Pandorum

I watched Pan­do­rum over the course of a cou­ple of days this past week1. I real­ly had­n’t seen or read a lot about the film, oth­er than a trail­er and a very short inter­view with Den­nis Quaid on Leno (or some evening talk show). I was­n’t real­ly sure what to expect; but what­ev­er I was expect­ing, this film was­n’t quite it.

Need­less to say, this is going to be filled with spoil­ers. You have been warned.

This poster of Pan­do­rum makes sense. The one with the wiring in the man’s arm does not. The lat­ter per­haps let to some of my mis­placed expec­ta­tions.

The film is real­ly like two sci­fi films spliced togeth­er, with only a min­i­mal attempt and bring the sto­ries back togeth­er at the end. This, I think, was where I felt most dis­ap­point­ed in the film. And I mean dis­ap­point­ed. I real­ly want­ed to love this movie. The act­ing is real­ly quite good, I thought. Quaid gave one of his stronger per­for­mances in some time2. I real­ly liked Ben Fos­ter as Bow­er. I could­n’t help but think that he remind­ed of a younger Edward Nor­torn; and that is a very good thing. Cam Gigan­det was tru­ly un-nerv­ing as Gal­lo and one of the high­lights of the movie. The remain­der of the cast were strong and all of the action was believ­able 3.

As a tech­ni­cal effort, this film tru­ly shows off the Ger­man film indus­try exceed­ing­ly well and cred­it should be giv­en because almost all scenes employ phys­i­cal sets and real actors & mon­sters. That’s a rar­i­ty in the age of hyper-real CG films like Avatar; and this film looks great. I’ll cer­tain­ly be watch­ing direc­tor Alvart’s oth­er films and would love to see him write/ direct more sci­ence fic­tion. If any were to be set of the plan­et of Tanis in the 32nd cen­tu­ry, all the bet­ter.

But at the end of the film, I felt emp­ty. I want­ed some­thing more out of this movie that I real­ly want­ed to like. It sort of stayed with me for the past few days. Name­ly, what I think this movie real­ly need­ed was one strong plot. Instead, it had two weak ones.

In plot A, we have the pro­tag­o­nist who rep­re­sents san­i­ty and human­i­ty fight­ing hordes of mon­sters4 with a few sur­vivors to reach a goal and return. It is pret­ty clas­sic scifi/ horror/ apocalypse/ sur­vival stuff. There’s noth­ing wrong with that genre and this film does a mod­est effort at that.

In plot B, we have a phys­i­o­log­i­cal thriller as we try and fig­ure out which of two char­ac­ters tru­ly suf­fers from Pan­do­rum (aka — space mad­ness), either the good Lt. Pay­ton or the edgy Gal­lo. We soon find what pass­es as the sto­ry’s one nov­el twist in this plot line. That is, that they are Tyler Dur­den.

Some Issues

Pan­do­rum’s treat­ment of hyper-sleep for sub-light speed space trav­el is sci­fi gold and is right­ly used to advance the plot (both of them, actu­al­ly). From the grog­gi­ness and “mild” mem­o­ry loss to the absolute gross clean­ing off of hun­dreds of years worth of shed skin5, it all real­ly helped to give Pan­do­rum a bit of its own style right from the begin­ning. It said to me that the writer and direc­tor had thought about this and were going to show us their own vision here. It real­ly helps to set why a lot of these events unfold and was a bit of bril­liance; and I real­ly hate to see that not play out in the end.

We see the psy­cho­log­i­cal effects of deep space trav­el as well, in the form of the film’s name­sake ill­ness. We get a school-book expla­na­tion from Pay­ton ear­ly on as Bow­er asks about him about it. Lat­er, we seen both men seem­ing to suf­fer from some of the symp­toms. How­ev­er, oth­er than some weird looks and what we can only assume are hal­lu­ci­na­tions on the part of Bow­er, his issues are nev­er real­ly explored (Pay­ton’s & Gal­lo’s are pret­ty well explained in full, bad guy mono­logue style). The polar­i­ty of Bow­er and Payton/Gallo as human­i­ty ver­sus insan­i­ty real­ly could have been bet­ter dealt with in the film’s cli­max. We’re left with a sense of con­fu­sion. What caused Bow­er to be able to over­come the ill­ness? What strug­gles did he face in doing so? Sim­ply hav­ing him shake it off seems a bit weak for the ill­ness which so impor­tant the film was named after it. Oth­er­wise, we could have called the movie Space Mutant Hunters.

The biggest fail­ure in terms of sto­ry is tying the two pro­tag­o­nists togeth­er in some mean­ing­ful way: Payton/Gallo and the mutant hunters. Just to say that Gal­lo slept and the hunters evolved is like try­ing to assume the but­ter­fly effect as a plot device. Sure there may have been some domi­noes from one that result­ed in the oth­er, but why not give us a bit more of a con­crete rela­tion­ship? This would have woven the two plot lines togeth­er, instead of just lick­ing the back of one and hop­ing it stays on the oth­er.

Some Suggestions

So, what would I have done dif­fer­ent­ly? I mean, after all, I’m just throw­ing spit­balls if I don’t offer some­thing con­struc­tive, right?

I think the reac­tor core should have been relat­ed to hunter mutants in a more con­crete fash­ion. There seems to be no ratio­nal as to why they all sleep there. It may be a trite sci­fi con­ven­tion to claim that expo­sure to radi­a­tion caus­es rapid (and often hor­rif­ic, back­wards) evo­lu­tion, but it isn’t so com­mon­place that it can just be assumed (if that is even what has hap­pened here). So, in very clear terms we should state to the view­ers that the ship decid­ed to wake Bow­er up specif­i­cal­ly for his exper­tise with radi­a­tion leaks in reac­tor cores (most of the flight crew are dead, so the ship has to wake up the one spe­cial­ist it has left). Unbe­known to the ship and to Bow­er, some of the pas­sen­gers clos­er to the core who were wok­en by Gal­lo cen­turies ear­li­er began to get sick (Pan­do­rum!) nev­er went back to sleep nor­mal­ly. They began to try to use pow­er from the reac­tor core, but instead dam­aged it. After gen­er­a­tions (and hav­ing been giv­en the evo­lu­tion-enhanc­ing drugs for set­tlers), they devolved into the hunters we see today. They live near the reac­tor core as they have learned that it mutates their off­spring faster, mak­ing them more effec­tive hunters.

As I said, the hunters and Payton/Gallo need a more con­crete rela­tion­ship, as well. Since it is stat­ed that Gal­lo tried to act like a god, why have the hunters wor­ship him as such. Fear of him and his whims is one of the few human-like thoughts they have passed on. The reac­tor core room could be strewn with cave mark­ings (as opposed to the can­ni­bal cook’s cham­ber) telling this sto­ry, which serves to tip off Bow­er6. In fact, they could see him as the destroy of Earth since he deliv­ered the mes­sage to their ances­tors and revere him as a hunter of whole worlds. To what­ev­er extent the hunters revere him, in the final encounter with Payton/Gallo, the hunters can be sneak­ing in and just when Bow­er thinks they’ll do in Payton/Gallo for him, they refuse to and begin advanc­ing on Bow­er. This would ad a huge lev­el of fear for the pro­tag­o­nists as now both the antag­o­nists are work­ing togeth­er. Water & eject­ing in a sleep pod due to hull breach would still be an accept­able end to stop­ping these unstop­pable vil­lains of the sto­ry.

Also, as stat­ed ear­li­er, see­ing the dif­fer­ence in how Pan­do­rum affect­ed both Bow­er and Pay­ton would have been sat­is­fy­ing. It would have made it clear to us the kind of strug­gles that both went through but only Bow­er could over­come. I think if Pay­ton (while in his right mind) had giv­en Bow­er the advice which allows him to over­come bits of anxiety/ Pandorum/ space-mad­ness; but that Pay­ton him­self doesn’t/didn’t fol­low when he is Gal­lo. This would tie the two char­ac­ters togeth­er while set­ting their paths apart in the sto­ry.

I would also have liked to have seen the symp­toms of Pan­do­rum, specif­i­cal­ly the vivid hal­lu­ci­na­tions aspect, play a lit­tle more promi­nent­ly into the sto­ry for Bow­er. Clear­ly, the hal­lu­ci­na­tions were a major com­po­nent of Payton/Gallo’s sto­ry. So why should Bow­er only see one such hal­lu­ci­na­tion for a short peri­od at the cli­max of the film? Were more of his inter­ac­tions actu­al­ly hal­lu­ci­na­tions; maybe even ones which he and oth­er human sur­vivors shared? Not to go all deus ex machi­na here, but what if the whole hunter prob­lem is just a shared hal­lu­ci­na­tion brought on by para­noia and hal­lu­ci­na­tions of wak­ing crew? Per­haps Pan­do­rum isn’t a rare ill­ness at all, but in fact the norm when a human has been in sus­pend­ed ani­ma­tion for cen­turies? Just seems like a host of missed oppor­tu­ni­ties here in terms of ways to lever­age what set this sto­ry apart; all giv­en up in favor of the mutant attack movie.

Last­ly, while I appre­ci­at­ed the hunters, I think the at some lev­el detract­ed from the strong part of the sto­ry. Too much screen time was spent on them when the tru­ly nov­el ele­ments of the sto­ry were left for us to guess at. Though it pains to me to say it, I’d have actu­al­ly rather had less killer mutant hordes in this film (and I am indeed a huge fan of killer mutant hordes, to be for sure). Instead, I’d rather seen more on the inter­nal and human/human con­flicts.

This notion struck me as a laid down to sleep the evening after hav­ing fin­ished watch­ing Pan­do­rum. It was­n’t the hunters that made me take that one last glace over my shoul­der before going to sleep. It was the thought of Gal­lo creep­ing up behind me. That’s a great vil­lain.

And there it is. Some of the rea­sons of why I felt like this movie gar­nered three out of five stars. I want­ed to real­ly like it, but could­n’t shake the nag­ging feel­ing that in the enor­mous effort to craft such a well-styled film that much of the plot ele­ments got left in the direc­tor’s note­book or on the edit­ing room floor. It is a good sci­fi film and worth the time of any fan of the genre, just the same.

Note: I haven’t done a film review on this site in quite a long time and I sin­cere­ly regret doing so. I hope to get back into that and often it is a book or film such as this — where I felt that it fell just short of being great — that moti­vates me to do so.

  1. It’s real­ly not Ange­la’s sort of movie, so I watched it over the course of two lunch breaks. One of the perks of work­ing from home, I sup­pose. []
  2. Though, giv­en that this film came out around the same time as G.I. Joe, that’s a real­ly low per­son­al bar. I haven’t seen Legion, but I’m also not hear­ing any­thing pos­i­tive there, either. []
  3. Noth­ing ruins fight scenes like bad wire work for me. This film has some aer­i­al, Hong Kong style fight­ing and it is all done well and blends into the film. []
  4. The mon­sters are essen­tial­ly the Reavers from Firefly/Serenity with a bit of orcs from Lord of the Rings thrown in to make them seem a bit more alien. That being said, they are creepy as hell and work well. []
  5. Not that I’m want­i­ng to be over­ly picky here, but how could Bow­er have had a thick sheet of skin to pull off and only the kind of beard I grow in a few weeks. I’d have gone with a crazy beard and hair. []
  6. Instead, we have Pay­ton’s wife. A mem­o­ry of a char­ac­ter who is nev­er explained, nor — for that mat­ter — is Pay­ton. Why is Gal­lo in his cham­ber? He sort of has to be for the sto­ry and yet I don’t recall any expla­na­tion of who Pay­ton was or why Gal­lo would end up there. []

Five Fun Things Friday — Mid-April Edition

Oh, to have blogged in so long and only to come back with a measly list of fluff. Well, some­thing’s bet­ter than noth­ing, right?

I’ve been on a rather ram­pant fan­ta­sy kick as of late:

  1. “Dun­geons & Drag­ons” — That ven­er­a­ble fan­ta­sy RPG lost one of it’s founders last month. How­ev­er, not to be stopped, a new 4th edi­tion of the rules are being pub­lished in June. D&D has def­i­nite­ly come up out of Mom’s base­ment, show­ered, and decid­ed that hang­ing out with some of the cool kids isn’t so bad, after all. This, along with the fact that nerds are now cool, might just make for a renais­sance of table-top gam­ing.
  2. “Drag­onlance” — When I was a kid, “Drag­onlance” was the coolest D&D set­ting (at least to my pal, TJ, and I — he even had the cam­paign book). An ani­mat­ed film was released to DVD in Jan­u­ary of the first of the orig­i­nal tril­o­gy of nov­els. You know, the sort of the thing that every kid dreams about as they read fan­ta­sy nov­els at age 12? Ah, even at that age, I’d have under­stood just how bad this adap­ta­tion was. I was depressed but hap­pened upon a fan­tas­tic graph­ic nov­el by Dev­il’s Due Pub­lish­ing of the same series of nov­els made me almost com­plete­ly for­get what an awful film Drag­ons of Autumn Twi­light was. I even picked up a new nov­el by the same authors, which so far has been quite enjoy­able.
  3. Krull — Speak­ing of D&D and my child­hood (the two of which are pret­ty close­ly linked), I learned from IMDb that the 80’s fan­ta­sy film Krull was orig­i­nal­ly to be the first offi­cial “Dun­geons & Drag­ons” movie. I went back and watched it and too things struck me: A) it does­n’t real­ly resem­ble D&D at all and B) it was­n’t near­ly as good a movie as I remem­bered it being (Great way to start a career, there, Liam Nee­son!). Then I real­ized that pret­ty much all movies based on D&D have been awful: Krull, Dun­geons & Drag­ons, Drag­ons of Autumn Twi­light. When a movie by the Sci­Fi chan­nel is the best of the back, that’s just plain sad. I think Wiz­ards of the Coast should encour­age a TV series, instead. Bet­ter yet: more graph­ic nov­els.
  4. Graph­ic Nov­els — Hav­ing read the graph­ic nov­el of Drag­ons of Win­ter Night, I went in search of more graph­ic nov­els to feed my end­less need for sci­fi and fan­ta­sy. Oh boy, did I find them: Aliens, Preda­tors, Aliens vs. Preda­tors, Conan the Bar­bar­ian, G.I. Joe… okay that last one isn’t real­ly sci­fi, but did I men­tion child­hood nos­tal­gia? Maybe that’s a bet­ter theme here. Any­way, I’ve been on a graph­ic nov­el kick and, despite it being a rather pricey habit, it has been very reward­ing. A lot of these real­ly rep­re­sent some great com­ic book art­form and I’ve deter­mined are often my best hope for amaz­ing fan­ta­sy visu­als, grip­ping plot­lines, and epic char­ac­ters. They sure as hell aren’t to be found in any of the movies.
my fantasy audiobook collection in iTunes
  1. Audio­books — Last­ly, I’ve also been on some­thing of an audio­book habit (more posts to fol­low on this sub­ject). I was able to find some real­ly great audio­books by R. A. Sal­va­tore and Michael Moor­cock; two men who write about trou­bled anti-heroes with long, white hair. I even found audio­books for that orig­i­nal Drag­onlance tril­o­gy I men­tioned. There’s just one draw­back to the audio­books: I used to lis­ten to these (along with pod­casts) on my com­mute. Now that I hard­ly dri­ve at all, it’s going to me for­ev­er to lis­ten to them all!

Well, before you give me a wedgie and shove inside my lock­er along side my Play­er’s Man­u­al, I should also say that I’ve been enjoy­ing Sea­son Two of The Wire, as well as all this fan­ta­sy stuff. Per­haps that explains it: I need­ed some­thing whim­si­cal and out-of-this-world to bal­ance out the dark, grit­ty nature of a show like the The Wire. At least, that’s why I keep telling myself.

Text Adventure Documentary Film

When I was a kid, I played just about every com­put­er text adven­ture game I could get my hands on. I did try to play one of those graph­i­cal D&D games, but it nev­er seemed to run very well on my VTech Laser128 (an Apple II clone). How­ev­er, the text adven­ture games seemed to have so much more wit to them. I think it was very much a result of the games’ authors being required to focus on sto­ry and find cre­ative respons­es to all the crazy sorts of input that play­ers would be sure to enter. I mean, did­n’t we all instruct our brave adven­tur­er to “pick nose” at some point?

So, I was real­ly excit­ed to see the trail­er for Get Lamp, a doc­u­men­tary film about the text adven­ture game. Check it out. Of course, this is about as Indy as inde­pen­dent films get and the film mak­er isn’t too sure when he’s going to release it — you’ll just have to sign up for the e‑mail list.

And if you’ve nev­er played a game like this, or just for­got how fun they were, then why don’t you go play Zork for a while? Don’t for­get your trusty map:

Hand drawn map of Zork I

…and if you’ve got a more recent ver­sion of OS X installed (like me), then you can no longer play the copy of Zork you down­loaded from Info­com’s web­site. You can still install the Zork engine and play via the Ter­mi­nal. How­ev­er, if you’re too lazy to do that (also like me), you can still play a web-based ver­sion at iFic­tion.

You are standing in an open field...