This past weekend, I rented a recently released film called Pandorum, a sci-fi horror film that, while deeply flawed, was a fairly entertaining flick that I’ve had a couple of thoughts on. At some point in the future, a man awakes violently in a pod, unaware of where he is, how he got there or even who he is. He’s onboard a dead spaceship, with little power and no lights. As events transpire, he and a fellow crew member are on board a space ship, and they begin to remember more and more as time goes on. As they work on getting the ship back online before that becomes impossible, and in doing so, discover that what’s happened to them is both horrifying and eye-opening.
This film reminded me a lot of Vin Disel’s 2001 movie, Pitch Black, in a number of respects, and there were points in the first half of the film that were just downright brilliant, harkening back to what is possibly one of the best space-horror films, Alien. As Bower awakes, he’s essentially released into a dark and empty ship, one that has clearly been abandoned for quite some time. Where Pitch Black really utilized a minimal approach to horror while building up the suspense for most of the film, Pandorum should have done much of the same, and did for the first half-hour or so, as Bower and Payton escape from their pods and then out of the room to try and explore much of the ship.
It’s there that the film runs into problems: in the time that the ship has been off-line, people have escaped, and a whole new species of humans have arisen (later explained because of some drugs in the hyperbunks to help promote adaptation on a new world) that are predatory and violent. A few random survivors have made their homes in this environment, resorting to cannibalism and hunting to evade the predators. While watching this rather long part of the movie, where Bower tries to get to the ship’s main reactor to restart everything and get their bearings, I found it neither scary or all that suspenseful, unlike the first part of the film. While the creatures made for an interesting plot point, they deviated from a point that seemed almost an afterthought at the end: the relationship between chaos and order.
This is a central theme in many books and films, especially when it comes to religion and a number of science fiction books/movies that I’ve come across, and when this point was brought up in the last act, I realized exactly what this film could have been: a brilliant science fiction thriller, rather than an average chase movie that rarely rose above any sort of interested level.
At two points in the movie, it was revealed that humanity had vanished, as Earth was destroyed for some indeterminate reason. The ship was the last vestige of humanity, and that knowledge drove the original crew mad, and one of the members, Payton, killed his fellow crew members and left the ship to die. He notes at the end that the ability to live without consequence or fear of reprisal is an incredibly liberating one, while Bower worked to preserve the mission and lives of the remaining survivors. In a way, there’s a neat relationship there between a life of chaos (life on the ship under Payton’s rules) and that of order, as Bower seeks, and eventually achieves, with the death of Payton. The television Babylon 5 is a great example of where this sort of storyline has worked extremely well, with the Shadows war towards the end of the series. I particularly like this storyline because of the ambiguity involved with it, and the lack of any clear direction for the characters. In a way, neither choice is wholly the correct one; either side presents its advantages, in its philosophy, and the true good nor evil comes in the behavior of the characters. In this case, the chaotic route is clearly not a healthy one, as the characters run the risk of getting attacked and eaten.
This is a story point that is ultimately lost in the chase, but is one that could have worked extremely well for this sort of film, as the two characters have forgotten everything, and remember and relearn their surroundings. What’s the most frustrating element of the movie isn’t what’s there, but what isn’t there. The mutated humans, while an element that could have provided some shock and awe for the characters, really only exists to add in some extra blood and gore, in the most gratuitous and unnecessary manner, and really only serve to slow the characters down a bit. One of the characters, a Vietnamese man that joins the party, is killed almost as an afterthought at the end, and when we got to the end, I realized that this film was essentially a video game set to film.
There were some good concepts and ideas in Pandorum, and certainly worth the $1.06 that I spent out of Red Box for it. But ultimately? The movie was forgettable and uninteresting, save for a couple minutes here and there. What is set up is a cool universe, not unlike what happens in Pitch Black, with its own rules, appearance and feel, and the hints of a story that could have been brilliant.