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Passengers

Year: 2016
Studio: Columbia
Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Jon Spaihts
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Lawrence Fishburne, Andy Garcia

A textbook example of how to mess up a perfectly enjoyable sci-fi movie, and if any studio was going to make a hash of it it'd be Sony, a studio that can't usually sell a successful movie for love nor money – even a good one like this.

Exhibit one (and the only one that matters, really) was the terrible one-sheet, which showed stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence simply staring at the viewer, in some forms through a long slit as if they're staring into their mailbox waiting impatiently for a parcel.

It didn't show any of the futuristic accouterments, costuming, set design, expansive setting or anything else about the story or visuals. A Drew Struzan-inspired painting showing the stars in blue shadow, looking pensively into space and with the brilliantly designed ship, the Avalon, emerging from the mists would have encapsulated the mood and ambition of the film far better.

The production design (which was nominated for an Oscar) is also allowed to take full flight because this is a Hollywood space movie with huge, opulent chambers and rooms built for maximum visual impact rather than a realistic space movie like Interstellar, Gravity or Approaching the Unknown with cramped spaces built for the utility of space travel – another aspect that should have been conveyed in the sales picth.

The Avalon is a colony ship populated with over 5,000 passengers and crew, all of them in cryostasis pods as they fly towards a new planetary home that lies at the end of a 120 year journey.

After the ship flies through an asteroid field the automatic shield repels most of the rocks except for a single big one that gets through and hits the hull. At first there seems to be very little damage except to the pod of a single colonist, Jim (Pratt), who awakens assuming the Avalon is nearing the end of its journey because everyone's due to come out of their hypersleep a month in advance of the arrival and enjoy the bars, restaurants and lifestyle aboard prior to arrival.

Problem is, Jim wanders the halls for a few hours without seeing anyone, not sure what he's supposed to do and not getting very much help from the automated on-board system.

Before long, still apparently completely alone on a ship with the size and facilities of a cruise liner, Jim figures out by the computerised information systems that there's been some critical fault and he's been woken up by mistake almost a century too early.

Increasingly panicked, he finds the crew quarters – where he figures he could awaken a ship's officer and get put back to sleep or simply have access to someone senior who could figure everything out – is locked down tight and completely inaccessible. He breaks into a suite that's way above the rate he paid for his passage, he has his favourite bar and the android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) all to himself, but what could under other circumstances be a glorious holiday turns into a living nightmare of fear and loneliness.

As the weeks drag into a year it seems Jim's fate is sealed – he'll live out the last decades of his life completely alone on a automatic ship in deep space, surrounded by the sleeping people he was supposed to be building a new world with.

But one day, shaggy and with long hair and a beard and contemplating ending it all, he comes across a recording of Aurora (Lawrence), a writer and fellow passenger. He falls in love with the face and voice of her recordings – apparently interview footage from the colonisation selection process – and desperately wants to wake her up simply for the human companionship, but he knows he'll be robbing her of the life she signed up for in doing so.

It's an impossible choice, and when Jim gives in to the agonising loneliness, wakes Aurora and tries to gently ease her into their new reality, he tells her everyting about the sleeping pods going wrong, the astroid strike and the inaccessible crew – just not that he's the one who woke her up.

With nobody else in the universe around them, Aurora and Jim fall in love and things are blissful, the only dark spot the lie he's making her live under, but which he tries to convince himself doesn't matter if they're happy.

But it's a romantic drama as well as a sci-fi epic, so just when it turns out the glitches they're seeing around the ship are the cause of a much deeper problem than the one that woke Jim up, Aurora learns the truth. Love turns to anger and hate, but she hardly has time to feel so wronged before it turns out they have much bigger problems because of the increasing glitches going on aboard.

Pratt is dreadfully middle of the road and a bit miscast, but Lawrence is lovely and she gives it everything, making you really believe a young woman convinced the man who loves her has betrayed her in the worst possible way. She uses her husky voice and expressive eyes to really sell first Aurora's devotion and then her pain wonderfully.

The designs and sets (CGI or otherwise) all create really impressive big screen visuals, and there are some thrilling and quite innovative set pieces like the swimming pool beseiged with zero gravity.

When it came out there was some critical comment around about the action Jim takes of waking Aurora up – apparently too creepy for some critics to stomach and an opinion that tarnished the whole film for a lot of people.

I'd assumed after hearing about it that it was some aside or subplot that ruined any likeability about the character, but it was actually the inciting incident of the story between Jim and Auroroa and it worked perfectly – his agony at knowing he's making the wrong choice is a major part of his character.

There's nothing terribly edgy or deep about it, but it believes in its own emotional journey and looks great, and even with the flubbed marketing I can't really understand why it didn't do better. Despite tripling its budget it was widely considered a misfire, and the fact that it contains two of the biggest stars of today only seems to prove the modern axiom that movie stardom is losing its currency in Hollywood - brands like Star Wars and Harry Potter open movies nowadays, names like Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts don't.

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