by Jef Burnham
Coming to DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment on January 19, 2010.
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There were a surprising number of high profile science fiction movies released in 2009. Among them were Star Trek, which I loved; the disappointingly mediocre District 9; the unarguably awful-in-every-way Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; and Avatar— a film that gloriously accomplishes nothing that hadn’t been done better in dozens of films before. Amidst the buzz around these films came a little horror/sci-fi flick called Pandorum, which was in and out of theaters before anyone really noticed. And that’s a shame really, because it’s at the very least more exciting than Avatar or Transformers, if not better all around.
Pandorum opens with two astronauts, played by Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster, awakening from hyper-sleep aboard the Elysium, a ship transporting the last of the humans to a livable planet light years from Earth. But while the two technicians slept, something terrible happened aboard the Elysium that resulted in the sleeping humans falling prey to a race of monsters (who are very similar to the Reavers of Joss Whedon’s Firefly). Knowing the engines must be repaired before the ship’s functions fail, Cpl. Bower (Foster) plunges himself into the mysterious deathtrap that Elysium has become.
Now when it comes to establishing a movie’s sci-fi world, most filmmakers take the Men in Black approach, which is to take a protagonist with no experience in the alien world and throw them in headlong to be trained as we watch. This approach often takes a long time, and unless the point of the movie is the training, as in Men in Black, the audience is left with precious little time to become fully immersed in the filmmakers’ world, having spent so much time as an outsider. Pandorum follows suit with the Men in Black, but again the point of the film is indeed the acclimation of our main characters to this alien world.
While I am reluctant to admit that I was impressed by any picture Paul W.S. Anderson was attached to (he produced Pandorum), I did find the story’s establishment to be engaging enough that the film held my attention throughout. When Cpl. Bower and Lt. Payton (Quaid) first awaken, they find that hyper-sleep has given them temporary amnesia and although the skills they garnered in flight training remain, they remember little of themselves or their mission, making the understanding of the plight aboard the Elysium all the harder for the duo to grasp; and thus our protagonists are as lost as we are when the film opens.
Pandorum isn’t necessarily a great film or even a very good one, but it’s passable with an interesting setup and some very smart sci-fi technology. Admittedly, the characters are stock, the fight sequences aren’t very exciting, the turns are predictable, and there is the occasional overload of exposition, but this is also true of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Avatar. Plus, director Christian Alvart only spent $40 million to achieve his mediocrity, whereas Michael Bay and James Cameron spent a disgusting $200 million and $300 million respectively.
Special features are abundant on the DVD and Blu-ray releases of Pandorum. They include a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette, a short film in the form of the Elysium’s bio-lab video log, a Flight Team Training video, deleted and alternate scenes, stills, a trailer, and audio commentary with the film’s director and the producer, Jeremy Bolt.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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