February 4, 2010

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Pandorum is a survival in space story starring Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid.  The entire movie revolves around the survivors of an apparently failed attempt to save humanity while simultaneously trying to piece together what happened to ruin the mission.  Also, mutant cannibals wreak some havoc.  And perhaps most importantly, there is a gratuitously-cleavaged, German heroine.  You can read my full review after the jump.

Pandorum is the newest thriller from the creative team behind the Resident Evil series of films so it shouldn’t be surprising that Pandorum is essentially a dystopian, post-apocalyptic movie.  But this time, rather than a desolated world, survivors are trapped on a spaceship named “Elysium.”

pandorum movie poster (1).jpgHumanity, facing a resource-depleted Earth has launched the ship to colonize a new planet, Taris.  On board are 60,000 passengers as well as genetic samples from most of Earth’s species.  Utilizing the old sci-fi stand-by of hypersleep, every person onboard is laid in a pod Futurama-style and put into a temporary coma to make the multiple-lightyear journey.  Well, everyone except a three man flight crew.  Presumably things went well for awhile, but things going well don’t make for very interesting thrillers.  Colonel Bower (Ben Foster) wakes up, rather abruptly from his hyper sleep but finds that he is alone.  Also, the ship is in disrepair and the hypersleep has wiped his memory.  Soon thereafter, another pod opens up and deposits Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) who has also lost his memory.  After some exposition and discussion, Bower takes to the ventilation shaft so that he can reboot the ship and get things going again, leaving Payton alone in the pod area.

Bower’s journey is not an easy one.  There’s a hot kick ass loner chick named Nadia (Antje Traue) who initially tries to beat him to death.  Then Bower discovers a group of mutant cannibal monsters that love nothing more than hunting, killing, and eating survivors as mutant cannibals are wont to do.  He joins forces with Nadia and another survivor, Manh (Cung Le) as he makes his way to jump start the ship and try to salvage the mission.  Without giving too much away, there are some twists, turns, and jump scares on the way to saving the human race.

With the cannibalistic mutants on the prowl, you might expect this to be a Hills Have Eyes-type gore and shock movie, and there are some violent encounters but Pandorum is really more of a psychological thriller a la Event Horizon.  I think that the horror appeal of the haunted spaceship story comes from the inherent isolation of space travel and the claustrophobic feeling of being unable to leave.  A haunted house becomes much scarier if you can’t leave.  Where Pandorum differs from most space horror movies is that the ship is absolutely massive which serves as the movie’s biggest asset and the biggest weakness.  There are loads of visually interesting sets, but the Elysium is a flying city so that familiar claustrophobic feeling isn’t there.  Without being reminded, it’s easy to forget that Pandorum actually takes place on a spaceship.  If I had to pick a movie to compare it to visually, I would say that it feels a lot like The Descent.


Ben Foster is one of my favorite character actors and he does a solid job as a believable hero and Quaid does well too.  But the real highlight actingwise was turned in by Eddie Rouse who plays a maniacal, amoral survivor named Leland.  It’s his character that gives what I consider to be the most interesting scene of the movie where he recounts the history of what went wrong.  Each character seems to represent a different level on the moral barometer with Bower being the most good and the mutants being the most evil, which would have been a lot more interesting to me had the characters been more dynamic, but they really don’t change that much with one or two exceptions.  I feel like it’s fair to say that Pandorum is more style than substance but it is a solid sci-fi thriller.

Special Features

The Pandorum DVD has a decent amount of bonus content.  A couple of narrative featurettes give a little more insight into the world of Pandorum.  One tells the story of Nadia’s team and the other is a mission statement for the Elysium.  The third featurette on the disc is a behind the scenes look at the movie.  There are several deleted/alternate/extended scenes, but I was kind of let down.  The alternate scenes are so incidental that they aren’t interesting.  There is also a decent director’s commentary.

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