Michael's Review of "Passengers"
#1
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence play star-lost lovers on the starship Avalon in "Passengers". The movie's plot is very simple: due to a cosmic accident while en route to a new world Chris Pratt's character wakes up from hibernation 90 years early. He cannot get back into hibernation and so must cope with the fact that he will never live to see the new world he hoped to start a new life on.

This is a thinking movie. There is some violence and a lot of spectacular scenery but it's a character study and it poses some interesting questions. The audience is thrilled by the cinematography and the set design but most reviewers feel like something is missing.

I don't think anything is missing although I do have a problem with some of the "science" that went into the movie. It has received high praise for being more scientifically accurate than other space travel movies, but I think the critics have missed a few glaring issues. The film sacrifices scientific credibility in order to capture some good shots. I will discuss these problems in another thread.

The whole point of this movie is "what would you do in this situation?" Pratt's character, Jim Preston is alone on a spaceship with more than 5,000 people. They are all hibernating without a thought and should reach the new planet alive. He won't. As a mechanic with an engineering background he has the skill to break into some of the ship's systems but he cannot put himself back into hibernation.

And so he ends up asking an android bartender for advice. We could argue about whether the film serves as a metaphor for where western civilization is heading. Are we becoming entirely too dependent upon our machines? Preston leaves Earth because there is no real need for mechanics. There is nothing that needs fixing since everything is easily replaced. And one of the great debates in US politics today is whether automation is killing more American jobs than the free trade agreements that make it cost effective for companies to move their manufacturing operations to other countries.

There are other contemporary issues hidden just under the surface of what seems like a straight-forward character drama. For example, should we continue to stratify society when we have the technology to fulfill everyone's needs equally? What does it mean to be a privileged member of a society where everything can be replaced?

The accumulation of wealth is also touched upon in several ways. The corporation behind the exodus is not painted as bad or evil in any way but they have figured out how to make unimaginable gobs of money by colonizing other planets. That's a long-term investment strategy that would leave Warren Buffett gasping because these investments require decades or centuries to start paying off.

There are plenty of cool gadgets on the starship, some of which look like you could buy them today at Sam's Club or Costco, or maybe direct from the manufacturers on the Internet. There are, interestingly, no sex robots. This story takes place in a Utopian future where people still know how to interact with each other and how to love other people. It's an unlikely and quite paradoxical "near future" Earth where everything looks familiar to us (even the clothing and partying is very much like today) and yet mankind somehow has the ability to construct starships that move at half the speed of light and make round trip journeys that last about 250 years.

If you are not drawn into the relationships between the various characters (and the ship is one of the characters) then you'll probably not enjoy the movie. It's not easy to describe what happens without giving away the plot. The story line is simplistic because it's about people, not scientific "what if" extrapolations. In that respect Star Trek is a more interesting platform for morality plays set in space, but I think everyone who sees this movie will agree that the special effects and the panoramic views are much better than what Trek has to offer.

You'll want to visit your local planetarium after watching "Passengers" because that is where you can see the stars the way Pratt and Lawrence's characters see them. But the stunning filmography does not make up for the broken science. If you care about the science in your science fiction you'll undoubtedly be disappointed in "Passengers".


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Official trailer for "Passengers"
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