Earlier today, Sony gave us our first extended look at Passengers: their upcoming Christmas tentpole. The film stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as Jim and Aurora, two passengers on the transport ship Avalon. As the ship carries them to a distant planet where they can begin new lives, Jim and Aurora awake from hibernation 90 years before they’re supposed to. Together, they must prevent the destruction of the Avalon and all of the sleeping souls aboard. See the trailer for yourself below!
It's pretty. It's spotlessly clean — the ship's interiors are reminiscent of the Axiom from WALL•E. Then, there are big nods to Danny Boyle's Sunshine and a scene with some kind of medical pod that comes right out of Prometheus. Oddly enough, Jon Spaihts, the writer who conceived the medpod scene in Prometheus, is the only credited screenwriter on Passengers.
Or maybe that's not so odd. To some degree, we've all grown comfortable with derivative stories, especially in genre cinema. But I can't help but raise an eyebrow at just how pleasantly familiar Passengers looks. And I'm not sure that the familiarity is the problem. It's the pleasant part that worries me. Sanding the edges off of ideas from original but decidedly more unpleasant sci-fi movies and putting them in a clean, pretty crowd-pleaser makes it seem like Passengers might be missing the points of its borrowed ideas.
The film's poster also speaks to Sony's intentions for Passengers. It's just the faces of the stars, floating in a sea of clean, white design. You could say it's minimalist, but I'd say it looks more like Lawrence/Pratt: The Movie. And stars do not a movie make. The film's premise undoubtedly interesting, though. It's almost a Spike Jonze-y idea: two people, doomed to die inside a giant shopping mall hurtling through space, fall in love. But because it's a big tentpole movie, there has to be something for everyone. So stuff explodes. Lives are endangered. And the romance, assuming it works, must anchor the movie. After all, the explosions don't mean anything unless something valuable is at risk for these characters.
But if you remove the romance from the equation, it could factor out almost exactly the same. The stakes might be lower, though, and that's a no-no if you're spending the money it takes to put Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in a CGI-frosted sci-fi movie. And then there's an entirely unnecessary plot thread. In this scenario, Jim and Aurora were specifically chosen to wake up early. They are the chosen ones. Why? Because we like mysteries and stories about chosen ones.
Call me cynical, but a setup for that kind of reveal (remember Oblivion?) seems like more of an opportunity for Passengers to fall flat on its face. Or maybe Jim and Aurora are both engineers or something. Whatever the case may be, I plan on seeing this movie because Michael Sheen plays a robot bartender who decides to clean the bar with his face. I've never seen that in a movie before.
Directed by The Imitation Game's Morten Tyldum, Passengers wakes up prematurely in cinemas this Christmas.