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Is 'Passengers' worth the price of the voyage?

Posted December 31, 2016

OUTERSPACE — I believe most of mankind can be generalized into two basic groups: cruise people and not cruise people.

I personally am not a cruise person — cruise ships freak me out a little, to be honest. There is something about their size and vulnerability my mind cannot get around. Cruise ships are massive floating hotels designed to keep you surrounded by thousands of people, but yet somehow manage to feel like big lonely places. Maybe I’m just cruising with the wrong people and maybe I should have never watched "Titanic."

The movie “Passengers” seems to pick up on the discomfort of loneliness and vulnerability by letting us follow Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) around a big empty ship. As the only two conscious people on a giant interstellar cruise ship 30 years from earth and 88 years from their destination, Pratt and Lawrence have to come to grips with the reality of being alone in space for the rest of their lives.

Not a bad a place to start a story, but is it possible to a make a movie with no more than five speaking roles interesting for two hours? In the case of “Passengers,” kind of, but not really.

Here are the hits and misses:

Hits

Good character chemistry

Pratt and Lawrance, despite shallow character development, keep their relationship fun and interesting despite the fact they only have each other to play against the entire film. I was concerned that their relationship would feel stale after awhile, but fortunately director Morten Tyldum knew exactly how far to push the relationship before their situation became redundant.

Great visuals

It has to be difficult to come up with new things to show us that we haven't already seen in films about space. “Passengers” manages to pull off some great effects that create tension and the sense of deep space peril.

Another difficult component to portray in movies that deal with computer interfaces is to create something that the audience can find at least plausible within the film's environment. The people who designed this particular aspect of the film did a great job to sell the believability of their vision of computer design in the future. Only time will tell if they were truly onto something, but given what I know from old timey space movie's predictions on computer interfaces, probably not.

Andy Garcia

Not really much to say here, except that Andy Garcia was in the film for less than 15 seconds. I am not sure if he even spoke a single word, yet he managed somehow to get a big screen credit at the end. Nothing like the big names to draw people into the theaters.

Misses:

Skill mismatch

In a movie with essentially only two people to carry the entire film they are both going to have to be really good actors. For the most part, the acting was solid, but the skill level was not equal.

Much, if not most, of Chris Pratt’s appeal is the goofy but loveable character he plays so well, but has not changed since his days on "Parks and Recreation." Much of Jennifer Lawrence’s appeal is her ability to play her characters with complete commitment. Unfortunately Jennifer Lawrence out acts Pratt through most of the film, giving it a lopsided believability. With Pratt never going deeper into character than we are used to seeing, it’s hard to pair him with someone who does and make the result work.

Weak character development

I’m not sure why a movie carried by only two people did not take the time to really get to know who these people were before they met. We get a good idea of Lawrence’s character as we are being introduced to her, but learn very little of Pratt’s character even with two hours to fill.

Although their relationship was fun to watch develop, we ultimately end up relating to very little about the individuals.

Predictability

This film seemed to telegraph its every move — there was really nothing in the way of surprises or twists we could not see coming. This story has the very familiar arc of something we have all heard before.

My general rule is if I go into a movie and I am in some way moved, learn something new or I'm entertained, I won’t consider my time wasted. With “Passengers,” one out of three of those things being fulfilled isn’t bad. I was definitely entertained as the story progressed, but in the end, it felt like there was a lot more movie than story.

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