Pandorum (2009 movie) review…

Pamdorum (2009 movie) review after the break…

Pandorum (2009 movie) review…

You can never blame film makers for wanting to involve their audiences in the movies that they make. After all, aren’t all industries engaged in the practice of giving their customers a better product? Movies started out being silent, filmed in grainy black & white. Wanted music? Get a good organist. Wanted dialog? Hire some stage actors to read the lines when they’re displayed on the screen.

Throughout the decades, we’ve had the privilege of experiencing movies evolve into color, gain sound, gain clarity and then heap decades of experience into special effects and camera wizardry that would have made futurists from the 1930s blush with hesitant caution. We may not know if the latest batch of 3D-enhanced films are here to stay – We were all so certain that 3D would become a permanent resident of our theaters in the 1950s and again in the 1980s and yet they vanished after only a few years of hype and marketing. Yet CGI, the ability to draw photo-realistic impossibilities onto the screen, seems firmly entrenched in the big budget films. One can only wonder if cinema’s latest darling, digital delivery of movies, will ever fulfill it’s optimistic promise of altering our movie-going experience forever or if it will be our modern-day equivalent of “Smell-O-Vision.”

One aspect of film making that has always fascinated me is how some films resemble video games more then video games themselves. Can anyone watch the 1986 sci-fi film “Aliens” and not see the first-person shooter genre that it partially inspired? Or how about the 1972 film “The Poseidon Adventure” and not see an old-style adventure game? The 1982 film “TRON” practically was a video game, trapped inside of a movie.

The above-mentioned films, though, had an excuse – They were released when computers were far more primitive. 1982 was a volatile time for computers, where one could enter a computer store and buy the exact same game for four very different computers. 1986 was only marginally better, both years marred in a world where one had to travel to an “arcade” (yes, kids, they really did exist) to see the latest graphical wizardry programmers could concoct.

What excuse do films nowaday have, nearly two decades after we have been blessed with state-of-the-arts computer gaming that gives us any style of gaming we want at any resolution? Want stereo sound? That hasn’t been a problem since the early 1990’s. First-person game play? “Ultima Underworld” and “Quake” are only few years shy of their 20th birthday. Computer games used to require artists to draw pretty pictures on boxes because the computer graphics were far too primitive to attractive prospective customers. Now, though, the exact opposite is true – Computer graphics are photo-realistic… They ARE the picture on the box.

So watching a modern-day movie like “Pandorum” is a bit of a paradox – The film is a bit limited because it IS a film and not a video game. It’s a great story, just in the wrong expressive medium.

“Pandorum” is about a colonizing space ship that has, apparently, hit a bit of a snag. Two crew members wake up to find the ship in complete disarray – There are monsters (or are they?) running about, the ship’s reactor is hours away from calamity and the few colonists who are both alive and awake don’t know how the events got this bad. To top it all off, one of the survivors isn’t as they seem…

Believe it or not, I enjoyed “Pandorum,” practically from start to finish. Perhaps that enjoyment of the movie is the old time gamer in me, always wanting to know what’s around that next corner and always hoping that there’s at least one more “level” in the game before the end. Although the premise is by no means fresh (Sorry, Pandorum, but both “Metamorphosis Alpha” and “The Starlost” beat you to that punch decades ago, along with a bunch of other intellectual properties too numerous to mention), the aliens by no means unique and even the “twist” (yes, sadly, there is one) is a tried-and-true shocker that’ll have some opening their mouths in shock even though true cinematic fans will see it coming from quite a ways away.

Personally, I don’t care that the main ingredients of the movie are stale – Are we to blame a newer recipe because it borrows the same ingredient used in making several older recipes? – I just enjoy that those ingredients were re-arranged in such a way as to give the entire movie a new flavor.

My personal disappointments with this film aren’t the traditional ones. The acting was completely fine, the set design completely competent, the sound effects and special effects quite adequate for this production. However, I was amazed that all of my disappointments were based on the fact that this film wanted to actually be a film.

First, I just didn’t care for the “twist.” I understand that the movie “The Sixth Sense” brought back the “twist” for modern audiences and caused that film to be a far greater success then it deserved. Nowadays, most films of this type have a twist and they usually devolve into some nonsense where everything you knew you didn’t know because of one simple new fact that you hadn’t learned yet. Big deal. I’d rather have a story crafted over a premise rather then crafted to achieve the maximum “Oh my Gosh!” factor that revealing a twist would bring. The twist in this film was silly, was distracting and simply was not necessary.

Second, the star of this entire franchise is the unique environment within this ship. Why, for the love of continuing this franchise, would you ever leave it? Why would you ever make an excuse to leave it? Read this carefully – Never get rid of the star of your movie. Sometimes the star of your movie is an actual actor or actress, sometimes it’s a particular type of actor (like an alien or a monster) and sometimes it’s a time period or unique setting. In the case of this film, the star of the movie is the spaceship, the unique setting, that this film is based on. Why would you ever abandon it unless you have an even more unique setting for it later on?

Finally, this film suffered from an action sequence and overall concept that, in my opinion, could have been completely cut from this film with nary a single loss. In the film, a human survivor must face a monster one-on-one. These monsters are brutal and so any human survivor who can hold their own for just a few moments with one of these beasts is quite the macho hombre indeed, never mind actually winning a fight. However, one event immediately during the aftermath of this fight left me thinking – The “payoff” from an earlier, rather pacifist message, is completely wasted here. It’s almost like the movie is saying, “This is what you’ll get for being lenient” when the movie tried stating only moments earlier to be lenient. Not exactly the most effective or clearest way to state your message.

These nitpicks, some larger then others, aside, the film was rather enjoyable and I’m disappointed that I will not be seeing anymore films from this franchise. I was led to believe that this was the first film out of a proposed three but the dismal showing at the box office for this film has all but scuttled those plans.

If I would suggest to the Powers That Be, though, that this premise would be pitch-perfect for a video game. In fact, this film bears more then a passing resemblance to the “System Shock” video game franchise, where an amnesiac hero must survive a spaceship full of monsters. Imagine this premise expanded to become a video game… Now that’s where the future of this intellectual property should be. Perhaps Hollywood’s loss should be Silicon Valley’s gain. Then again, the stage never quite regained it’s composure once the silver screen began to assert itself, either.

“Pandorum 2” for the PC? Now there’s a title I’d take a look at. For now, though, it wouldn’t do anyone any harm with watching the cinematic version. Let’s hope there’s more to come then simply a 2-hour film.

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