Sunday, May 16, 2010


You would think that the science fiction and horror movie genres would be mixed together more often.  The core audience for both genres are roughly the same, right?  However, I can only think of a few films (notably Alien and maybe I am Legend) that actually have a hefty dose of both horror and sci-fi.  This might be due to the fact that it's easier to write a horror movie about dumb teens being way too curious about a creepy basement abandoned house murder factory for their own good than it is to write a script that has monsters and takes the time to logically plan out a future world or spaceship or whatever.  I like the idea of the sci-fi/horror hybrid, though, because a well-executed hybrid has a lot of potential.  So, with an optimistic heart, I watched Pandorum.

The movie starts out just fine.  Despite the credits, Ben Foster is the lead actor in the movie and Dennis Quaid plays a key supporting role.  Both men awaken from some sort of hibernation sleep to find themselves in a spaceship.  They don't remember their names, their jobs, what ship they are on, or why they are there.  Details start to come back to them, but only small details, and they come very slowly.  The only thing they do know is that there should be other people around, helping them get their bearings, but there are not.  The room the men awoke in is sealed off from the rest of the ship and the ship is experiencing frequent power surges.  Foster realizes that he is a technical somethingorother for the ship, so he has to find his way to the reactor core to reboot the ship's reactor and get power everywhere.  So far, it's a little dry, but there is a mystery established: what happened and where is everybody?  Ben Foster's pretty good and Dennis Quaid is the same character he plays in every movie.  Not fantastic stuff, but not a bad start.

Things start to get worse quickly.  Foster has to climb through some ventilation ducts that seem to have a lot of foam "We're No. 1" hands growing in them.  At this point, Foster asks Quaid over their walkie-talkie about the symptoms of Pandorum.  Hey...that's the movie's title!  It must be important!  Pandorum is basically the space version of cabin fever, where paranoia and homicidal aggression meet and cause ordinary folks to go crazy.  Symptoms include hands tremors (which both Foster and Quaid show) and hallucinations.  When Foster finds his way out of the ducts, he encounters two things: first, a survivor that attacks him and second, a monster that attacks them both.  Sure, the monster eats the survivor immediately, but Foster was able to learn that the survivor (Norman Reedus) had no idea what the monsters are or what happened to the ship, despite being out of hibernation for a few months.  These kind of things start to happen to Foster regularly.  He meets a survivor, they try to kill him ( is clearly not a monster?) and then the monsters attack, forcing Foster and his new friend to run.

Let's talk about the monsters for a quick second.  They are very bald, pale, and have beady eyes and sharp teeth.  They move like werewolves in the slow-motion scenes from the Underworld series.  They wear bizarre spiky armor (or is it part of them?) that covers their back and/or shoulders, like they went armor shopping at a Mad Max-themed discount store.  They don't talk.  They eat humans, live or dead, as well as their own wounded.  Basically, they are C.H.O.D.s: Cannabalistic Humanoid Outerspace Dwellers.  While nobody in the movie actually uses this phrase, that is only because they never thought of it.  When C.H.O.D.s are on the screen, ready for action, scenes have a strange habit of becoming dimly lit, poorly shot, and generally blurry.  I'm sure that's just an insight into their character, though, and not a lame way to disguise a low budget.

While all the monster chasing is going on with Ben Foster and friends, where's Dennis Quaid?  Right where we left him, in the room he awoke in.  He spends most of the movie sitting down, trying to walkie-talkie Foster (who lost his walkie-talkie about twenty minutes into the movie).  Quaid fills the time by finding another survivor (Cam Gigandet) in the same air vent that Foster escaped through.  This survivor claims to have killed his two crew mates because they had big time Pandorum.  Obviously, you don't want to restrain that guy.  So Foster is on the run from the CHODs and Quaid is killing time with a crazy.

This just isn't a good movie.  It''s trying to be two different things at the same time.  On the one hand, it is trying to be a creepy mood piece, like Alien.  On the other hand, C.H.O.D.s are eating people's faces.  The two styles don't go together.  All the subtlety of a suspense/mystery is lost as soon as albino cannibals show up.  The biggest problem with the movie is the title.  When the title happens to be an illness, one of the main characters is going to be afflicted.  If you make a movie called "Irritable Bowel Syndrome," it's not going to be an action least not one I want to watch.  But which which character has Pandorum?  The one that is trying to restart a nuclear reactor and save everyone, or the first billed actor that has been sitting around for most of the movie?  Hmm...tough call.

 The movie is not devoid of merit, but there's not much.  It's nice to see Ben Foster in a leading role for a change. had a pretty cool futuristic razor.  The first twenty minutes of the movie (basically, until the monsters show up) is promising, but then again, any movie can look decent for twenty minutes.  The acting isn't terrible here.  You know what you're going to get when you give a Quaid a role, but the rest of the cast (including Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le, and Eddie Rouse) was inoffensive.  If Quaid's role was played by an unknown like the rest of the cast, the movie's suspense would have been much more effective.  I will admit that it was a nice change of pace to see Norman Reedus playing a part that was not explicitly Irish.

Those somewhat positive accomplishments are nowhere near enough to salvage this film.   The writers and director have worked primarily in Europe until now, and it shows.  The dialogue is mediocre at best, and the explanations given for the key plot points (What are the monsters?  What happened to the ship?) are so poorly expressed, it feels like they've been mistranslated. I honestly don't think that the lead actors have anything to be ashamed about here (well, except for taking these roles), but the director is another story.  Christian Alavert not only directed this film, but he co-plotted it.  That means that he could have, at any time, said "Wait, that doesn't make much sense...let's try something else," but he never did.  Or, worse, he said that and this movie is the result.

1 comment:

  1. What the monster are is fully explained at the end of the film. The creatures were a new spieces that evolved from passengers who went insane and turned to cannibalism for Malthusian purposes. Wasn't trying to be two movies as the subplots come together in the end. Blogged about it here.