"a little fucking solidarity goes a long way."

so…pandorum.

first of all, lets get one thing straight. *ahem**kofkof*: sunshine, 30 days of night, alien, aliens, city of lost children, alien: resurrection, pitch black, the abyss.

and this is just a partial list of the movies that pandorum is really really obviously “inspired” by. there’s a couple others that i know are out there but i can’t quite put my finger on it. if i think about it a bit more, i’m sure they’ll come to me.

i heard some really bad reviews of pandorum when it first came out that put me off seeing it in the theatres; had i realised that paul w.s. anderson co-wrote it, i would have had more faith. i know that this anderson — there’s another paul anderson out there in the film-making field — isn’t exactly “flavor of the month” for a lot of genre fans, but i think he generally turns in pretty solid, watchable work. occasionally it wanders into the bizarre, but, hey, you fire him off a franchise and you get shit like the 3rd resident evil and the 2nd alien vs. predator. the man knows how to put together your basic summer blockbuster.

mostly.

so the rough outline of pandorum might be described as follows: huge spaceship out in the middle of nowhere. we get a very sketchy fill of recent past history: the earth is vastly overpopulated and dying. population is shoved onto said giant spaceship and sent off to colonize — and probably destroy in the fullness of time but whatever — a new planet discovered out in some immeasurably distant galaxy called tanis. of course, the shit is going to hit the fan here in some pretty big ways, right? it’s just a matter of when, how, and precisely how much.

the squishy brown matter begins to strike the rotating blades when an unidentified crew member — ben foster — wakes up suddenly and unexpectedly from hypersleep. he finds himself in a powered down, cold, dark ship he only vaguely remembers. he doesn’t know his own name, what he’s supposed to be doing, how to do much of anything. as time passes and we wander around the ship with him, his memory comes back — but he very quickly realises that he’s stuck in a pretty small room. he knows — rather vaguely — that there’s a lot more ship out there and that things aren’t supposed to be like this — but he can’t really make anything work and he doesn’t know what to do.

when another crew member — dennis quaid — wakes up, the problems begin to multiply pretty quickly. the ship’s nuclear reactor is working and powering the ship — a little spasmodically — but it’s set to go critical in a few hours; the other crewmembers are all missing, the door to the bridge and the door to the outside world are both locked — but there are signs someone’s been trying to force their way out. neither of the two men remember doing it — but someone must have.

get the idea?

it’s a pretty straightforward closed system monster movie; experienced fans of the genre will more or less be able to count out the beats in the pattern: one two three four — discover near-feral ex-crew member — one two three four — get attacked by unrecognizable weird-ass monsters — one two three four — discover weirdly mutilated corpses…

so pandorum definitely doesn’t do anything in the way of bringing brand new ideas into the genre or reinventing the space-going monster idea. the monsters themselves are — competent and there are some great actors inside the suits doing some of the posturing and body language that makes them alarming if not outright frightening. but, really, they’re just peter jackson’s orcs crossed with joss whedon’s reavers. there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before and once you realise that they work to basically human logic — no funky extra limbs, strange powers, magic extra sets of jaws — they’re not too intimidating. so they like to hunt people, drag them down, and eat them alive. who hasn’t had a bad monday, right?

so if the monsters are no big draw, why keep watching? well, what’s interesting here is the attempt to create a meta-story around whether or not the monsters are real. and what’s really happening on the ship.

as foster’s character goes deeper and deeper into the ship in an attempt to reach the reactor and reset it to not blow the ship to hell, he meets up with other survivors of past crews who give him insight into other views of the ship and other views of what has happened to it.

meanwhile, back in our original locked room, quaid has drawn another survivor to him — a shocked, naked boy tumbles out of the ventilation duct, gabbling about monsters and having had to “do” something. as time passes — and the monster narrative really goes nowhere interesting; there are some suggestions that it might, but it doesn’t so don’t get your hopes up — the interesting story is happening inside the skulls of foster and quaid. and maybe this new survivor — cam gigandet displaying some nice scenery-chewing chops — or maybe not. the survivor might be psychotic. or quaid might be. or foster might be — if he isn’t when he starts, he sure as hell might be by the time he finishes!

the special effects are good but really what kept me sitting here rather than hitting “back to browse” or reading a book were quaid, gigandet, and foster. and i’m impressed by a movie where there’s a sidekick character who speaks no english (cung le as manh — i don’t actually know what he was speaking). and where the female character — although the only one and something of a defacto token — can take and deal damage on a level usually restricted to the hero or at the very least to male characters. antje traue (nadia) does an excellent job of being an independent, self-motivated character with only the occasional slide into t&a. she takes on a final confrontation with quaid — in a revelation scene i won’t spoiler — with guts and style.

quaid and gigandet, particularly, help to hold the middle part of the movie together. gigandet goes from being a quivering sack of shock-ridden jelly to…well, lets just say someone with a lot more self-control in a very interesting way. i think ben foster could have picked up the ball a little more; there are definitely more than a few scenes he sleepwalks through rather than taking them and shaking them until their little necks break as he did in 30 days of night, but where he does pick it up and go, he goes well.

so, yes, don’t go in with huge expectations; go in for a competent gore-party (it isn’t a fest; it mostly isn’t that bloody) and i’d say it’s worth the hour and a half. there are bits that get a little draggy, but i think it’s worth it to see quaid and gigandet face off.

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