LOS ANGELES, December 26, 2016 — “Passengers,” perhaps the last of 2016’s bumper crop of sci-fi dramas, opened in theaters across the country just in time for the Christmas holiday season. Ably directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), this sometimes esoteric and oddly philosophical thriller stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as unlikely romantic leads Jim Preston and Aurora Lane.
Jim and Aurora began as just two of thousands of passengers hibernating in suspended animation in individual pods aboard the automated starship Avalon. All the passengers are colonists, headed for Homestead II, an Earth-hospitable planet so distant from our world that the journey there takes 120-years. Hence the state of the passengers. The Aurora is progammed to navigate the century-plus journey safely, awakening the passengers near the end of their journey, allowing them to resume their lives as they arrive at their destination.
Unfortunately, problems arise, or we wouldn’t have a movie. As the ship hurtles through space, it runs into an asteroid field. The resulting damage to parts of the ship gradually leads, predictably, but subtly, to system malfunctions throughout the vessel.
Fortuitously (or not), one result of the Avalon’s close encounter with the asteroid belt is that the life-support system of Jim Preston (Pratt) releases him from his induced slumber 90 years too early. As a mechanical engineer, he quickly realizes he’s the only individual “alive” on the ship, and knows he will die before the Avalon reaches its final destination.
After months of mental struggle over his cosmic predicament, Jim finds he’s fascinated with the sleeping Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), a reporter, and ultimately decides to fiddle with her pod and awaken her for some companionship and perhaps a bit more.
The couple are gradually taken with one another. But that changes when Aurora learns that Jim is the one who woke her up, not the ship’s malfunctioning computer system.
Further problems arise when the system actually awakens Gus (Lawrence Fishburne), another passenger who fortuitously happens to be a Chief Deck Officer of the ship. Together, they track down what turns out to be multiple failures throughout the system that could ultimately cause the deaths of all aboard.
Given its surprisingly heavy philosophical baggage, an element to which today’s mass audience is not often attuned, “Passengers” has opened to a mixed reception. That said, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence prove to be a charismatic pair of leads, powerfully endowing Jim and Aurora with keen individuality coupled with strong romantic chemistry.
“Passengers” will likely live on in its own unique niche, becoming the film that philosophy classes will discuss. Was Jim’s decision to awaken Aurora the right one? Was there another more reasonable way to confront the ship’s problems?
“Passengers” is in many ways a true space opera, an outer space love story pumped up with plenty of action, laughs and CGI effects. This moderately big-budget, deep-thinking film makes this reviewer believe that despite the current politicized environment in Hollywood, Americans can still make the cinema great again by offering more than endless simulated explosions and carnage, conspicuous product placements and overwrought political pronouncements.