by Mel Valentin
A joint U.S./German production, "Pandorum," a modestly budgeted science-fiction/horror film, arrived in movie theaters in late September without little buzz and minimal marketing. Overture Films refused to screen "Pandorum" for film critics. It’s usually a sign that the studio or distributor has little faith in the product they’re selling, hoping, often vainly, that moviegoers will prove their faithlessness wrong. "Pandorum" failed to bring in all but the hardest of hardcore genre fans and disappeared without a trace at the U.S. box office (it did just as badly overseas). An unoriginal storyline, an easily solvable central mystery, superficial characters, unimaginative production design (underlit to hide a limited budget), flaccid set pieces, and minimal gore (an obvious disappointment for gore hounds) all contributed to "Pandorum’s" failure at the box office.Set more than 150 years in the future, Pandorum centers on the Elysium, a so-called “seed” spaceship (essentially a space ark), sent from Earth to the distant planet of Tanis to establish a human colony. The Elysium is the last, best hope for a humanity that’s squandered the Earth’s resources through overpopulation, environmental despoliation, and resource wars. After years in space, Corporal Bower (Ben Foster), a member of the flight crew, awakens from cryogenic suspension, with short- and long-term memory loss. Another member of the flight crew, Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid), awakens an hour later, suffering from similar memory loss. With the Elysium depowered and access to the bridge blocked, Lt. Payton decides to stays behind in the control room and guide Bower to the bridge, where they hope to reboot the nuclear reactor powering the Elysium or, barring that, a manual override in the nuclear room located in the bowels of the ship.
"Pointless rehash of every sci-fi/horror genre film you've seen already."
Communicating with Payton via an earpiece Bower sets off alone. Almost immediately, he encounters two other survivors, Nadia (Antje Traue), who prefers to fight first and talk second, and Manh (Cung Le), a Vietnamese agricultural worker who can’t speak English, but who quickly becomes Bower’s protector as he wends his way through dark corridors toward the reactor room. Another survivor, Corporal Gallo (Cam Gigandet), awakens and joins Payton in the control room. As the recently awakened Bower soon learns, pale, noseless mutants roam the Elysium, hunting for human prey, their primary source of food. The mutants are stronger, faster, and more agile than normal humans, but they can communicate only through shrieks and growls. They pierce their bodies Road Warrior- or Ghosts of Mars-style and sleep in a communal pile.
Alvart and Milloy freely borrow (or, to be more accurate, freely steal) from Alien/Aliens (underlit corridors, monsters, sleeping chambers), The Road Warrior (character designs, especially the body piercings), Event Horizon (long, atmospheric corridors), Ghosts of Mars (mutant designs, gore), The Descent (underlit interiors, mutant designs), and I Am Legend (mutant designs again and their movements). Pandorum also shares plot elements with the recently Deadspace videogame and its straight-to-DVD prequel, Deadspace: Downfall. The comparison to Deadspace may be the most apt. With its schematic, goal-oriented storyline and multiple obstacles, Pandorum often feels like a videogame, but with one key exception: videogames are meant to be played, Pandorum was meant to be watched, passively. Without the immersive aspect that make videogames worthwhile and, of course, addictive, Pandorum’s failings become all the more evident.
Pandorum fails on almost every level: the characters are shallow and one-dimensional, the sub-plots barely developed, including the obligatory romantic sub-plot between Bower and Nadia, the mystery (or mysteries) easily solved (the audience is always 3-4 steps ahead of the characters), the suspense and tension truncated (set pieces don’t so much build as happen, almost always prematurely), the ship’s design never explained (making Bower’s journey either incomprehensible or repetitive), the obligatory goal (resetting the nuclear reactor, complete with oversized buttons), uninspired, and the final revelation, unsurprising.What it doesn’t have story wise, "Pandorum" tries to make up with atmosphere and a few dollops of gore. Either due to budget restraints or artistic limitations (or, just as likely, both), "Pandorum" is a disappointing entry in the sub-genre. With the exception of Bower’s claustrophobic voyage through an air duct choked with cables (a birthing sequence of sorts) and one or two other scenes that actually build up tension before delivering the requisite shock or scare, "Pandorum" also fails to deliver what horror fans, at minimum, expect: the scares and shocks associated with even middling entries in the science-fiction/horror sub-genre.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=18372&reviewer=402
originally posted: 10/10/09 00:00:00