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Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 12:31 am

Passengers provides a bland journey

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in Passengers.


Is that all there is? That was my reaction to Morten Tyldum’s Passengers, a bloated space adventure that hopes to get by on its looks – those of its stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, as well as the stunning production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas – and little else. Without question, the film is pretty on the eyes, but this is an exercise in style over substance that limps towards a profoundly disappointing conclusion.

Thirty years into a planned 120-year trip to a distant Earth-like planet that’s being colonized, mechanic Jim Preston (Pratt) wakes up early when his cryogenic sleep chamber malfunctions. Amidst 5,000 passengers and the ship’s crew, our hero finds himself alone, save for a cybernetic bartender (Michael Sheen). Though he initially revels in all the pleasures the spacecraft has to offer, Jim soon grows bored, lonely and despondent, contemplating suicide after a year by himself. However, he stumbles upon a sleep pod containing writer Aurora Lane (Lawrence) and instantly falls in love. After wrestling with his conscience, Jim decides to awaken the sleeping beauty. Initial resistance gives way to attraction and finally love until Aurora finds out just how she came to be awake, fostering a deep sense of resentment and hate towards her partner.

I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a film sporting a premise as thin as the one used by Jon Spaihts, whose script probably contains more description of its location, the spacious Starship Avalon, than dialogue. In all fairness, Pratt is by himself during the film’s first half-hour, proving that he can’t carry a film on his own in the process. But even after Aurora awakens from her slumber, there’s little banter of note that occurs between the two stars. Far too many lines state things we can see (“Look, it’s gonna blow,” etc.), which grows tiresome quickly, while the fact that there’s little chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence proves to be the killing blow. Even Sheen’s quirky android isn’t quite quirky enough. Meanwhile, the final plot twist that forces Jim and Aurora to work together to survive is far from inspired, though it does involve an impressive piece of digital wizardry.

There’s an interesting idea at play here, and one feels that if a director with vision (Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott) had taken a crack at it, the movie would have yielded so much more. Issues of class, commerce and imperialism are all on the table here but they’re mentioned in passing, fodder for the plot, the moral implications of these issues as they pertain to the story unexplored. As for the right and wrong where Jim’s act is concerned, this is likely to prompt more discussion between couples who’ve seen it than is provided in the film itself.

Though the movie contains little in the way of narrative surprises, there’s no question it’s one of the most visually arresting productions of 2016. The Avalon is a massive three-pronged whirligig, its blades gracefully cutting through space while its interiors are a collection of various architectural styles done on steroids; crisp, clean lines in the common areas, Roman columns in the high-end restaurants, with the cosmic art deco bar being the highlight. Yes, Passengers is a visual delight, but it ends up being a long trip to nowhere.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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