I had heard nothing but bad buzz last Christmas about PASSENGERS. It was always "the trailers make you think its something it's not" or "that's not what I thought it was going to be".
While both of those statements are essentially true, in this case it's a pleasant surprise, as the film definitely exceeded our expectations.
The entire film takes place on the Starship Avalon. Like some MASSIVE cruise ship of the future, the vessel is transporting 5000 passengers on a 120 year voyage to a new planet.
The set design of the ship is excellent and new, this isn't a ship you've seen before.
The Avalon is self sufficient, with everyone in hibernation for the century plus voyage. It's flawless....or is it?
One of the hibernation pods malfunctions and engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakens.
The special effects involving his waking up, the holographic person helping him through the process and his initial time on the ship are spectacular. You know very shortly into this sequence, that the filmmakers have spent a fortune ($110 million) and every penny shows up on screen.
Preston soon realizes he's alone on the huge vessel and Pratt is great, showing you all the laughs, nervousness and eventual terror of realizing you are alone and you've woken up some 90 years early.
Preston's only companion on the ship is the lounge's android bartender Arthur, well played by Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, TRON:Legacy).
Arthur looks so much like Lloyd the bartender in "The Shining" that it can't be a coincidence. I began to wonder if Preston was losing his mind like Jack Torrance in Stephen King's masterpiece.
After a year alone, Preston finds the silence broken by another awakened passenger. Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) is an author from a wealthy family, traveling on the Avalon to write a story about the new Homestead Colony.
Aurora and Jim meet and he watches her go through all the phases he has for his past year alone.
As that year passes, the two begin to become more than strangers, more than friends.
And where PASSENGERS goes from there is a mystery best left quiet. I enjoyed the film because everything I've described above is in the trailers, but just like those trailers, I've left out some very important details around the story.
If audiences were disappointed, they might have expected an action packed, fast moving space thriller.
Passengers has some great action pieces, but its more drama than action. These two people find each other in an impossible situation, how they deal with it and the ripples of those choices are the focus of the film.
Thomas Newman (Skyfall, Spectre) provides a great music score and the Oscar nominated set design by Guy Hendrix Dyas and Gene Serdena (Inception, Zombieland) is fantastic. If you have to live your life on a spaceship, this giant floating upscale city/mall is the way to go. I'd put the visuals in this film right alongside "Doctor Strange" as the two best looking films of the year.
Lawrence and Pratt are great together and have real chemistry.
For me, PASSENGERS is an unexpected surprise and a voyage well worth taking. It gets a quiet, suspenseful and intriguing B.