As the new movie “Passengers” begins, we are on a space ship carrying emigrants to a colony so far away it will take over a hundred years to get there. So the 5,000 passengers and 250 crew members have been put into a deep sleep and are resting in sealed “pods.”
The ship is struck by a large boulder which is hanging around out there in a field of smaller space clods. Not only is the ship damaged, but the shake causes a short or something which causes one passenger, engineer Jim (Chris Pratt) to awaken. But the ship’s walkways are otherwise unpopulated, and he realizes he is still 90 years from the time his alarm was supposed to ring.
He drags out tools and manuals, trying to figure out a way to make himself hibernate again, but to no avail. After a year alone in space (except for an android barkeeper played by Michael Sheen), Jim finds a pretty fellow-passenger, does some research on her, and awakens her.
So this is the Sleeping Beauty story, reversed. Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) would rather she hadn’t been awakened, of course. And he doesn’t tell her he is responsible. They fall in love.
Then she discovers what he did to her. Angry, she hits him and ignores him. We know this story too. Boy wants girl. He befriends her favorite aunt or pretends to be a fashion designer or in some other way gives himself an excuse to get to know her. When she finds out how and why he has done what he has done, she is angry. And the rest of the story is about his overcoming this bad start.
In “Passengers” the crisis arrives when a high-ranking crew member, played by Laurence Fishburne, is also awakened by the malfunction of the ship. Sick because of the central malfunction, he gives Jim access to new information about the craft and sends him to find what is wrong with the space cruiser and to fix the problem.
Mancuso dies just about the time Jim finds the hole in the hull. A great fire is somehow burning outside a window, and the only way Jim can fix the problem is to don a space suit as if it were a pair of coveralls and wait until Aurora pulls a lever that will expose him to the flames.
Will he fix the problem? Will he lose his life in the attempt? Is there any chance of a Hollywood happy ending? What do you think?
This very simple romantic story actually has another and even more obvious source than the ones mentioned above. The space walking and the awakening in deep space of a passenger who must overcome obstacles to fix a dangerous problem with the space ship—all this comes from Stanley Kubrick’s great 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
That movie might be the source of most of the conventional story elements of any recent movie where characters are on a long space voyage. Then, too, where does that “Star Wars” bar scene come from? How about the convention for robots with ulterior motives?
Only the long space voyage ideas figure here—Sheen does not turn out to be intentionally evil. But since the story is so very simple, the origin of its central complication is sort of interesting. One wishes the romance itself was more memorable. The film had a chance to imagine and comment on how we choose our mates and how little (apparently) their personal habits figure in making them attractive long-term companions.
Director Morten Tyldum has at least chosen actors one likes to play the two romantic characters. But then the “Passengers” script hasn’t given Pratt and Lawrence much to do or say that would make us see how the two might make a match. Oh well. In the new downtown theater, moviegoers can recline in their little pods and let the whole movie wash over them like 120 years on a space journey.