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Pandorum A Bunch of Muddled Nonsense

Directed by Christian Alvart
Written by Travis Milloy from a story by Milloy and Alvart
Overture Films, 2009

Pandorum comes packaged like a modern-day Alien, a template many have followed but few have succeeded.  The problem might be today’s action-heavy demands, where the movie is not allowed to methodically tell its story without some sort of battle taking place.  It seems like more than ever that the action without context pretty much rules most action films these days, where it’s more important to have something happening regardless of whether you know where anybody is or what they’re doing.  Pandorum is one of these movies.

It starts off methodically and quietly enough, to the point I thought this might be a surprise September release.  On a giant ship working its way towards a new planet called Tanis, a place that has become necessary due to the lack of resources on Earth, a man named Bower (Ben Foster) wakes up from a hyper chamber sleep into an empty cabin, trying to figure out what his mission is.  Soon, he’s waking up Payton (Dennis Quaid) to try to combine resources.  It’s determined between the two that they need to find the bridge of the ship and possibly get their orders.  Bower moves to search the ship while Payton stays behind amongst computers that will help map Bower’s way.

It’s apparent that something has gone wrong, and while the likes of Bower and Payton were sleeping (for what appears to be 8 years), the ship has had a crazy life of its own for quite a while now.  Bower runs into adversaries-turned-friends Nadia (Antje Traue) and Manh (Cung Le), who have been sparring and evading this strange race of monsters that look like orcs from Lord of the Rings.  They act like orcs, too, basically existing to feed on any meat at all.  Bower, Nadia, and Manh end up trying to find the reactor, because Bower thinks the ship might be trying to self-destruct.

The term pandorum refers to some sort of sickness that infects people, starting with shakes and then leading to hallucinations.  It’s important to the story I suppose, as Payton recalls the story of a captain who jettisoned 5000 crew members out into space to die when they were inflicted with the disease, and that some of what they are experiencing here might have something to do with it.

After a good start, with Bower searching the ship and running into horrors, ultimately leading to one of the better horror-movie-style reveals I’ve seen in awhile, a small scene which takes great advantage of the shadowy lighting, the movie breaks down when the monsters show up and it becomes a loud, confusing mess.  One example: Bower is attacked by one of the monsters, which then goes after Nadia.  Nadia is in trouble and Bower wants to help, but he’s somehow stuck in some sort of contraption that we never saw him get into in the first place, and the filmmakers help us out tremendously by blurring the image in some way any time they show him trying to get out.

The film also makes a major misstep in the plot revelations, when they finally get to the point where we find out what the hell happened on the ship.  When Bower and company run into a slightly crazy guy who has been living on his own on the ship for some time, he reveals what he knows.  Meanwhile, Payton finds another survivor, a young guy named Gallo (Cam Giganet) who tells the same story–so the movie chooses to go back and forth between the two expositions.  The idea of pandorum, the mission of the ship, the “bad thing that happened that made everything go crazy” is not given the coherence it needs using this method, and so it’s easy not to care after awhile.  Shrug.

Somewhere in all of this is a movie that could have been good.

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