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By: Kevin Jordan
Are we there yet?
The best science fiction usually focuses on a question or topic having to do with psychology or society and dressing it in technology or science and placing it in a fictional world. District 9 tackled apartheid through the lens of alien refugees living in slums. Interstellar wondered if humans were capable of saving themselves when staring extinction in the face. Most recently, Arrival took a look at xenophobia and how fear of the unknown makes people do really stupid things. This week, Passengers asks what you would do if you accidentally woke up from stasis 30 years into a 120-year flight? If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I have a soft spot for science fiction and this film sat right on that spot.
(I really liked this movie, so I will keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but there are a couple I cannot avoid. So, see this movie, then come back. I’ll wait *wink*.)
That’s the question facing Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) when his stasis pod malfunctions and wakes him up way too early (89 years and 8 months too early). The ship he is on is carrying 5000 passengers and over 250 crewmembers, all of whom are in stasis for the long journey to a colony planet called Homestead II. The very first question you will ask as an audience member is: can he go back into stasis? No, he can’t and the movie explains why (lack of required equipment). Then, you will ask why they wouldn’t have spares on this trip or the necessary equipment, to which the answer is the pods have never malfunctioned and include multiple redundant failsafes. Guess who just won the galaxy’s worst lottery? Also, this movie is taking care of potential plot holes, which I couldn’t be happier about.
Being a mechanic, Jim does exactly what you expect he would do – try to solve the problem. He tries to fix the pod, rig the pod to restart, access the crew quarters where the crew is (passengers are denied access), look for spares, and look for alternatives. This goes on for more than a year, during which time he frequents the ship’s bar and talks with the closest thing to a conscious human on the ship – an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). As his efforts continue to fail, we see him losing hope both mentally and physically and we are laser-focused on that question – if you were alone a ship in space knowing you would die before getting to your destination, what would you do? Your choices are wake someone else up, commit suicide, or continue living alone with no purpose and limited activities at your disposal (a fun detail they add is that he is the equivalent of economy class, so doesn’t have access to many of the things on the ship), constantly thinking of the other two choices.
Since you’ve seen the previews and know Jennifer Lawrence is in this movie, you know what choice he makes. Like I said, I really liked this movie, but I think there were two missed opportunities in this film. The first has to do with waking someone up. During his hopelessness, he stumbles across Aurora Lane’s (Lawrence) pod. Since you’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence, you know how beautiful she is, especially in this movie as a first-class passenger, so you’ll understand that Jim starts researching her. Seriously, she is gorgeous in this film; you’d do the same thing. Anyway, if I could have contributed to this story, I would have had Jim investigating all of the passengers and just zeroing in on Aurora. And, maybe, in the long version of this story, he does. If it were me on that ship, that’s what I’d have done in my boredom. To me, this would have added much more depth to the feelings he developed for her prior to waking her up. It also would have added some potential fun as he learned about other passengers.
The thing you need to know about this movie is that the surface story is a romance. You probably already know this because you’ve seen the trailers. That being the case, it follows the standard romance formula. Meeting, getting to know each other, falling in love, break-up, attempt at redemption. The second missed opportunity happens during the break-up and it’s that the movie doesn’t spend enough time during this phase. I know that’s also standard romance movie procedure, but this movie’s main premise is delving into the psychology of the situation and this is a fascinating component of this scenario. (SPOILER) After learning the truth about how she woke up, Aurora is confronted with just as difficult a choice as Jim, but with a bonus choice. Commit suicide, wake someone else up, spend the rest of her life alone on the ship (she at least has more entertainment choices due to her class), or take Jim back. Considering that Jim gave her a death sentence by waking her up, you can understand how pissed off she would be at him, but after time, she was going to end up in the same position as him. How great would it have been to see her struggling with herself as she begun to rationalize Jim’s despair and loneliness as she experienced it herself?
For as much time as the film spent with Jim, an equal amount of time should have been spent with Aurora. Instead, the film jumps to the big event that allows Jim the opportunity to redeem himself. Of course, this being a spaceship movie, and given that the film sprinkles in shots of the ship’s computer depicting more and more ship failures (the movie starts with the ship getting hit by a meteor, which is what led to Jim’s pod malfunction), that event is obviously Jim trying to save the ship from exploding. Plus, you’ve seen the trailers so you already know they have to deal with the ship failures. I never said this movie wasn’t predictable.
Based on all that, the movie sounds decent at best, but what elevated this movie for me were the stunning visuals of the interior and exterior of the ship and the performances of the three main actors (Laurence Fishburne enters in the third act, playing a crew member). I liked the story and the first and second acts were done quite well (the third act was a little over-the-top, but still fine). Pratt did a fantastic job of emoting despair, then emoting the internal torture of his decision before and after waking Aurora. Lawrence equaled Pratt and more (her reaction to the truth was so perfect it was almost scary) and their chemistry together was amazing. There’s also an extremely cool and slightly terrifying swimming pool scene. Put all that together and you’ve got a very good movie that can sit on my spot as long as it wants.
Rating: Worth your money with or without a soft spot.
By: Kevin Jordan
Sooooooo worth the wait.
Has it already been a year since Star Wars: The Force Awakens? It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were all giddily applauding the resurrection of one of the greatest and nerdiest movie franchises of all time. Okay, maybe not all of us – 8% of critics and 11% of audience members (on Rotten Tomatoes) gave it a thumb’s down and probably kicked a puppy for good measure. For the rest of us, the countdown to Rogue One began the moment the proverbial curtain closed on TFA because, like the addicts we are, we wanted our next fix. Finally, that clock has hit 00:00:00:00 and we nerds rejoice.
(I will keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but beware.)
My favorite conversation about this movie right now is the bizarre notion that Rogue One is a standalone movie in the Star Wars universe. If you have been paying even the tiniest bit of attention, you know that this movie can only be a prequel to A New Hope. The entire plot is how the rebellion manages to steal the plans to the Death Star and (SPOILER ALERT) you know they succeed because A New Hope opens with Princess Leia hiding those plans in R2-D2. If you somehow forgot that or didn’t know it, you probably aren’t going to watch this movie anyway.
On a related topic, I predicted that everyone was going to die by the end of Rogue One because of a line spoken in the original trilogy by Mon Mothma – “Many bothans died to bring us this information.” I would have sworn that this came from A New Hope and I think most people believed that as well (I confirmed this by asking several people about it). As it turns out, that line was said in Return of the Jedi and was referencing Death Star II. Whoops. I’m not going to tell you how right or wrong I was, but I will say I wasn’t surprised at any death in this film because of my prediction. I’m telling you this so you don’t make the same mistake. The impressive thing about this film is that the characters were written so well that, even though I was expecting them all to die, I still hoped they would all pull through. You know what I mean – every time you watch A New Hope there’s a small part of you that thinks Obi-Wan will hightail it out of there rather than letting Darth Vader kill him.
The most important thing you need to know about this movie is that fix you’ve been waiting for is the equivalent of mixing Viagra with Ecstasy while drinking absinthe and consuming edibles – all through a firehose. There are AT-ATs, AT-STs, and death troopers. There are TIE fighters, X-Wings, Y-Wings, star destroyers hovering over cities, and the Death Star rising over the horizon. There is a new snarky droid (K-2SO), a new evil imperial commander (Orson Krennic), a new roguish pilot (Cassian Andor, who is dressed like a Han Solo worshipper), a new orphaned hero (Jyn Erso), and a new guy who might be a Jedi (Chirrut Imwe). There are even familiar characters making cameos (Vader, to name one) or prominently featured (Grand Moff Tarkin). It’s so much Star Wars that you’ll practically float through the next year waiting for Episode VIII.
You also need to know that the action in this flick is fairly limited. Where TFA was almost non-stop fireworks finale, Rogue One saves almost all of the action for its actual finale. That doesn’t mean things don’t happen, but not everything is draped in explosions and lasers. It’s a nice change and gives the audience the ability to really admire the detail and care put it into realizing these places. In other words, the special effects are so amazing that I’m half convinced that Disney created a wormhole to this galaxy, sent a camera crew through, and is literally just filming what is happening there. If you don’t get shivers when you see the Death Star rising over the horizon of the planet in the finale…you…I just…bruised puppies.
Another positive of reducing the action is we get to know the characters better and these actors shine. Jyn (Felicity Jones) is exactly that mix of Skywalker and Solo without being quite as optimistic as Rey in TFA. Cassian (Diego Luna) is the type of intense character that you now realize has been missing from a rebellion. Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is just as loathsome an imperial commander as we like, though not as coldly evil as Tarkin, but far more intimidating than General Hux. Then there’s K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Cassian’s droid companion, who arguably steals the show. K-2 provides the vast majority of the comic relief, but is also the trusty sidekick (to everyone, really). Speaking of sidekicks, Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) provide the muscle, with Imwe appearing to be a quasi-Jedi, praying to the force and kicking ass, but with no light saber to be found. Make of him what you will. Rounding out the cast, we have Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) – an extremist rebel, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) – imperial defector, and Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) – Death Star designer. All three are good secondary characters, though Galen and Saw get very little screen time. That might seem like too many characters, but Saw was the only one that felt underutilized/underdeveloped to me.
The last thing you need to know is that this movie is drawing comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back and rightly so. The movie is serious for far more of its running time than its brethren, with only a minimal amount of comic relief (but very well-timed comic relief). The ratio of action to non-action is perfect for me, though I’ll understand if some folks get a little fidgety through the first half of the film (put the gigantic soda down). And, again, those special effects…just wow (though one little facial rendering at the end of the movie proves we still have work to do with human faces). As much as I liked TFA, I liked this one more simply because we got more of the nerdy stuff that we haven’t seen since the original trilogy, but wanted more of (like the Death Star doing Death Star things). Like I said, the year was more than worth the wait and you will most likely agree. If not, just leave the puppies alone.
Rating: Sooooooo worth more than the price of admission.