Pandorum (2009)

Pandorum ReviewReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Ben Foster, Dennis Quaid, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Cam Gigandet, Eddie Rouse, Norman Reedus

Directed by Christian Alvart

Paul WS Anderson may have only served as a producer on Pandorum, but in many ways director Christian (Case 39) Alvart and co-writer Travis Milloy have crafted the ultimate Paul WS Anderson tribute film. Set entirely aboard an interstellar spaceship and containing speeches about man giving in to his evil side, Pandorum brings to mind Event Horizon. Also, like Resident Evil, there is a lone female fighter that comes to the rescue played by an attractive Eastern European brunette, and unraveling the plot’s mysteries requires characters with amnesia to get their memories back. The monsters run like Aliens and have developed a tribal hunting society reminiscent of the Predators, not to mention the humans being hunted by them are in an enclosed maze-like environment. Let’s not forget the kung fu à la Mortal Kombat. And those are just the Paul WS Anderson movies Pandorum will remind you of. There are numerous other genre films I could list that it apes as well.

Pandorum isn’t all that bad. It’s a perfectly middle-of-the-road genre flick not quite worthwhile enough to wholeheartedly recommend. The production values are first-rate and the performances of Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid elevate material that is constantly threatening to veer off completely into the hackneyed doldrums of Paul WS Anderson-ness. Even though I never found myself feeling scared, the film gave off a vibe that made me feel like I was watching a movie based on a survival horror video game more so than any other movie I have seen that actually was based on a survival horror video game.

The year is 2174. Earth is in crisis due to overpopulation and warfare. Humanity is looking for a new planet to call home. Bower (30 Days of Night‘s Ben Foster) awakens aboard the spaceship “Elysium” with little memory as to who he is, where he’s at, or how long he’s been out. That’s because people that awaken from “hyper sleep” after several years tend to wake up with memory loss. Sometimes it comes back to them fast; sometimes it takes months for them to remember everything. He knows he’s the ship’s engineer and there is something wrong with the reactor that needs fixing.

A superior officer, Payton (Dennis Quaid), also awakens from hyper sleep and stays behind at the control module in the back of the ship while Bower sets out to kick start the reactor. A good portion of Quaid’s role early on will consist mainly of radioing Bower to check on his progress. Take a drink every time Dennis Quaid asks something along the lines of, “Bower, can you hear me? Respond.”

The story of Pandorum tries to work as a sci-fi mystery; pieces of the puzzle come together bit-by-bit as memories return and the two happen upon surviving crew members, such as the attractive knife-wielding female of the Milla Jovovich variety that begrudgingly assists Bower and Payton contending with a frightened officer (Cam Gigandet of Twilight and Never Back Down) displaying what might be signs of pandorum – a form of space-induced dementia that turns cosmonauts into dangerously delusional paranoids.

The mind games between Quaid and Gigandet – him trying to convince Payton that he’s actually the one suffering from pandorum and is going to get them all killed if he doesn’t listen to reason – display more intensity than anything involving Bower and the others running away from and fighting the savage monsters that now prowl the vessel. But the pay-off for those tense moments is where Pandorum finally lost me.

I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers in this review, and I’m going to try and keep it that way. Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the one aspect of the plot that bugged me most. If someone suffers from pandorum and they put themselves back into hyper sleep and then come out of it with the memory loss, wouldn’t that person still be crazy from the moment they woke up and not have to wait until their mind remembers that they’ve gone crazy? Let me put it this way. If I took a delusional maniac, I’m talking someone who has had a violent mental breakdown to the point of needing straitjackets and rubber rooms, and put that schizoid in hyper sleep, when he wakes up, is he going to be a perfectly rational sane human being until his memories come back and his brain suddenly remembers, oh, that’s right – I’m insane? That’s kind of what happens here, and I just didn’t buy into it and, thusly, that is a big part of the reason almost the entire resolution to the film left me feeling unsatisfied.

I know this might sound like a strange analogy, but have you ever microwaved a Hot Pocket for too long and the filling began to ooze out? That’s kind of how I felt about this film in the end. Overstuffed – trying to do too much, especially during the third act – and certainly overcooked; I firmly believe Pandorum would have benefited greatly from having been 10-15 minutes shorter.

The carnivorous creatures stalking the cramped corridors of the sprawling “Elysium” look like someone crossbred the monsters from The Descent with the Orcs from Lord of the Rings. Whatever they are and wherever they came from (another mystery to be solved), these inhumanoids function like a primitive tribe with weapons and armaments comprised of metal found aboard the ship. They hunt for food like feral Predators. They feast on flesh like slightly more sophisticated CHUDs.

And they know kung fu.

It was a little hard not to roll my eyes a bit when the main monster tosses the Asian agriculturalist kung fu warrior (played by mixed martial arts champion Cung Lee) a spear so the two of them can have a fair fight – a fight choreographed like the big mano-a-monster slugfest at the end of Predator had Predator been produced in Hong Kong and with Yuen Biao in the Schwarzenegger role. Paul WS Anderson may have only produced, but his fingerprints are all over Pandorum.

2 1/2 out of 5

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  • Morgan Elektra

    I have to disagree with Foy on this one. I really enjoyed Pandorum quite a bit. While there were some areas I wished they had spent more time on – like Bower’s memory returning and what exactly happened after the final Earth message and how other people had adjusted to waking up, I did think what they had was interesting and entertaining. Aside from the too rapid editing when the creatures where around, the film had a good look, a decent sense of atmosphere and tension. And the creatures (which are given at least a hint of explanation) did LOOK cool, though reminiscent of the crawlers from Descent, even if they weren’t quite used to the best advantage after the beginning scenes.

    Overall, not perfect but very entertaining and worth the ticket price. I’d give it a 3.5/5… Although Ben Foster makes me want to give it 4/5. I love that man.

  • Spaceshark

    Did no one die from hallway lasers? Did no one!?

  • ambear913

    I saw this movie at an advanced screening on Thursday night (odd an average joe got a screening and critics didn’t). I have to agree with all the criticism in DC’s review. I thought the whole movie felt like a hyped-up SyFy original with a slightly higher budget. One thing that drove me crazy throughout the film was that whenever the power went out or needed a boost you could just wind it up like a Jack-in-the-box. Rife with unintentional comedy! Also, to explain Pandorum in a netshell just watch the episode of Ren & Stimpy – Space Madness!

    • Uncle Creepy

      Not odd at all. When a film comes out with without press screenings they usually hold a Thursday screening only that’s open to press and not industry. Hollywood moves in mysterious ways.

  • Rottenjesus

    When one of the main selling points of this movie is “From the makers of the RESIDENT EVIL films” you knew there was going to be an incoming cinematic shitstorm.