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. []

AudioBook Builder

I have learned that there is some­thing about the mac that makes for real­ly nice, easy soft­ware. It’s sort of a cross between a Unix ethos (that is, pro­grams that do just one thing and do them real­ly well) and an Apple ethos (it just works). One fair­ly sim­ple task that, in prac­tice, is a huge pain is con­cate­nat­ing .mp3 files togeth­er to cre­ate an audio­book (typ­i­cal­ly an .m4b file1). I had found a few scripts and such to do this sort of thing, but all were mul­ti-step process­es and often did­n’t pro­duce the results I want­ed (at least not for the effort I had put into them).

Enter Audio­book Builder by Splasm Soft­ware. In a nut­shell, it sim­ply col­lects audio files togeth­er and then puts them in a sin­gle, com­pressed .m4b file. Now, it does have a few more bells and whis­tles avail­able along the process, but the stan­dard process is as easy as:

  1. Name and option­al cov­er art.
  2. Add the audio files, like­ly from .mp3 or from rip­ping a CD right into Audio­book Builder.
  3. Click Build Audiobook.

Which are the steps laid out on the three main but­tons along the bot­tom of the win­dow. Once the pro­gram is fin­ished (and it might take a while), the fin­ished audio­book is added into iTunes for you.

Creating an audiobook of Wicked using Audiobook Builder

One of the first uses I had for the soft­ware was to put the 13 CDs of Gre­go­ry Maguire’s “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” for Angela. She had pur­chased this to lis­ten to on our move down from Rich­mond. For­tu­nate­ly, the audio­book being near­ly 20 hours, she did­n’t have time to fin­ish dur­ing that dri­ve (long as it was). Plus, with 13 CDs to fool with, hav­ing it all on an iPod seemed like a bet­ter way to have the con­tent, any­way.

As I described above, there’s not much to it. Insert­ing 13 discs for the rip­ping process was­n’t much fun, but all of that is done right with­in Audio­book Builder, so there’s no pro­gram switch­ing or hunt­ing for files. The only task that I did out­side of the pro­gram was go to Amazon.com to get the cov­er art and meta-tag infor­ma­tion.

I do have a cou­ple of com­plaints about Audio­book Builder. First, I’d like to be able to add more meta-data than what is cur­rent­ly pos­si­ble. I would rec­om­mend some sort of Add more info… but­ton on the first screen. Sec­ond­ly, you con­trol the indi­vid­ual file length2 by means of a slid­er in the Pref­er­ences dia­log. I find myself fid­dling with this a lot as I want to bal­ance file length num­ber of files. I think that there could be two options, with­in the third screen, for either lim­it­ing length of files or num­ber of files. I change this for every sin­gle audio­book I cre­ate, and try dif­fer­ent lengths for each, as well. Hav­ing to go to the Pref­er­ences dia­log each time is fair­ly cum­ber­some.

Ever want­ed to read some clas­sics? Well, go get the vol­un­teer-read files from Lib­rivox and put them togeth­er in Audio­book Builder (I’ve got the first half of Don Quixote already done, even with chap­ter art­work added with­in Audio­book Builder). For $9.95, this pro­gram is a steal even if you have even a cou­ple of CD audio­books lay­ing around. Rip ’em, and then donate them to your pub­lic library. Then you don’t have to wor­ry about them tak­ing up space and some­one else can get to lis­ten to them.

  1. The .m4b is a rel­a­tive­ly com­mon for­mat asso­ci­at­ed with audio­books. Most play­ers know to remem­ber the last stop­ping point on these files, which alone is impor­tant enough to mer­it using on a 6‑hour long file. []
  2. It would be nice if you had exact con­trol over the length of files, but basi­cal­ly it is real­ly set­ting an upper lim­it. Audio­book builder won’t split indi­vid­ual files that you have added or ripped into it, as it has no way of know­ing if the split is in an appro­pri­ate spot or not — most­ly like­ly not. []