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- Movie: Pandorum
- Rating: R
- Running Time: 1 hrs. 48 min.
- Starring: Ben Foster, Dennis Quaid, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le and Eddie Rouse
- Written By: Travis Milloy
- Directed By: Christian Alvert
- Distributor: Overture Films
We've Smelled This Before
By Rob Vaux
September 27, 2009
Remember the scene in Star Trek where Dr. McCoy talks about all the horrible ways you can die in space? Pandorum is basically a visual aid for that speech. Its grimy, glowstick-laden surface hides interminable unpleasantness, carefully calculated to fill you with despair. It ostensibly wants to create an atmosphere of paranoid claustrophobia, but it does so in ways that repel rather than hypnotize. Director Christian Alvart follows closely in the footsteps of Ridley Scott, emulating the look of Alien without any attendant sense of mood. The film thus becomes horrifying for all the wrong reasons, a tedious trudge through what should be a spooky funhouse.
The "haunted spaceship" routine is old hat to begin with, as is the notion that mankind may find more in the stars than he wanted. Pandorum flirts casually with Lovecraftian existentialism, as the pressures of interstellar travel bring all manner of demons scuttling from the subconscious. Centuries in the future, a pair of crewmen awaken from a long hypersleep. Both suffer from short-term memory loss and neither can remember how they got there. Some kind of malfunction has awakened them; nothing works and their limited quarters hold no apparent answers. Bower (Ben Foster), the junior half of the duo, heads out to find some, while Payton (Dennis Quaid) stays behind to guide him remotely. The interior of the ship holds an abattoir of slime and shadows, where mutant cannibals lurk in the corners and a few other survivors have long since given up resolving the situation. Bower is far less willing to surrender, but his amnesia and the deadly inhabitants of the ship may render his good intentions irrelevant.
Foster remains the film's best element, with a knack for high-strung energy that fits the project like a glove. Beyond that, however, Pandorum has nothing to offer, instead cribbing elements from better sci-fi films in an effort to stitch them into an original whole. It also falls into the genre's one true death trap: undue fixation on its gadgets and toys. Hand-cranked generators and hypersleep chambers receive loving attention from the production team, while the characters themselves remain empty shells scampering haplessly from one scene to the next.
Alvart compounds the situation with endless shots of crawling through potholes and sprinting along corridors, waiting for some pasty-faced boogeyman to come leaping out of the shadows at us. The initial shocks quickly wear out their welcome, crushed by editing seemingly performed by a band of chimps. As Bower makes his way towards the Grand MacGuffin of a resolution, Pandorum dives headlong into notions of space-based madness, another concept thought through with far more detail than the narrative. (It mainly serves to give Quaid something interesting to do, lest he spend the entire film scowling and mumbling into the microphone.)
Similar plot developments spring up like evil genies from a lamp, trying madly to integrate with the rest of the film but only adding to its jumbled consistency. When considering how many other, better movies it resembles, cohesion becomes impossible. Pandorum actually has a few decent ideas buried amid all the muck, but its relentlessly pounding tone derails any efforts to retrieve them. The climax contains so many whiplash revelations that you scarcely notice how ridiculous most of them are, and even the overall nihilism takes it on the chin with an unexpected injection of sunshine.
It beggars the question not whether such a mess could be salvaged, but why anyone would want to try. The will is there--nothing this grim comes about unless someone believes in it--but the execution utterly fails to capitalize on it. The simple fact of the matter is that Alien owns this territory, and if you're going to emulate it as closely as Pandorum does, you need something besides a depressing set and a bunch of knee-jerk shocks.