Pandorum is another one of those sci-fi movies that attempts to explore the psychological impact of participating in something that so beyond this world. Unlike Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, or Tarkovsky’s Solaris, where the focus turns to the spiritual and metaphysical, Pandorum is just an attempt at a thrill ride that just happens to take place deep in space.
This film comes to us from German director Christian Alvart. Alvart’s most recent production before this is the German film Antibodies that was actually a decent psychological thriller. American studios liked it so much, they picked up the rights and hired Alvart to make a bastardized US version (look for it in 2011).
Pandorum takes place on a very quiet, very dark spaceship a few hundred years in the future. A Noah’s ark if you will, produced out of necessity since Earth finally gave up the ghost (and all her fissile materials). There’s all sorts of futuristic jargon thrown around to cover plot holes. But basically, Bower (Ben Foster), wakes up from a hyper-sleep all sticky and covered in dead skin (he seems to have been sleeping for about eight years) to find no one around on the enormous ship supposedly holding 16,000 passengers. There are power problems, and apparently hyper-sleep temporarily affects memory, conveniently allowing the characters to remember things sometimes incorrectly, sometimes correctly, but always in the nick of time to do, well, whatever the plot asks them to do. Quickly after Bower wakes up, so does Payton (Dennis Quaid).
Foster’s penchant for overacting (see: 3:10 to Yuma, Alpha Dog) is in full force here, as his character runs around the ship with an Asian farmer (Cung Le) and a stacked Russian(?) zoo keeper (Antje Traue). Payton spends the majority of the film sequestered in a small room talking into radio silence, hoping to get back in contact with Bower, which actually demands the exact amount of acting skill Quaid has. All the characters are avoiding slimy mutants that appear on the ship with no real explanation. The mutants look just like Neil Marshall’s crawlers from The Descent. In fact, Avart seems to have taken a ton of cues from Marshall’s films.
Avart proves here (and in Antibodies) that he can manage an atmosphere quiet well. But the majority of the film is simply too dark. Especially the fight sequences which forces the audience to squint and try and catch more than just a glimpse of flailing limbs in the shadows. The screenplay by Travis Milloy is weak and underdeveloped (yes, that convenient memory loss excuses any sort of character development), but at the very least was pleasantly free of lame one-liners. Despite its flaws, Pandorum will still make you feel uneasy and provides more than a few scary moments. As long as your expectations are low, you won’t be disappointed.