It seems that all SF movies I come across these days are mixed with strong – and, unfortunately, often sloppy, or unoriginal – horror elements (for reasons I am going to explore in another post). Pandorum, a 2009 British-German movie now available on Netflix, is no exception.
The movie had started well, to be fair, at least in terms of accuracy of details for the spaceship and the unsettling atmosphere. But, as it is often the case, things take the wrong turn along the way, both for the MCs and for the movie’s overall quality.
The story setting is a popular SF trope, the generation ship (here with the deceptive name of Elysium – the Ancient Greeks’ version of Heaven), which leaves Earth in 2174 to reach a twin planet called Tanis. Population onboard: 60,000 people, most of them in hypersleep, apart from a rotating crew. Expected duration of the space travel: 123 years. But there’s an original twist – just eight years after the begin of the mission, the crew receive a disquieting (to say the least) transmission from Earth: “You’re all that’s left of us. Good luck, God bless, and godspeed.” Then, in an abrupt switch, we follow two crew members, Corporal Bower and Lieutenant Payton, that wake up from their hypersleep. When? Impossible to say, for us and for them, too – the hypersleep has the side effect of producing an annoying form of amnesia. And if you think things are bad enough, wait: the spacecraft’s nuclear reactor has become unstable and increasingly dangerous, they can’t access the bridge and guess what? the ship is infested by zombie-cannibals that prowl around its dark recesses. I am sure you imagine how the action will proceed from now on.
There are many things I have appreciated in this movie, to tell the truth, one being the attempt to translate the epic of sending generation ships to a far-away planet into what it could possibly mean for human beings in emotional terms. If there’s any part of the movie to save is in those sequences that deal with the survivors’ memories and how challenging it can possibly be to function without a past. I have also liked the sequence talking about Noah’s genetic ark taken aboard on the ship, and some of the fast-paced action scenes in a setting in between Alien, 1997 Escape from New York and Event Horizon (with a touch of Neil Marshall’s The Descent for what concerns the creatures). However, other details left me dead cold, first of all, the above-mentioned, zombie-like creatures, yet another enemy with no strategy and only driven by the sheer taste of flesh/blood that seems ubiquitous now in movies (a sign of the times?).
I am aware that this movie has somehow reached a cult-status, and this might well be the main reason to watch it (trying to understand how that happened). However, many disagree – like Rotten Tomatoes – “While it might prove somewhat satisfying for devout sci-fi fans,Pandorum’s bloated, derivative plot ultimately leaves it drifting in space.” But it’s Charlie Jane Anders that has given, for me, the most poignant evaluation of the movie, best and worst parts included: “Zombies infest a spaceship — how could that be bad? Well, um… how about if it’s zombies on a spaceship where Dennis Quaid is doing a crappy pastiche ofFight Club? How then? We never knew space madness could be so boring. Actually, the biggest problem with this film isn’t Quaid’s endless freak-out, or the random cannibal guy who’s diagrammed the entire plot in graffiti, it’s the boredom. The makers of the film seem to have mixed up suspense with “nothing happening for long stretches,” as our heroes skulk around dark tunnels endlessly. It could have been so much better, if the themes of reclaiming your pride as an officer and sticking together had been foregrounded. Even a cool ending can’t save this stew.” (Yes, the ending is actually good, but it comes at the end, and far too late. No spoilers, though.)
For a more positive review, have a look at the Evil Geek’s page, while, for another that shares my criticism and that is also lengthier and quite accurate about all details, including many of Pandorum‘s movie citations, I recommend instead this one. It’s in Italian only, but Google Traslate can help.
Incidentally: in case you wonder where the title comes from, Pandorum is the fictional psychosis called “Orbital Dysfunctional Syndrome” (ODS for short) caused by deep space/ hypersleep, and triggered by emotional/physical stress.