Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Horror,Sci-Fi,Thrillers Movie Review of ‘Pandorum’ (2009)

Movie Review of ‘Pandorum’ (2009)

Pandorum limped into cinemas in late 2009, where it sank like a rock at the box office and became a punching bag for critics. A science fiction horror picture, it’s equipped with a few nice ideas and the technical execution is sound, yet it’s incredibly derivative, marred by a “been there, done that” feeling that prevents it from becoming a genre classic. Indeed, Pandorum feels like a compilation film, comprised of bits and pieces taken directly from Event HorizonAlienPitch BlackSunshineCubePredator and even The Descent, and there are some traces of Mad Max 2 as well, resulting in an admittedly stylish picture that nevertheless lacks originality and purpose.

Forcefully awoken from deep hyper-sleep, Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) and Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) find themselves aboard a huge spaceship with no memory as to their identities or their mission. The rest of the crew are nowhere to be seen and the reactor is fading, compelling Bower to begin crawling through the dark bowels of the ship towards the main control room. But it fast becomes clear that things are not as they should be, with thousands of bloodthirsty mutants hiding in the spacecraft’s gloomy shadows. Bower eventually discovers more survivors as he works to piece together what has happened. As for Payton, he finds himself dealing with paranoid crew member Gallo (Cam Gigandet) who could be suffering from “Pandorum,” a special type of insanity which may render him a threat to everyone on-board.

Narratively, Pandorum resembles Paul W.S. Anderson’s ’90s chiller Event Horizon, though this is somewhat unsurprising considering that Anderson is billed as a producer here. To the credit of writer Travis Milloy, the film’s opening segment is extremely strong, skilfully developing the central mysteries and letting us become familiar with the characters before things begin to unravel. The fact that Bower and Payton are suffering from amnesia is a terrific device, as viewers will be just as confused and disorientated as they are. As they hunt for clues and begin putting together the pieces, we’re right alongside them. However, the extended midsection is too saggy, with too many chase scenes and too many characters. Luckily, the film ends strongly. The last ten minutes or so are superb, introducing a few nice revelations and closing on a surprisingly unpredictable and satisfying note.

The English-language debut for German filmmaker Christian Alvart (Antibodies), Pandorum does benefit from handsome production values that are better than expected considering the modest $33 million budget. Alvart does a great job capturing the tight confines and dark hallways of the ship, with superbly controlled lighting adding menace and tension to the picture. It was done better in Alien, but the sense of restraint is commendable. Problem is, at no point does Pandorum actually terrify. The film shows its cards too early by letting us see the creatures that pose a threat to the characters, and it doesn’t help that the design is laughably generic. In fact, it looks like the costume department just raided Weta Workshop for all of their goblin outfits from The Lord of the Rings. The sound design is often effective, but the creatures themselves are never menacing, which lessens the tension and horror. And whenever there’s a set-piece involving the mutants, the camera begins moving around in an annoying, herky-jerky fashion, while the editing is abrupt and jarring.

Foster and Quaid are convincing as the leads here, doing a great job at handling the fear, shock and uncertainty that the script calls for. They seem immersed in the material, and they’re exceedingly watchable. Mildly less successful is Gigandet, who tries to do interesting things with his role but is ultimately too stiff and reluctant to come out of his shell. It was slim pickings for Norman Reedus at this point in his career; he featured here before participating in AMC’s The Walking Dead and subsequently becoming a fan favourite. Thus, newfound Reedus fans should not watch Pandorum just because the actor features in it – Reedus has what amounts to a five-minute cameo. There are a few other actors here too, but they don’t really warrant a mention; they’re just okay.

Thanks to the director’s proclivity for stylish visuals, Pandorum probably has enough to keep the sci-fi nerds entertained, but anyone expecting something more substantial should stay clear. It’s too unoriginal and middle-of-the-road, lacking a spark of brilliance to place it alongside the genre’s best works.

6.2/10

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