Earlier this year I had the opportunity to view a low-budget French science fiction film called Eden Log. It was an interesting film that played out across a screen splashed in gunmetal hues, telling a story that unfolds slowly and leaves many questions in its wake. It tells the story of a man who does not know who he is; he has no memories and he has just awakened in some vast underground facility. After a short while stumbling around, he discovers he is not alone — there are creatures in the darkness and they do not sound happy. As he makes his way through the facility, he slowly begins to piece together what happened and the truth about who he is. The question is, will he like what he finds?
It is an interesting film but I wondered if it could have been better had it had a bigger budget. Not that it needed it, but sometimes I wonder about low budget films that I like and whether money would improve them. More often than not, money only serves to sap creative energy. What is difficult to do and requires a good deal of imagination is made easy by the expanded CG toolbox. I think I will take creativity over toolbox any day — not to say I am immune to its flashy charms.
By now I am sure you are wondering why I am babbling about French science fiction and the sapping of creativity. The answer is simple. Pandorum, as entertaining as it is, is a bigger budget reworking of Eden Log, the latter being more introspective and mysterious and the former being flashier and more visceral. Whether or not there actually is a connection between the two, I do now know, but in my eyes there seems to be a definite link.
As Pandorum begins we learn that the Earth is running out of resources as the population grows out of control. A series of missions are staged in deep space where Tanis is discovered. It is an Earth-like planet that may hold the key to the salvation of humanity. A ship carrying 60,000 people is sent as the initial mission to colonize the planet. The last thing we see is a message telling the flight crew they are the "last of us." A rather ominous start to our viewing mission, wouldn't you say?
Anyway, we jump ahead some unknown amount of time and we meet Bower (Ben Foster). He has just been awakened, and he does not know who he is, what the mission is, or pretty much anything. On top of that, he is literally in the dark. There are apparent power issues on the ship as it shudders and lights flash. Not long after his wake up call, a second man is stirred from his slumber, Payton (Dennis Quaid).
Together, the two men have to figure out what exactly is going on. Bower ventures into the body of the ship in search of answers. He runs into other survivors, as well as some nasty bloodthirsty critters that apparently like to eat any random human that happens to cross their path.
So, what exactly is going on? What happened to the mission to Tanis? What is up with the power? Where did those creatures come from? And just what deep dark secrets does the ship hold within?
Wouldn't you like to know.
It is very reminiscent of Eden Log, but it also brings to mind Event Horizon. All of these films have some great atmosphere; it does not necessarily last all the way through the film, but they all do something that will put you on the edge of your seat.
Director Christian Alvart does a great job of building tension through the first half. Shadows on the wall, sounds in the distance, the cold metal pipes along the walls, unforgiving metal grates, everything adds up to palpable tension. Unfortunately, it settles into some standard cliches like the ethnic martial artist, the female with the low-cut top who likes knives, not to mention the crazy guy who explains the story. These elements work against the tension of the first half as the second half devolves into a series of action/chase sequences and some mildly confusing character developments on its way to the inevitable happy ending.
Sure, the setting is not the most original, and the cliches do not help it much, but there is enough to hang onto here that makes it an interesting trip to take. There is the big picture of what happened on Earth, plus the origin of the creatures and why the ship is acting so strange. The screenplay does not give you all of the answers and I am not sure there is enough information to definitively discern everything, but I suspect it will be fun to revisit.
What helps make this movie work are the performances, specifically Ben Foster. Foster has turned in a few good performances and I look forward to seeing where his career takes him. This film sees him playing an initially paranoid man who slowly gains the necessary memories to carry him through. He is quite convincing throughout and carries real weight and emotion in his eyes. Dennis Quaid is decent if a bit hammy; the funny thing is that there is an odd sincerity even at his hammiest moments. The rest of the cast does a decent job pulling their weight.
Bottom line. This is a good movie, not a great one, not a bad one. Ben Foster carries the dramatic weight and makes the story interesting while Christian Alvart delivers the slick sci-fi action. All things considered this is a good movie, one that genre fans will likely enjoy. No, not a classic, but why does everything have to be?