Friday, September 25, 2009


Ever since Alien set the bar for science fiction/horror films, movies have tried to cop the same terror in space feel, mostly falling well short of the mark, a few coming close. The latest contestant to step into the ring is today’s release Pandorum, starring Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster.

One hundred and fifty years in the future, Earth’s over-population and dwindling resources have left the planet a living hell. As wars rage over scarce resources and the sustainability of life collapses, a deep space probe discovers an Earth-like planet, which they name Tanis, far away. A large ship is constructed, which will bear 16,000 humans on a journey of more than a century. All will sleep in suspended animation except for members of the ship’s crew, who will wake up for a rotation of two years at a time.

The movie begins with one of the crew-members, Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) waking up from his cryogenic sleep. He is dazed and confused (one of the side effects of cryogenesis is a temporary memory loss, and the only way Bower knows his own name is it is printed on his sleep capsule. One other person awakes soon after, Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid). While Payton remains in the engineering module, trapped behind a locked door, Bower crawls out through the ventilation ducts to find out what is going on, and to free Payton. Once outside, he finds many of the capsules are mysteriously empty, and worse, strange, violent creatures are roaming the ship. Only a few humans are alive and awake, and they live on the run from the creatures.

Bower and Payton face other challenges. The ship’s reactor is about to go critical, and unless Bower can reach it to reset it, the ship will be destroyed. Also, Payton and Bower must grapple with the possibility one or both of them may be suffering from Pandorum, a psychological breakdown caused by low space flights, which results in paranoia, hallucinations, and ultimately murder.

Although Quaid is the top billed actor in the film, this is Ben Foster’s show. The character well portrayed by this excellent young actor (30 Days of Night, X-Men: The Last Stand) serves as the audiences’ point of view character. He is confused and trying desperately to grasp what is happening on the ship. We learn as he does, which makes this almost an interactive film. The movie also does a good job of capturing the claustrophobia that played such a large part in the success of Alien, as the characters are trapped in tight, dimly lit spaces.

I was a little disappointed in the zombie-ish creatures, but I suspect most people will be more satisfied. The twists at the end are a little predictable, but the ending is a much better resolution than say Event Horizon, which was two-thirds of a great movie spoiled somewhat by a weak ending.

A lot of people felt that Pandorum had a chance to be the best horror film of 2009. My opinion? It remains a definite contender, and I would advise you to see it for yourself.

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