Anchor Bay // 2009 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 15th, 2010
Fear what happens next.
"I wouldn't have survived this long if I had a heart."
A soldier named Bower (Ben Foster, 3:10 to Yuma) and a colonel named Payton (Dennis Quaid, The Rookie) wake up after a lengthy self-induced hibernation onboard a spaceship. The time? Late 22nd Century. The place in space? God knows where. What they do know is that something has gone horribly wrong aboard the ship. As they battle deadly mutants, harsh conditions, and their own minds, Bower and Payton slowly but surely come to the realization of what their strange situation is.
Science fiction experienced something of a cinematic renaissance in 2009, with flicks like District 9, Star Trek (2009), Moon, and Avatar earning critical acclaim and solid box office returns. One 2009 title that should never, ever be mentioned on the "films that were good for the general well-being of the sci-fi genre," list is Pandorum, an incoherent, idiotic mess of a movie that ranks as one of the more grating viewing experiences I've had in recent times.
To begin with, we have a plot that is very challenging to follow. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in and of itself; I love a flick that makes one's brain do cartwheels as much as anyone. However, one soon realizes that the plot is not challenging because it is a masterfully constructed, multi-layered puzzle, but rather because it is a poorly written attempt to mask the fact that the movie is a ridiculous batch of B-movie garbage. The movie surely would have been more fun if Pandorum had embraced its B-movie roots and provided us with a silly action romp in space, but frustratingly, the film insists on taking itself dead-seriously at every single turn.
That extends to the performances, which are all in desperate need of focus. The generally solid Ben Foster turns in a method-y essay in twitching and flinching, oh-so-intensely demonstrating his inner torment during each and every frame. He earns an A for effort, but the performance is ineffective because Foster has turned up the paranoia to 100 percent from the beginning rather than moderating it carefully throughout. As a result, the effect of his performance wears off pretty quickly, and we soon begin to grow annoyed with his increasingly unconvincing feverishness. I'm also usually a fan of actor Dennis Quaid, but Quaid seems like a deer lost in the headlights in this film. He delivers his lines as if he's not entirely sure of what they're supposed to be conveying.
Ah, but these performances aren't the worst to be found in the film. First prize goes to Cam Gigandet (Twilight), whose obnoxious one-note turn as a member of a doomed flight team stops being interesting after about ten seconds. Gigandet has some of the more intriguing dialogue, but he blows it with his insufferable delivery. Coming in a close second is Eddie Rouse (Observe and Report), who turns in a bewilderingly eccentric performance as a man doing whatever it takes to survive on the ship. I'm not sure which is less credible: Rouse's extended monologue that uses an awful lot of words to say nothing at all, or the laughable scene in which he decides that he's going to eat some of the other characters.
The action scenes are fairly tedious, partially because they more often than not look like sequences from video games made in 2003. The "monsters" that inhabit the ship (actually human beings that have mysteriously evolved in a very unfortunate manner) fail to be frightening, perhaps because they seem like a composite of movie monsters that we've seen before (they're sort of a cross between the Orcs from The Lord of the Rings and the cave-dwelling creatures from The Descent). In fact, that problem extends to the entire movie: all of the design seems cobbled together from very obvious influences, only adding to the feeling that Pandorum is the much-loathed bastard child of many other, superior science fiction and horror flicks.
Unsurprisingly, the movie was produced by Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson), whose films represent a form of ultra-derivative banality that I find fairly intolerable. For me, one of the worst elements of films directed or produced by Anderson is the sound design, which generally takes a mind-bogglingly silly everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach. In this film, if there's some sort of creature at the end of the hallway, you will hear a massive collection of noises that makes it seems as if an entire zoo is down there. If someone pulls out a knife, a symphony of snicker-snack knife noises suddenly start flying everywhere. If someone is punched, a barrage of smacking and whacking noises leap out of nowhere. Add these laughable effects to the stereotypical rumblings and beepings of a spaceship, and you have an audio track that violates the Geneva Convention.
Speaking of that track, it comes through with impressive clarity on the Blu-ray disc, but that's a bit like a guy who's just been stabbed commenting on how terribly impressive the quality of the knife was. Okay, okay, I'll ease up. The track is technically impressive in just about every way, genuinely immersing the viewer in the film and giving your speakers an exceptional workout. It'll give you actual Pandorum! Whoops, there I go again. How about the visuals? Pandorum has one of the darkest palettes I've seen recently (an overwhelming amount of black with lots of greens thrown in), so it helps that blacks are deep and shading is solid. Detail is respectable too, and a fine layer of grain is present throughout. I will comment on Foster's flashback scenes, which are so bright and so soft that they make Kleenex commercials look like snuff films. These moments will probably hurt your eyes, particularly after you've spent so much time squinting into the darkness.
The extras are standard-issue essays in blandness. The audio commentary with director Christian Alvart and producer Jeremy Bolt gets very tiresome very quickly, the 13-minute "The World of Elysium" is a very typical EPK-style featurette, and the 16 deleted/extended scenes (27 minutes) are a waste of time. You also get a 4-minute bit called "What Happened to Nadia's Team" (it's never good when the bonus features have to explain parts of the plot) and a 3-minute "Flight Team Training Video." Finally, you get some stills galleries, a theatrical trailer and a digital copy.
Warning: viewing Pandorum may induce self-inflicted flesh wounds, corneal melting, Space Balls and kidney leakage. I talked to your doctor and he told me that Pandorum is not right for you.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Image Gallery
* Digital Copy