I’ve been fortunate so far in that everything that I written about to date has received a positive piece about it. Whether it’s been games or films, I suppose I’ve been relatively selective in choosing what I’ve covered. Without having to worry about something being ‘current’ at the time of launch as I’m trying to add to back-content on BASHBOOMPOW, it means I’ve had a hefty amount of freedom to pick and choose things to watch or play and then review. As I’m normally pretty clued up about these things – I follow the majority of major titles in both mediums from announcement to release – I’ve mainly stuck so far to ones of interest to me, and if I’m interested in them it usually means the word on them is pretty good. This time, not so much. And so here we are. March 21st, 2011. The day I had to write my first slam.
I guess I’d had plenty of forewarning, but with Pandorum, I took a reasonable roll of the dice. It is, after all, mostly considered as some kind of distant relative to Event Horizon, which received similarly mixed reviews (and is directed by the Captain of the good ship ‘PleaseDon’tTouchMyFavouriteFranchises’ Paul W.S. Anderson who, big surprise, produces here), but in spite of that film’s flaws, I do have a massive soft spot for it. Looking at Pandorum beforehand, it did push several of my buttons; I like both of the leads, it combines sci-fi and horror, it’s set in a future where the Earth is basically screwed and humans have had to leave, and because the story focuses on a mental condition that afflicts astronauts (the titular Pandorum), you’re often unsure if what you’re seeing is what’s actually happening. Unfortunately, the only thing I was sure of during its running time was that if I was paying each person in a very long line to punch me hard in the face, it would still annoy me much less than Pandorum did.
The most frustrating thing about the whole affair is that the set-up and plot, while in no way unique, should at the very least make for a passably entertaining piece of hokum (see: Event Horizon). As I mentioned earlier, humanity has completely tapped out the resources of Earth and having found a remote, habitable planet with a potentially similar eco-system, has sent a huge ship of hyper-sleeping homosapiens to ensure the survival of our race. Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) awakens during the journey with amnesia and is soon joined by Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid), and together they try to unravel exactly why they’re awake, all communications are down, where the team they’re supposed to relieve are and what the hell is happening to the ship’s failing reactor. With Payton directing Bower over personal communicators, the Corporal sets off climbing through the ships innards to get to the bottom of things and finds the situation to be much graver than he could have imagined. Discovering both mutilated corpses and a species of super-fast, cannibalistic monsters on board, he discovers that many of the ships passengers have been infected by a ‘genetic augmentation’ designed to assist with their adaptation on the new planet which, trapped aboard the spaceship, has instead turned them into blood-crazed maniacs. Racing to not only escape from these man-made abominations but also stop the reactor from completely destroying what remains of humankind, he also encounters pockets of other survivors, and… you know what? I’ll just stop. I’m already making this sound way better than it is, and the last thing I want to do is be responsible for making anybody else sit through this brainacher.
This is what I meant when I said it should have enough going for it to at least make it worthy of a watch – that synopsis was never going to win the blue ribbon in the originality stakes, but conceptually, you’d think the mystery of the set-up and some well-executed monsters would at least be enough to give it a pass. Instead, on both counts, balls are dropped so epically that I could practically hear the voices breaking of everybody involved with this film. The storytelling frustrated me to the point of anger as the potentially interesting tale unfolded so lifelessly, and was reliant on a couple of HUGE REVELATIONS to deliver anything remotely satisfying to it, so much so that I actually considered giving up on the film, which I honestly don’t often do. The worst crime a film like this can commit is being dull, but between the clichéd look of the set design, which may as well be the Nostromo or any spaceship since, the brainless interaction of characters (“Let’s fight to shoehorn in a fight scene! OK let’s team up now”), the deeply clumsy direction by Christian Alvert, and some utterly woeful miscasting, the film feels like an experiment designed purely to test sci-fi fans’ commitment to the genre.
The creatures, on their own, are okay I suppose – if you haven’t seen 2005’s vastly superior subterranean nightmare The Descent. If you have, there’s a damn good chance you’ll be wondering just why the hell Pandorum’s effects designer thought it would be a great idea to basically take the humanoid, golem-like beasties from that film, stick some spikes on their backs and chuck a few rags of clothes on them, and honestly think audiences would be impressed. There are a few moments of impressive gore littered through the film which the bad guys cause, but mostly the viewer is left with a kind of ‘Haven’t I seen this before?’ feeling which pervades most aspects of the production, from the script upwards (or downwards, as the case most definitely is).
The final nails in the coffin of this deep-frozen spaceturd are Foster and Quaid who, while both game for the material, are largely unconvincing in their roles, playing their characters by turns confused and angry to such an extent that you begin to wonder whether they’re both channelling the emotional range of Keanu Reeves. Fortunately, besides those two and the indistinguishable hordes of villains, the rest of the cast is relatively small, but equally miserable nonetheless; by the time a crazy dreadlocked guy turns up in the story to explain everything, playing the role like he’s channelling Shakespeare’s Prospero as raised on the streets of The Wire’s Baltimore, you’ll feel blessed that at least the plot barely requires anybody else to show up and simply insult the audience.
It’s not a ‘1’, so at the very least, it’s got that going for it. The two twists in the story, while massively jarring, at least provide some evidence that at least an iota of thought went into one aspect of Pandorum, even if it does feel like the screenwriter’s started there and worked backwards. But besides that, there’s almost nothing to recommend here, not even in a kill-time-with-a-few-brewskis sort of way (which, if you need proof, is exactly what I was doing). If you want a decent space-horror, do yourself a favour and just watch Alien again. Or at least Event Horizon, which is like Casablanca compared to this piece of crap. Avoid like an old egg salad.