Short Version: Pandorum is a mess of a movie that squanders a lot of potential.
Screen Rant Reviews Pandorum
Movies often fail for varying reasons; sometimes the fatal flaw is in the script, sometimes the performances of the actors and sometimes because of the filmmaker’s total ineptness. Pandorum suffers from the latter case: director Christian Alvart has stitched together a patchwork of scenes that never really cohere into an actual movie. It’s a real tragedy, considering the potential this film had.
Pandorum opens as Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) wakes from cryogenic sleep aboard the starship Elysium (clever pun), whose mission is to ferry the last remnants of humanity to a new home planet. Bower wakes with all of his technical memory intact – how to operate the ship’s equipment, his military protocol – but his personal memories (events leading up to waking, such as where he is and how he got there) are all foggy. The room he wakes up in is sealed shut, and the ship’s power supply is in disarray due to a reactor malfunction. Soon after Bower gets on his feet, another cryo-pod pops open and Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) joins party.
As the slimmer man, Bower heads up into the ventilation ducts bound for the ship’s reactor, which he seems to recall being assigned to operate and fix. With Payton guiding him via comm link, Bower enters the bowels of the ship and steps right into a living nightmare.
Monsters have taken over the ship (as if you didn’t already know). They are a species of pale white, inhumanly fast and strong warrior-killers, who spend their days hunting down the remaining humans and feasting on their bodies. After narrowly escaping the creatures, Bower meets a pretty ecologist-turned-survival expert named Nadia (Antje Traue) and a hunter-warrior named Manh (martial arts star Cung Le). After a violent introduction, the three humans band together to venture into the heart of the ship and reset the reactor before the vessel loses all power and the last of humanity dies in space.
While the field team is at work, Payton is running point from the cryo-chamber room and is eventually joined by Corporal Gallo (Cam Gigandet), who claims to be one of three crew members awake for the Elysium’s initial lift-off from Earth. According to Gallo, his crewmates became afflicted with the space madness known as “pandorum,” forcing Gallo to kill them all. The corporal tells Payton that Bower might also be suffering from pandorum, since he ventured out on a veritable suicide mission; for the good of the ship, Payton should seize control of the situation.
What unfolds from there is as predictable as your first guess and is even less exciting than you imagine. Like I said, this film is a patchwork of scenes that never feel connected, set in the framework of a film that never can decide which story to tell. Is the focus Bower and Payton’s mysterious pasts? Is it a survival story? Is it a psychological thriller about space madness (what the hell is “pandorum,” exactly)? And where did those creatures come from and what are they after? That last question does get some explanation (I think), but again, even the story behind the story is such a mess that I’m not quite clear what the explanation was. The shots and action sequences are often so incoherent that you’ll lose track of where YOU are or what is going on, just the characters themselves. It’s not a favorable position to put a movie audience in.
I will take a minute to absolve the stars of Pandorum of blame, since I don’t believe the fatal fault lies with them. Everybody on screen looks lost and/or confused most of the time (see pic above), and rightly so: most of the scenes look like they were shot with the director sitting up on a high chair yelling “Do This! Ok… Now do that!” in random increments over a megaphone while the actors just tried to keep up. There is no character development (we’re supposed to believe that these characters’ choices are their choices just because the film says they are), and worst of all, I didn’t like, dislike or connect in any way to even one character in this film, and when you can remain that indifferent for an hour and a half…
Instead of depth and meaning we get a mindless progression – Event A, followed by Event B, followed by Event C. Whatever happens, happens, with absolutely no regard for whether or not the occurrences are consistent with the characters, or whether or not they make any narrative sense. It’s storytelling in the dark. Poor Dennis Quaid suffers the brunt of it – his entire role is set in the cryo-room, engaged in increasingly ridiculous back-and-forths with Gigandet. God bless him – I would have shot myself.
As for the monsters – which Pandorum kept veiled in secrecy during the ad campaigns – they’re badass, but unfortunately just as hollow and flimsy as everything else in this movie. And oh man, by the time you get to the “twist ending” you’ll want to hunt down the filmmakers, bop them on the head with a rolled up newspaper and say, “Bad dog! No! No!”
In the end, there is nothing redeeming about this movie. For the first twenty minutes you’ll be handed the promise of a freaky sci-fi thriller (thank Foster, as usual, for making a lot out of a little), but after that, if you hang around for the rest of Pandorum, you too will be forced to watch that promise denigrate into cosmic slop.
Welcome to the first real disappointment of the fall 2009 movie season.