Interesting questions get lost in space melodrama

People can feel pretty small in space
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence discover that people can feel small in space

Film: Passengers

Director: Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game 2014)

Writer: Jon Spaihts

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: Apocalypse 2016, Joy 2015), Chris Pratt (The Magnificent Seven 2016, Jurassic World 2015), Michael Sheen (Nocturnal Animals 2016)

Plot: The starship Avalon is taking 5,000 passengers on a 120-year journey from Earth to a colony planet when an asteroid storm causes a malfunction in one of the hibernation pods. As a result, Jim (Pratt) is woken up – with 90 years still to go before the ship reaches its destination. Jim is joined by fellow passenger Aurora (Lawrence). They and Arthur the android barman (Sheen) are the only beings awake as the ship continues on its journey.

I liked the first half of this film much more than the second. It has some interesting things to say about the human condition, including our overwhelming need for companionship (spoiler alert: the circumstances of Aurora’s awakening are shocking) and the fact that all of us are passengers on our own journeys to a destination we never reach.

It also makes the point that people are becoming increasingly dependent on the technology that surrounds them. That obviously can be dangerous when the machine fails, as in the pod malfunction.

You can trust an android barman to keep a secret - or can you?
You can trust an android barman to keep a secret – or can you?

But even when the technology works perfectly – according to its own coding – it can have profound consequences, as Jim discovers when he reveals a shocking secret to Arthur.

But halfway through exploring the interesting – if hardly original – idea that we should not neglect living in the present by focussing too much on an uncertain and unknowable future, the film seems to lose confidence in itself, and switches to a fairly standard space melodrama.

The second half does contain one terrific scene involving what happens to a swimming pool when gravity is switched off, but for the most part all of the space science stuff has been done before in films like Gravity and The Martian.

Retired Bloke Rating: ***

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