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Pandorum (2009)

Don't fear the end of the world. Fear what happens next.

Directed by:

Christian Alvart

Running Time: 108 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: Germany, United States

Sci-fi movies have been experiencing a bit of a resurgence lately—Surrogates was OK, District 9 was great, and Moon should win Sam Rockwell an award somewhere—and Pandorum, which has its moments but isn’t really treading any new territory, falls somewhere in the middle of that list.

It all starts when astronauts Bower (Ben Foster) and Payton (Dennis Quaid) wake up on a spaceship from what turns out to have been years of hyper-sleep, only to discover they have no memory of who they are, where they are, or what their mission is. Slowly, though, as they explore their surroundings—and themselves—they begin to gain some insight into their identities and situation. They also realize they’re not as alone as they first believed, and their search for what the heck they’re doing turns into a quest to survive.

While not necessarily original, Pandorum feels more like an homage to classics like 2001 and the Alien series than it does a rip-off. Sure the whole “alone in space” motif has been done to death, but it’s not always a sign of weakness to use a tried and true element of a story to create your own, which is what Pandorum does. Director Christian Alvert not only has a believable hero is Foster’s Bower, he does some nifty things with atmosphere and timing, and the balance between a linear race-against-time-to-get-to-the-reactor juxtaposed against an “Is he?/Isn’t he?” debate over if one or more of the main guys is going mad from the crazy-making Pandorum disease lends an uneasy suspense to an otherwise decent but rote space tale.

Then there’s that girl. I think her name was Nadia (Antje Traue), and besides a scene early on where she munches on a grasshopper, she’s basically unremarkable save for an accent that reminded me of Valeria Golino from the Hot Shots! movies—though I suppose she’s there to give the boys something to ogle. Some of the chases are also drawn out to almost excruciating length, and a good 20 minutes could have been shaved off the finished product to provide a tighter—and ultimately more suspenseful—sense of urgency. Don’t get me wrong—there’s a dark, claustrophobic look to most of this film that gives it a feeling of being stuck in space (or wherever), and the camerawork by famed German cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff takes away the shiny sterility of space and makes us feel like it’s a little gritty and gloomy amongst the technological advances—but it’s that same look that grows a little tedious as time goes on and we see the what seems like the same chase scene a few times. For sci-fi fans, though, it’s a little like a GOOD Hugh Grant romantic comedy—you know what to expect for the most part, but it’s an entertaining road to get there.

It's Got: A creepy look, some good effects and creatures, above average performances from Foster and Quaid

It Needs: To cut down on some of the chasing, a better female "lead," a little less strobe-light-esque flashing

Alternatives:

2001, Alien, Moon, The Descent

Summary

Nothing we haven’t seen before, Pandorum is still a suspenseful take on the “lost in space” theme that sci-fi fans will enjoy.

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