Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Halloween Month: "Pandorum"

*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the film, so...SPOILERS.

I’ve wanted to revisit Pandorum for quite a while now. To be honest, it’s not a movie that stuck in mind or anything like that, but I remember really liking it the first time I watched it and buying it soon after. And then I never watched it again. Due to its placement in the sci-fi section of my collection, I notice it all the time, but I’m usually grabbing a different movie to watch. I always tell myself, “I need to watch that again.” I remember it being along the lines of sci-fi/horror, so this Halloween Month thing I’m doing seemed like a good time to finally rewatch it. And I’m glad I did because I forgot how special this movie is, if for no other reason than the use of practical sets and the fact that it is not based on an existing property. Oh, and it’s pretty damn good, too.

It's a small miracle that a movie like this exists.

I like big budget sci-fi/comic book/franchise movies as much as anyone, but I get bored with these types of films from time to time because they get to be pretty predictable. If there is an original idea out there, it’s never given a big budget, and the end result feels more like a missed opportunity than anything else either due to cheap effects, lousy casting, or shortened scope. Every now and then, somebody convinces a studio to commit a decent budget (based on my research [a single Google search] the budget of Pandorum was $33 million) to a completely original movie. Unfortunately, these movies lack a built-in audience and don’t perform well enough to tell another story. Of course, maybe this is for the best. How can I complain of franchise movies, and then complain that new franchises don’t get a chance to get started? I guess I’m arguing for new franchises.

Regardless of whether or not my argument is noble, I think most people would agree that originality is a good thing, especially when it is properly funded, and Pandorum is properly funded. It takes place almost entirely on a sort of abandoned spaceship (aside from flashbacks and whatnot), so a practical set is important. You want it to be like Alien. You want that ship to be real. To be honest, there’s nothing all that cool or anything about the sets of Pandorum, but that’s by design. The ship itself is meant to be largely utilitarian (it’s not a quasi-cruise ship like in Passengers, a rom-commy rip off of this movie), so the design isn’t flashy. On top of that, mutant rage monster cannibals have been ruling over it for a while, so it’s going to be spooky and gross. I like that about the set of Pandorum; that’s what makes it feel real, and the feeling of reality is insanely important in science fiction.

Pandorum features another necessity in practical effects: monsters. I like the Riddick series (I’ll probably write about all three movies at some point), but the first and third films feature CG creatures that take me out of the experience. I liked I Am Legend until the horrible CG vamp-zombies showed up. Anytime obvious CG creatures show up, especially in a horror scenario, it almost ruins the movie. That is not the case with Pandorum. These mutants are clearly played by actual people wearing intricate and impressive prosthetics. This makes them much more terrifying than any computer creation. And, just as with the sets, the film is better because it feels real.

Finally, a good cast can elevate any film, but especially psychological and regular sci-fi horror. Dennis Quaid is interesting here and a truly good choice. Any time I see him I consider his character to have his shit together. So casting him as the secretly insane character is perfect. Yes, it becomes clear after a couple scenes that Cam Gigandet is not really there, but I think that twist would have been obvious even sooner had it Quaid’s character been portrayed by someone else. On top of that, it’s fun to see Quaid go nuts and even become villainous. I can’t think of another movie in which he’s the villain. (Switchback, maybe? Wait, wasn’t Danny Glover the surprising villain in that? God, why do I remember anything about Switchback?) It works for the movie, and it’s a good change of pace for Quaid.

Antje Traue is convincing as one of the survivors on the ship, and it’s worth noting that her character is a real character instead of just being tossed in as a love interest for Ben Foster. Eddie Rouse gets to chew some scenery as a particularly deranged survivor, as well. But Ben Foster is what drew me to this film.

I’ve been a fan of Foster ever since I saw him do a bunch of karate in a restaurant in Alpha Dog. He always plays these intense, troubled people, and Pandorum is no different. Oddly enough, his character here actually has his shit together for the most part. His mental state is only askew because he just woke up from hypersleep. Anyway, Foster is just naturally compelling, and I can’t explain why. He makes anything he’s in a bit more watchable. It’s just a movie star quality, I guess. I bring this up because his character is essentially a blank page throughout most of the movie because he can’t remember who he is. With that in mind, Foster’s performance is even more impressive since he can make you care about what happens to him, even though the audience (and he himself) doesn’t know much about him.

There’s a Facebook group devoted to getting a sequel made...and I joined it.

While researching Pandorum, I came across a Facebook group devoted to proving that the film has a fanbase and it deserves to become part of the planned trilogy originally proposed. I was surprised to find this group at first. Not because Pandorum is bad, but because I didn’t think it was popular enough to even gain cult status. I guess I was wrong.

I joined the group, obviously, because I do think this movie had the potential to spawn a prequel and a sequel. I don’t think there’s a proper franchise here or anything, but enough stuff is hinted at that more films are warranted, and they can be completely different. It all reminds me of Pitch Black. Stay with me.

So Pitch Black was a sci-fi/horror film that surprisingly spawned a sequel that was wildly different from the first movie. Instead of focusing on horror on a secluded setting, they opened the universe wide open and turned it into some kind of Shakespearean space drama. And I loved it. I know The Chronicle of Riddick is kind of a punchline to most people, but when you look at the ambition of the jump writer/director David Twohy made between those two films, you have to respect it at least a little. That said, they went back to the old formula with Riddick, which I found to be okay, but disappointing in its lack of ambition.

Now, back to Pandorum. In the film, Earth is destroyed. There are flashbacks and we get some text at the beginning slightly explaining what was happening, but I was left wanting more, like an entire movie more. There’s a prequel there, and it doesn’t have to follow any of these characters. Since the ship holds enough people to start a new planet, we can follow any of these characters. Or we can follow none of them and just see how the world ends. Near the end of the film, we could see them send that final message to the ship, and then see how it all ends. They could even get clever with it and not reveal that the film is a prequel to Pandorum until that scene, if they wanted to go the Split / Unbreakable route (though Pandorum isn’t well known enough for that to make much of a splash). Anyway, the point is that there are endless possibilities for that story, and it doesn’t have to copy this film.

For a sequel, the same is true. We could just follow Foster and Traue’s characters in the new world as they help establish the new planet. It could retain horror elements if they wanted by having some of the mutants survive or having some threat natural to the new planet fighting them. In the latter case, that could bring up some interesting themes regarding colonization and whatnot. Or the sequel could take place generations in the future. The new planet has been doing fine, but something arises that could destroy everything. Once again, perhaps the mutants survive in some fashion underwater or something along those lines (or the water itself is contaminated by them and causes the settlers to start changing over the generations). Once again, this could go in so many interesting directions. And best of all, these films would work as standalone pictures while also being part of a very interesting trilogy.

The fact that my mind can go to all these places from this film proves that Pandorum deserves a bit more attention than it gets. So, yeah, I joined the group, and if you’re reading this, you should too.

On a final note regarding a sequel to this film, how is there money out there for Death Race 4 and a fifth (fifth!!!) Scorpion King movie (both on Netflix right now if you’re tempted), yet there is no money for a sequel to an actually good movie? I just don’t get it.

Do I regret buying this?

At first, I really did. But looking back on it, I’m glad I own this, and I will definitely watch it again. My only regret is that I bought it at full price when I probably could have got this for ten bucks a month later.

Random Thoughts

Pandorum is a pretty cool name for space madness. It’s just unfortunate that Avatar took place on Pandora, so now Pandorum sounds like an STD you get from a Na’vi or something.

It's mostly practically made, which automatically makes it better than a lot of sci-fi today.

Totally forgot almost every bit of this movie.

But I do like distant future movies. And I also like movies that take place almost entirely on a spaceship.

Well, at least razor technology is badass in the future. I don’t need five blades. One laser will do.

I love the image of all the escape pods ejecting during the Pandorum explanation.

Forgot Norman Reedus was in this. Emphasis on “was.” I know he wasn't as popular then as he is now, but damn, they could have used him for more than two minutes.

They gave that monster a good old fashioned stab fest. Who are the real monsters here? Am I right?

What a creepy-cute mutant toddler...that will slit your throat.

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