Review – Jack Reacher (Advanced Screening)

jackreacherLast night I saw an advanced screening of “Jack Reacher” with Tom Cruise at the AMC Mercado 20 in Santa Clara. I wish I could say that AMC and/or Paramount invited me because I was an awesome blogger and I sat in the reserved seating for THE PRESS. Didn’t happen that way. Being a AMC Stubs member, I got an email about this event and requested the FREE tickets last week. I sat with a rowdy crowd that cut across a wide demographic spectrum that’s unusual for a Tom Cruise movie. As for the motley crew that sat in the reserved seating for THE PRESS, only one guy had a notebook out and looked like a reviewer in his corduroy coat.

Other than being a Tom Cruise movie, I had no clue what “Jack Reacher” was about beyond viewing a movie trailer a while back. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the movie was based on the novel, “One Shot” by Lee Child, which happens to be from the middle of the Jack Reacher mystery series. That’s odd. Glancing through the plot summaries for the other novels in the series, this particular novel may be the most accessible to bring to the big screen.

The movie begins with the going back-and-forth between a man assembling rifle bullets in a workshop and driving a van to a water-front garage. He parks the van and puts a quarter into the parking meter. He fires six shots to randomly kill five people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and leaves behind a single shell casing. The police arrives to find the shell casing and the quarter with a clear finger print. An arrest is made in what appears to be a slam dunk case for the detective and the district attorney. Except the suspect asks to see Jack Reacher.

Who the hell is Jack Reacher?

A former military police investigator from the Army who tried to put the suspect away for killing civilians with a sniper rifle during the Iraq War. The suspect escapes punishment due to the “murkiness” of war. After seeing the shooting and suspect’s mug shot reported on the news, Jack Reacher shows up at the DA’s office to make sure that the suspect is put away for good this time.

The defense attorney, who happens to be the DA’s daughter, convinces him to investigate the shooting. He starts unraveling the set up for the shooting from the perspective of a professional sniper, determines that not all the victims were entirely random, and the person most threaten by exposure is the DA. The violence, killings and car chases escalates to a very satisfying conclusion.

Tom Cruise was brilliant as Jack Reacher. I never read the novels so I can’t make a direct comparison between the two. Rosamund Pike as the defense attorney gave a nuanced emotional performance when the camera did a close-up on her face. I haven’t enjoyed a movie like this in ages.

Review – Battleship (Redbox DVD)

Battleship The MovieA summer popcorn movie demands that you park you brain into neutral, sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Almost. When “Battleship” became available on Redbox, I was thankful that I didn’t spend any money to see this movie in the theater. (Redbox provided a 50-cent off promo code that reduced the one-night rental to $0.76 USD.) You’re not supposed to think too hard about the underlying premise of a popcorn movie. If you do, the whole movie unravels. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. The science fiction in this alien invasion movie was seriously lacking.

Since I saw “Battleship” on a small analog TV screen, the tiny intro text at the beginning of the movie was unreadable. Without reading that, the science doesn’t make any sense. After playing the DVD on my PC to review the opening sequence, the science still doesn’t make any sense.

In 2005, scientist discovers an Earth-like planet in another solar system. No details on where this solar was located (i.e., how many light years from Earth).

In 2006, NASA has a new communication satellite that can send a laser beam to the newly discovered planet that is five times as powerful than anything before. What does “five times as powerful” mean? I don’t know. Let’s assume that the laser beam travels at five times the speed of light, which may technically be possible.

In 2012, five extraterrestrial ships arrives at Earth. One ship collides with a satellite, breaks up in the atmosphere and destroys much of Hong Kong. This turns out to be the communication ship. The other four ships lands in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, throws up a huge force field and take over the satellite station on the island. You would think that the aliens would have brought a spare cellphone to call home.

Within the six year time frame of the movie, the laser beam has to travel through space to reach the planet, be decoded by the repetailian-like aliens with spiky goatees, and a handful of ships are sent in response to kick ass on Earth.

From a speculative scientific point of view, the alien planet has to be within a 25-light-year radius (five years X five times the speed of light = 25 light years) from Earth. The Gliese 581 G planet is 22 light years away and the red drawf star would be consistent with the aliens intolerance of the Earth’s brighter yellow sun. Let’s give the aliens a year to decode the laser beam and assemble an invasion fleet that travels like hell in the remaining time left.

With the aliens being interstellar neighbors, wouldn’t 60 years of television and radio signals being broadcast into space be enough to provoke the aliens into attacking Earth without NASA sending a laser beam?

As for the rest of the movie, the military action and the dialog was entirely predictable. That the museum battleship, U.S.S. Missouri, just happened to have a half-dozen live rounds on board was also implausible. Based loosely on the game, no battleship was sunk.

Review – The Amazing Spiderman

The Amazing Spider-Man MovieI was expecting to be disappointed with “The Amazing Spider-Man” as it was another reboot. If Sony haven’t made this movie, the rights would have reverted back to Marvel. That’s the problem with superhero movies these days. Hollywood wants to recycle the origin story more than once a generation—the Superman franchise is on its third reboot—to create a trilogy of movies that brings in boatloads of money. Worst, with the success of the Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, the reboot has to be dark and gritty as the hero suffers from profound parental issues.

I never liked Tobey McGuire’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man since he came across as a likeable wimp in the throes of teenage angst. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a smart ass who is unafraid to walk into a situation and get his ass handed back to him. The first time we meet Peter, he’s taking pictures of Stacy Gwen (Emma Stone) from a safe distance. When he noticed that the class bully was tormenting a smaller student, he steps in and gets stomped on. As the movie progresses, the smart ass recedes into the background as a responsible young man emerges.

Previous incarnations of Spider-Man had never bothered to explain why he was raised by his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). This movie introduces the backstory that sets up the requisite parental issues that all superheroes must face these days. Rather than being antsy about getting the girl, its about avenging absent parents on the criminal elements.

The movie opens with a very young Peter Parker playing hide and seek with his parents. Entering his father’s study after it was ransacked in an apparent burglary, he cries out for his parents and they come rushing in. His father removes scientific documents hidden inside the desk and stashes them into a briefcase. An hour later, he’s left at his aunt and uncle’s place as his parents disappear into the night. After discovering the briefcase years later in the basement, an older Peter searches for his father’s coworker at a scientific research lab and becomes bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him his superpowers.

The cameo by Marvel founder Stan Lee was quite charming. As a school librarian listening to classical music with oversized headphones and straightening up the music table, he’s oblivious to Spider-Man and Lizard trashing the school library behind him. The 3D was put to excellent use as objects were hurled from the background to be caught by Spider-Man at the last moment in the foreground.

This movie wasn’t afraid to leave loose ends hanging in the wind. The disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents was still unresolved. The killer of Uncle Ben was never found despite Spider-Man’s best effort to round up the criminals for the police. Only one reference was made to the front page of The Daily Bugle, whom Peter Parker haven’t yet wandered over to get a job as a photographer. Overall, a very different Spider-Man movie.

Review – A Wrong Turn For Prometheus

Prometheus Movie Poster
P R O M E T H E U S

When I went to see “Prometheus” at the AMC Mercado 20, I was shocked—shocked!—to see that the California Lottery Commission was airing a revised Lady Luck video. And then there was the movie itself. I had kept my expectations low and avoided reading any reviews. (Unlike “The Avenger” movie that got hyped to death for months, this movie barely made a peep on my radar.)  Being a prequel to “Alien” that explores the origin of the space jockey in the crashed spaceship on the moon LV-426, I wanted to be surprised by how everything was put together.

I was surprised but not in a good way.

The first hour of the movie was quite beautiful as the origin of humanity begins with an eight-foot-tall giant—”engineers” as they would later be called—who sacrifices himself by drinking a black liquid that tears apart his DNA to form new life on an uninhabited planet. Many eons later, a team of archeologists find the oldest cave painting with humans worshiping a giant alien pointing to a star cluster that links all the ancient civilizations to Earth. (If you’re into UFO conspiracy theories, some people believe that the Nephilims were giant aliens.) A few years after that discovery, the spaceship Prometheus lands on the moon LV-233 and the crew begins their mission with conflicting agendas.

For the next 90 minutes, the plot holes starts piling up fast and furious. Two major plot holes ruined the movie for me. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading now.

Why does the moon bears the designation LV-233 in “Prometheus” instead of LV-426 in the “Alien” movies? No clue. Although the weather patterns are violent on LV-233, it’s not yet the hellhole that becomes LV-426. The two moons are obviously supposed to be the same location but the designation doesn’t match up.

When the captain jettisons the life support module and sacrifices the Prometheus to prevent the alien spaceship from leaving the moon, the alien spaceship crashes to a rolling halt into its final position, and the space jockey is strapped down in the flight chair, all we needed was the chest buster alien to pop out and leave the space jockey dead to match the scene in “Alien.” That didn’t happen. The space jockey comes crashing into the life support module to be attacked and infected by a huge facehugger. The movie ends with a crude-looking xenomorph emerging from the dead space jockey. This is not the sleek killing machine we all come to love and admire.

Seems like director Ridley C. Scott took all the plot lines from a wrong turn at Albuquerque TV trope and mixed them together with the best parts of “Aliens” to create “Prometheus,” which is less than the sum of its parts. The unanswered questions will probably be answered in the next sequel or two. This wasn’t the completed movie that I expected it to be.

Review – The Wild Bikini Girls Of Diablo III

The Wild Bikini Girls of Diablo III
The Wild Bikini Girls of Diablo III

Blizzard Entertainment put Diablo III into open beta to stress test the servers over the past weekend, giving everyone an opportunity to play the new game for the first time before being released on May 15, 2012. I wasn’t impressed. If you played Diablo I and/or Diablo II, you’re playing the same game.

As a male player, I like to take on a female persona. When I was testing Unreal Tournament 2003 multiplayer at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), all the testers—including the few women testers—went with the generic male avatars. I went with the slim Asian female avatar. That made me stand out in the game as I extensively tested the sniper rifle from various hiding spots throughout the levels. My coworkers howled for my head from their cubicles. They ganged up to flush me out and chase me into open space, finding out that I was just as good with the rocket launcher and flak cannon.

When I fired up Diablo III to create my avatar, clicked on the female gender button and was disappointed by the style of female avatars available. The Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor and Wizard were all skinny young things that look like plague victims—or fashion models. Only the Barbarian was a good solid woman, reminding me of Aviendha in Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series, whom someone else pointedly told her: “Those hips are made for babies.”

I was somewhat surprised to find that my Level 1 Barbarian started off in bikini underwear. I can’t imagine any women—barbarian or not—going into a demon-infested hellhole wearing nothing more than two pieces of leather to cover her privates. But this is the video game industry, where little boys like to play with their joysticks and imaginary women. All the other female avatars also starts off in bikini underwear. This is only a temporary condition. As you pick up more equipment to cover up your bikini-clad avatar, the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz will become more recognizable than your avatar.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the female Barbarian’s voice has an Ahnold-like accent (think Schwarzenegger with a strawberry-blond wig).

As for the rest of the game, the new user interface takes advantage of today’s video graphics and wide-screen monitors. Rats scurrying from dead bodies, ravens flying from trees, and abandoned houses collapsing as your avatar walks by are nice little touches. Alas, being beta software, the transparency effect for torches and other “flashy” items were pixelated blocks on my ATI Radeon 3780 512MB video card—well above the minimum video card specs—that made gameplay difficult at times.

Without a doubt, Blizzard has another solid winner here. Now if they can only drop the price down to $20 USD from the outrageously high $60 USD that they are planning to charge for the game. Otherwise, I’ll finish off Diablo II that I picked up last year when Blizzard dropped the price.

Stoning Your Highness (Preferably With Stones)

The new “Your Highness” movie has all the makings of a classic sword-and-sorcery movie that we haven’t seen much of since the early 1980s. A younger prince being resentful of his big brother’s claim to good looks and quest fame. The older prince comes home with his soldiers from yet another challenging quest and a beautiful damsel in distress in tow that he plans to marry. An evil sorcerer and three witches barges into the marriage ceremony to kidnap the damsel in distress. The two princes and their soldiers are sent by the king on their new quest, and they see the wise old wizard who provides a magical compass to find the labyrinth with a powerful sword that can defeat the wizard. After they are betrayed by the soldiers, the two princes encounter the beautiful warrior who agrees to join their quest. The older prince is kidnapped by the soldiers to be tortured by the evil sorcerer. The younger prince raises to the challenge of finding the powerful sword, defeating the evil sorcerer and redeeming himself in the eyes of his people. A classic sword-and-sorcery movie, except that this a stoner comedy movie that you need to be stoned (preferably with stones) to really enjoy.

Most critics panned the movie as being really bad, which could mean either really bad as to suck or really bad to be funny. After groaning my way through this unfunny pot fest, the movie is really bad. A few critics were comparing “Your Highness” to “Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke” and “Mel Brook’s History of The World, Part 1” as to what viewers could expect in this movie. These critics need to be taken out and stoned with stones. “Your Highness” comes nowhere to close being like these classic movies because the non-stop vulgar humor dives straight into the sewer. Had this movie been made in the spirit of “Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny,” which turned vulgarity into hysterical poetry, it might have been more successful.

Here’s the list of the unfunny vulgarity:

  • The opening sequence of the younger prince standing on the gallows for molesting the beautiful midget queen and his manservant is being tarred and feathered was fairly predictable. A gallows built by midgets for midgets does nothing more than strain the neck of a non-midget man like a tighten tie when dropping through the trapdoor. They quickly escape to be admonished by their king for screwing up a simple diplomatic quest.
  • The wise old wizard comes across as being a perverted Yoda with Michael Jackson bedtime tendencies, requesting a kiss on the lips, a hit of the bong and a cock rub before letting the princes go on with their quest.
  • The princes and the manservant are captured by bare-breasted women who bring them to a hairless fat man in diapers (the adult version of the dancing baby fad), who sticks his hand into a pot of honey mustard to summon a five-headed creature from the ground in the middle of the arena. Every time the head of the creature is cut off, the fat man loses a finger until all he has the middle finger left among four bloody stumps to wave around.
  • When the younger prince acquires the powerful sword and kills the minotaur guarding the labyrinth, he tries to claim a trophy to prove that he succeeded in this part of the quest. Unable to saw off the horns of the minotaur, he acquire a lesser trophy from the half-man/half-bull beast: a massive cock. He spends the rest of the movie wearing it around his neck and being very cocky with it (pun intended).

The only redeeming part of this whole movie is Natalie Portman, who plays the beautiful warrior babe with a straight face while being surrounded by perverts who wants to get into her rawhide pants. Alas, she is wearing a chastity belt enchanted by an evil witch that can’t be unlocked until the witch is dead, which means another quest and another movie that isn’t going to happen. When the young prince spills the beans about the magical compass and finding the labyrinth, she steals the magical compass and leaves them in the middle of the night. You wished that she had done everyone a favor by cutting their throats and finish the quest by herself. Hollywood could have done an entire movie around her character if the movie was made in the classical swords-and-sorcery format.

Zooey Deschanel plays a bosomy and not too bright damsel in distress who spends most of her time lying on her back to wait for the evil sorcerer to spread her legs for the ritual impregnation of a dragon under the eclipse of the two moons. A limited role that she pulls off with great zest.

The younger audience thought this movie was funny. My friend and I groaned through most of it. I thought “Conan: The Destroyer” was a much better swords-and-sorcery movies than this even though it tried too hard to be funny the second time around. We did see the movie poster for the new “Conan: The Barbarian” movie that is coming out soon. The poster artwork was done in the 1970s comic book drawing style. Maybe this movie will usher in a new era of swords-and-sorcery movies. Or maybe not.

Battle: Los Angeles Is A War Movie

When Battle: Los Angeles came out last week, it was several days after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Which was extremely ironic considering that the first place the mysterious meteorites fell from the sky was off the coast of Japan. I went into the movie theater knowing only one thing about this movie: Michelle Rodriguez. Beyond that, not much. The main complaint I heard over the radio was that this was yet another alien invasion movie and how many version of Independence Day do we need? I ended up enjoying this movie precisely because it wasn’t an alien invasion movie but a war movie with a strong main character facing a moral dilemma that he has no choice but to resolve before the end credits roll.

Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has a reputation of getting his men killed in a recent tour in Afghanistan and wants to leave the service. Sergeants are the backbone of the military, knowing the people below them better than the officers above them do, often serving at the same rank until retiring. Not surprisingly, his commanding officer tries to talk him out of leaving. Then the alien invasion begins. Nantz is assigned as a replacement sergeant to a platoon where the men have reasons to hate him—”my brother came home in a box”—and a newly minted second lieutenant fresh out of officer school. If you have seen enough war movies, this is a recipe for a disaster.

They are flown into the war zone and make their way on foot to a police substation where a civilian distress call was sent after the area was evacuated. Moving through the fog of war (smoke, shadows and a stray dog), the men starts to doubt Nantz’s ability to lead them after the second lieutenant freaks out in the middle of a running battle with the aliens. They find the civilians inside the substation, dissect a live alien to figure out how to kill them (a war crime under the Geneva Conventions), and use a bus to get everyone out of the way. When it became obvious that the aliens can track down radio signals, he uses his radio to lure an alien to a gas station and toss a grenade to blast the alien sky high. Attitudes start changing towards  him as he leads the survivors through various fights and struggle to overcome obstacles. He ends up leading them against an alien command-and-control center that changes the direction of the battle.

Michelle Rodriguez plays a surprisingly minor and quite feminine role in this movie.

Air Force Technical Sergeant Elena Santos was on a intelligence reconnaissance mission when her airplane is shot down, and she hooks up with a different group of Marines heading towards the police station. She comes across as being very low key soldier unfamiliar with being in an actual war zone and working with a different branch of the military. The kick-ass tough girl from Avatar and other movies doesn’t really come out to play, although she does pound away on an alien that tried to sneak up behind her. She, like the staff sergeant before her, had to prove her worth before being taken seriously by the other guys. When two men take up position to fire upon the aliens, she grabs a machine gun and wiggles her way between them, saying that they needed an extra gun in this fight. Eventually, through her own small heroic actions, she gains their trust to be treated like one of the guys.

I think the real reason why she is in this movie is probably to be the butt of a sex joke. After she blows out the brains of an alien that landed on the hood of the truck, she complains about the nasty stuff getting splattered into her mouth. The Marine next to her starts cracking up and tells her, “Isn’t that what you do on your first date?” I can’t see either Sigourney Weaver or Angelina Jolie playing a similar scene with her spunk (yes, British pun intended).

Why does the aliens invade Earth? Apparently, they need salt water to survive.

Not the most original premise for a science fiction plot, but the internal logic about the aliens and their technology being based on salt water is fairly consistent. The aliens look and behave like the Predator alien shoved into a metallic crab shell, hunting along the rooftops and going to ground only when they have to. Their ships can be reconfigured to join other machines to form a larger vessel. They blend in well with the chaotic Los Angeles (filmed mostly in Louisiana against generic locations) that is burning down to the ground as a part of a larger worldwide alien invasion. And, more importantly, there is no Mac laptop with an upside down Apple logo uploading data to the mothership. What brings down the alien command-and-control ship are laser-guided cruise missiles.

Overall, a very intense war movie with a nice solid science fiction background and a fine supporting case.

A “Tron: Legacy” Night At The IMAX

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I don’t remember much of the original movie beyond Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) being sucked into the system and the special effects that were pretty cool back in the early 1980s when computer animation was still in its infancy. The original movie is no longer available on DVD or even Netflix Instant for viewing. That will probably change when the marketing for the new movie kicks into high gear. I kept an open mind about the half-dozen scenes that I saw, which was a challenge since I’m not a big fan of Hollywood forsaking new ideas to recycle classic movies and TV shows from the last 30 years.

The segment starts off in the real world that’s in 2D, where Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is informed by his father’s close friend, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), that he received a page from a phone number that’s been disconnected for 25 years. Why someone would keep a working pager in the modern era of cellphone texting is something that I hope the movie will explain. Sam heads down to the old arcade where his father’s office is located and turns on the circuit breaker that brings the arcade alive with the familiar sounds of multiple video game machines and a jukebox playing 1980s music. A Tron arcade machine stands alone against the wall in the back. He puts in a quarter that falls out on to the floor since it’s not an arcade token, discovers heavy scoring marks on the concrete floor, and pushes back the arcade machine to find a secret passage to his father’s lab. A still active virtual touch screen comes alive. He enters the command line, guess the password, enters the whoami command to discover that this was father’s account, and runs the last command that was executed. A camera laser sucks him into the 3D virtual world of Tron that his father had made.

The arcade scene was genuinely authentic. I used to crawl the arcade scene when I was a teenager in the early 1980s. My parents gave me a $30/week allowance. I blew half in the arcades and the other half. My parents thought that this was a strange combination, but they were relieved that I wasn’t involved in sex and drugs like too many young people in my generation. (I was really fat and nerdy back then like most of the people watching last night). I recognized Dig DugMissile Command and Pac-Manfrom the cacophony of arcade game sounds. I never played Tron that much back then. Star Wars was the hot arcade game that put you in the seat of a X-Wing fighter flying over the Death Star trench in all its vector graphics glory.

When Sam appears in the virtual world, he is immediately picked up by a recognizer, the iconic machine that picks up stray programs (people) that shouldn’t be running around lose. I don’t remember the original version at all. This one had two guards, a pilot, and about eight prisoners. Sam is locked down without any explanation and frighten by the person next to him who has only half a head. After the recognizer flies across the virtual world, it lands and the prisoners are sorted out. One prisoner runs off to jump over the side and asunder into a thousand electronic bits when hitting the next level. Sam is slated for the games. He is escorted into a room where four women stripes him of his clothing and dress him in his virtual clothing with a security disc that is also his weapon. One of them notes that he is a different kind of program before sending him off into the arena.

The next set of scenes are the virtual highlights that we expect to find: the laser disc fight to the death, the light cycle competition to create a wall of light that forces the other light cycle to crash into, and the extended cycle chase through the virtual world when Sam is rescued by the mysterious Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who reminds me of Trixie (Christina Ricci) from “Speed Racer”. She takes him to the safe house where his father has been in hiding for 25 years, where father and son are reunited. The segment blends into the trailer for the movie and comes to an end.

“Tron: Legacy” appears to be a worthy successor not only to the original movie but also to “The Matrix” series. Every decade needs to have a signature film that looks ahead to the future in both the real and virtual worlds. The 2D virtual touch screen currently exists on the Apple iPad/iPhone/Touch family of mobile devices, and one exhibtor at the 2010 MacWorld Expo demonstrated the Mac OS X desktop being projected on a desktop surface that could manipulate things. The 3D virtual world overall was very beautiful with a deep monochromatic background and bright neon colors. Some of the newer video game engines like id Software’s RAGE are becoming more photo realistic. Unlike all the other recycled movies coming out in recent years, Disney got this one right.

Howell and I turned in our 3D glasses and retrieved our cellphones. A free movie poster and a card for an Asus video card (who sponsored this event) were available. We also got coupons for to see any movie that night for $5 USD and a free drink-and-popcorn combo for our next visit. There were no good movies to watch that night. Besides, unless it was free, we couldn’t see it anyway. The combo coupon happens to expire the day before the new Harry Potter movie comes out. Bummer, AMC!

 

Figuring Out Pandorum

When my friend and I arrived to see “Pandorum” at the Century 24 last week, the parking lot was empty.  This is the place where bad movies open to die an unwatched death.  For a science fiction movie, good or bad, this wasn’t a bad situation.  We were horrified to find a bevy of pre-teen girls moving through the concession stand, wondering if “Pandorum” appealed to the teeny-bopper set of“Twilight” and we should return our tickets.  We were relieved see them go into the theater playing “Fame,” a re-make of the classic 1980’s TV/movie/play/whatever since Hollywood can’t think of anything more original.  Unlike “Jennifer’s Body” the week before, no one was talking behind us since there were fewer people watching.   We had one question that was left unanswered by the trailer thatwe first saw at WonderCon 2009.

Was “Pandorum” more like “Alien” (an alien creature) or “Event Horizon” (a demon-possessed spaceship)?

The bridge crew of the Elsym receives the final transmission from a dying Earth that they are now the last survivors of humanity.  Later on, two crew officers, Bower (Ben Foster) and Payton (Dennis Quaid), are awaken from hyper-sleep.  They have functional memories for operating the various subsystems of the ship that comes back to them sooner than their personal memories of who they are as individuals.  They discover that they’re locked inside their compartment, unable to raise the bridge crew on the radio, and a periodic power surge is slowly destroying the ship.  Bower goes into the ventilation system to bypass the locked door to find out what is going on with the ship and reset the nuclear reactor before it shuts down forever.  Payton monitors Bower’s progress via radio and tries to find a way to unlock the door to the bridge.

Bower comes across the pale-skinned creatures that are roaming around the ship, hunting down and eating any survivors they can find.   Are these space vampire or space zombies?  Neither.  They appear to be space cannibals who violently eat humans—or each other—into shreds.  Bower discovers two other crew members, Nadia (Antje Traue) and Manh (Cung Le), who had eked out a marginal existence of staying alive while avoiding the creatures.  Together they travel towards the nuclear reactor.  When they come across another survivor in a bolt hole, he recites how one member of the bridge crew reacted violently to Earth’s last transmission, taking on a Messiah complex, and exiling the other crew members into the ship, referring to the elaborately carved images into the metal panels like cave paintings that resembles the exile of humanity from Eden.  Of course, the survivor telling them the story posioned their water so he could have them stay for dinner as his dinner.  They convinced him that they would be his last dinner if the nuclear reactor shuts down to kill everyone aboard the ship.

Payton, meanwhile, discovers a crew member crawling in the ventilation shaft, Gallo (Cam Gigandet of “Twilight”), who was on the bridge when the last transmission from Earth came in.  Pandorum, as Payton explained to Bower earlier, is a psychological condition that sometimes effect crew members in deep space, introducing paranoia and homicidal rages.   The first ship sent to the Earth-like planet failed because a sick crew member took over the ship and jettisoned the hyper-sleep pods of 60,000 people into deep space.  When Payton confronts Gallo about what really happened to the ship, the Pandorum madness spirals out of control in a fight to the death.   Meanwhile, Bower resets the nuclear reactor with minutes to spare and comes under the influence of Pandorum when reaching the bridge.

The ending has several twists, some obvious and some obscure.  The most significant can easily be missed when the camera crosses over the mission time clock—924 years from launch—that explains the evolution of the cannibals from the exiled crew.  When the doors over the bridge windows are opened to reveal a dark void, the distinctive lifeforms swimming outside explains where the ship had landed.  Although Pandorum the disease nearly killed the mission again, the ship itself had completed the mission to bring humanity to a new planet.  Only 1,200 some odd survivors are left to restart humanity.

Cannibals in space is a subject rarely touched in science fiction. The closest example I can think of are the Reavers from the TV series,“Firefly,” who haunt the space ways looking for flesh to consume and decorate the outside of their ships with skeletons.  The only other science fiction series where the crew evolved was the TV series, “Red Dwarf,” where Cat is the humanoid descendent of a pregnant domesticated cat during the three million years sealed in the ship cargo hold.  This makes “Pandorum” a rather curious blend for a science fiction movie, less like “Alien” and “Event Horizon” in many ways.

Updated – Sunday, 20 March 2011: A newer blog post about Pandorum can be found here.