Carter Burwell or Mark Isham…and obviously everyone can pick out a John Williams, Howard Shore or Danny Elfman score. But, while the themes and/or styles may be similar across different projects, they stand by themselves. Not so with Newman. He can’t seem to write a score without that mournful soprano sax, and that now-ubiquitous vibe-setting on his synclavier (or, more likely, actual vibes). For 99.9% of the movie-going audience, it will not get in the way. For me? Throws me right out of the film. It’s just lazy lazy lazy. But what the hell do I know, he keeps getting nominations for that same score.

Hey Hollywood, we’ve seen more than enough procedurals to know that when you bring someone back from the dead via defibrillator, or epinephrine shot, or whatever, people don’t just pop up all smiles – especially after ALL the shit our hero always goes through. And yet, this happens over and over again. In this instance, and given Tyldum’s previous penchant for avoiding the too good-to-be-true happy ending, it simply screams focus group/boardroom re-tooling. Ugh. okay, I’m done.

This is a gorgeous flick and Tyldum and production designer, Guy Hendrix Dyas, should be commended for creating such a three-dimensional world (and I don’t mean a “3D” presentation of that world – although it does work quite well in 3d). But it’s too long, too predictable, and too corporate to recommend…except for a quiet night on the couch a few month from now with your sweetheart by your side and your streaming technology of choice.

Written on 12/22/2016

One thought on ““Passengers”

  1. Totally agree with your thoughts on J-Law as of late. You picked apart the problems with this film very well. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the subject!

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