In space, no one can hear you yawn
On paper, the sci-fi/action/horror hybrid Pandorum sounds like a good idea. At an undetermined time in the future, the crew of a spaceship en route to colonize a new planet awakes from deep sleep with no memory of their mission or their identities. (However, as clueless as they are about their situation, they’re pretty sure the ship should not be floating dead in space, overrun by albino beasties.) Somewhere along the way, though, the concept’s translation to film fails miserably, leaving a good-looking, but ultimately empty piece of space trash. If I were a writer for Mad Magazine, I might call it Pan-bore-um.
The marquee name is Dennis Quaid; a little past his prime, but I wouldn’t say D-list. He’s done some interesting and, at times, great work. Here, though, he phones in his performance… literally, mostly sitting in a chair talking to his crewmate over a microphone. And I don’t care for the crewmate, Ben Foster. He’s an all right actor, but reminds me of my real life archenemy, so I can’t see him as the protagonist; I prefer to see him get what’s coming to him. And in Pandorum, he sure gets it: he’s constantly falling through holes in the floor and getting beat up by everyone and everything he encounters.
This point brings me to the most contradictory (and disappointing) part about the movie: it’s full of non-stop, forward motion, yet at the same time is absolutely and completely tedious. Maybe that’s because action is all there is. How about slowing down for a moment to contemplate the situation? As previously stated, it’s an interesting premise, but it’s shot so full of adrenaline that it can’t possibly come to any satisfactory emotional conclusion. Indeed, after all the chaos, the big reveal is not only anti-climactic, but also feels like an unimportant afterthought. I literally asked myself, “So what? That’s it?”
I also didn’t like the beasties. It doesn’t bother me that the movie never attempts to explain what they are, but like everything else, we’re frantically bombarded by them. They’re obviously humanoid and, up close, kind of scary. But in full body shots, they look like they’re wearing futuristic Project Runway design rejects: are those crazy, wing-thingies part of their bodies? If they’d slow down for one moment, we might be able to tell. Then again, we might also be able to tell how cheesy they are.
Neither the director nor the writer has much previous experience on his resume. German director Christian Alvart also made the highly pre-publicized Renee Zellweger vehicle, Case 39, which has yet to see light of day in the United States. (I’m now willing to bet there’s a reason for that.) He also came up with the story. Was it originally wafer-thin, or was writer Travis Milloy just unable to flesh it out? Maybe one day Pandorum will be considered the early experiment of a great director, but certainly not until he learns that making movies is basically telling stories, which at the most fundamental level involves words and actors speaking them in clear, coherent fashion.
As much as I hated Pandorum, the final sequence is quite spectacular. But guess what? It’s calm, quiet and collected. It actually gives us a moment to experience what we’re looking at, rather than race to keep up and figure out what the heck is going on. A few moments like this sprinkled throughout the movie and it might have been something special. My generous rating is more for intention than execution.