Thursday, December 22, 2016

Passengers (2016)

Went to the late night-before show of this thinking that it was earlier and shorter than was actually the case, and as such I’m kind of amazed that I got to work as close to on-time as I did. But that’s just what you do when you want to take advantage of AMC’s $5 savings for the 3D movie, especially since the reviews have already been coming out and a lot of folks were strongly hinting about why they found it objectionable, and, well, if you want to stay unspoiled, even if you have been forewarned, you’ve got to hit it early.

And, yeah, it turns out that there is some pretty ugly material in here when you look at it just a bit critically. Some of it is stuff where, if the movie came out thirty or fifty years ago, I’d grit my teeth and think, okay, that’s kind of sexist, but I think we’re doing better now. I don’t think it’s so bad as some of the angrier comments I’ve seen - I don’t think Jennifer Lawrence’s character is reduced to a mere plot device, if only because she’s a powerful enough actress to grab hold of her character and make the audience recognize that she deserves better. I do think, though, that it shows a lot of signs of having guys in almost all the decision-making capacities, thinking “well, if he feels bad while doing this, he’s really not such a bad guy and the audience will understand. There’s a little effort made to see her side, but there’s a strong undercurrent of his desires being more important than her choices (unless she’s going to choose him).

As I say in the review and said on social media right after I saw it, I feel kind of bad for enjoying what I did of this movie as much as I did - because there are some genuinely enjoyable elements to it; I’ve been waiting for a science fiction movie with this general premise and setting for a while. I wish the one we got was more enlightened, and as much as I’m glad that I think my main reaction is more to be upset about the movie’s deficiencies than just being able to look past them and enjoy the pretty pictures, I can’t quite bring myself to wholly steer people away from it. You’re not going to get this glossy an “awake on a sleeper ship” movie again any time soon, as it’s kind of a specific plot, and it’s kind of worth looking at if not exactly seeing.

Shame; this feels like it could have been a pretty great four-quadrant/appeals-to-everyone movie, but it doesn’t wind up that way.

Passengers (2016)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 December 2016 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

The very core of Passengers is so misguided and unprepared to wrestle with the moral questions that make up its central conflict and are arguably the movie’s whole reason for being that it makes one feel bad for enjoying anything about the sleek, potentially very entertaining sci-fi adventure around it. In putting it that way, I’m probably being far more generous than most would or should, but I’m willing to admit my weakness: I’ve wanted to see a movie along these lines for a long time, and as a result I find myself just giddy enough at the shiny surface to look away from the rot underneath.

I mean, it starts off with something beautiful, an initial shot of a starship that, viewed head- or tail-on, initially looks like a traditional sort of design (habitation rings rotating about a central axis), but which distorts a little bit with the motion, seeming to come apart as the angle shifts, revealing a corkscrew design which may not be as eminently practical but still looks great on-screen. Its crew and complement of 5,000 colonists in suspended animation, it flies through what would be an improbably-dense asteroid field within a solar system, let alone interstellar space, seeming to pulverize a massive rock before continuing on its way, although red warning dots start appearing on the bridge’s status screens.

For many fans of science fiction on film, it will be hard to resist smiling a big, stupid grin during that opening sequence and the ones where the world is explored. They’re grand and visual, often staged with imagery telling the story rather than dialogue, presenting a future where humanity’s settling the stars is treated as safe and corporatized but still capable of inspiring great awe, and the unexpected dangers on this adventure are to be bested with courage and ingenuity rather than violence. The sets and costume design are bright and sleek without seeming particularly sterile, the special effects are beautiful, and the filmmakers even make great use of 3D, exaggerating the curve of the ship’s deck and otherwise heightening the unusual design of the environments while creating an impressive sense of scale.

Full review on EFC.

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