‘Passengers’ aimed for first-class but landed in coach

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in ‘Passengers’

“Unless we love and are loved, each of us is alone, each of us is deeply lonely.” – Mortimer Adler

Passengers is directed by Morten Tyldum, who gave us the brilliant Headhunters back in 2011.  Given a big budget, an Academy Award winning actress in Jennifer Lawrence, a proven action star in Chris Pratt and the very talented Michael Sheen in a key supporting role; the expectations for this film were high.  While Passengers is a very pleasing film to look at, there is little else to recommend it.

In a future where Earth is very crowded, a very large corporation is making money hand over fist by sending people to colony planets where they can start new lives.  The Avalon is one such ship and it is bound for a place known as Homestead II.  There are 5,000 passengers and 258 crew aboard her for the 120 year journey.  As all of them are in hibernation pods and the ship’s operations are completely automated, they will not age during the voyage.

Michael Sheen and Chris Pratt in ‘Passengers’

There is an accident roughly 30 years into the journey and the hibernation pod occupied by “Jim Preston” (Pratt) malfunctions.  He awakens and finds himself very much alone.  While there is an android bartender named “Arthur” (Sheen) to talk to, he begins obsessing about a woman who is still in hibernation.  “Aurora Lane” (Lawrence) is a writer and as it turns out, the daughter of a Pulitzer Prize winning writer.  Face with spending the rest of his life in solitude or awakening Aurora, Jim winds up waking her.

At first she is as frantic to find a way to return to sleep as Jim was when he found himself all alone among over 5,000 people in hibernation pods.  But they soon they fall in love and all seems well, in spite of the minor malfunctions that are growing in frequency and severity.  Then comes that moment when she learns what actually caused her to awaken.  Her anger at Jim taking away her life in this manner is intense in the extreme.  But when they learn that the ship will be lost if they don’t act, the two team up.  Aided by “Deck Chief Gus Mancuso” (Laurence Fishburne) they must find the source of the primary problem without the aid off the ship’s impressive computer diagnostics before it blows itself apart.

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Passengers’

The two leads have excellent chemistry and their initial romance is very believable.  However their combined acting talents and the incredible visuals (particularly when viewed in 3D) cannot save the predictable pablum passing as a plot.  The devices used to create the problems and their solutions lack any originality.  Michael Sheen is perhaps the most redeeming part of Passengers, as the polished gentleman/android bartender with impeccable manners and wit making him seem too real to be the product of programming.

Some of the best visuals are the extravehicular activity sequences (EVA in NASA parlance) where Jim and later Aurora venture outside the Avalon.  The shot seen in the trailer where Aurora is swimming in the pool when gravity is lost is also excellent.  There are some good moments of levity when Jim discovers how his choices in food and services are limited due to his traveling on the futuristic equivalent of the economy plan.

Like everything else, the conclusion was clear long before the movie’s nearly two hour run-time is done.

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