Pandorum (US - BD RA)
When Gabe Powers oversleeps people just call him a lazy good-for-nothing...
Astronaut Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) awakens from a long cryogenic sleep aboard the Elysium spaceship, with no memory of his whereabouts or mission. Bower eventually finds and awakens his superior, Lieutenant Payton, and the two soldiers take to figuring out their predicament. Assuming they can’t possibly be alone Bower climbs into an open maintenance hatch, and with guidance from Payton, makes his way to the supposedly populated sections of the ship. Bower finds dead crew members, and encounters violent human-like creatures who are grotesquely mutilated, and who appear to be feeding on the remaining crew.
Pandorum is practically a sequel to Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon, which itself was basically a rip-off of Galaxy of Terror, which was an intended rip-off of Alien, which was an homage to various older sci-fi monster movies like Planet of the Vampires, or at least it starts that way. Later it turns into a videogame. Telling the story as a mystery is definitely a clever way to go, and is a classic sci-fi trope, but it feels so much like a videogame it kind of hurts. Our lead crawls through corridors, finds weapons, meets characters that tell him the back story in pieces, and eventually join his party to assist in the various boss battles. The last act even adds a time limit to the mix. I might actually like playing this game, but it’s not particularly fun watching a series of unplayable cut-scenes. The mystery grows more and more tedious as characters refuse to share important information, or speak the wrong language. Eventually it dawns on us that the explanation isn’t going to be very satisfying. I can’t share the final two borrowed element, it’d be an unfair spoiler, but I can give you a hint—one comes from an animated movie, and the other from a sequel to a television series.
The film certainly features an excess of style and neat production design, the cast is pretty much on the ball, and director Christian Alvart knows how to sell a scare and get the most out of his $40 million budget, but these facts just makes the lack of story satisfaction sting a little more. Alvart was the director behind the equally well acted, and generally good looking Antibodies, which also ultimately fails thanks to the lack of an original script (it was basically Silence of the Lambs with a man in the Starling role). Pandorum’s script is certainly tight enough (assuming you don’t think about it too much), and Alvart clearly knows how to keep the film moving, but the story never lives up to the imagery. I’ve definitely seen worse modestly budgeted horror/sci-fi hybrids, but at best I feel like Pandorum is the better than expected made for Sci-Fi Channel answer to Event Horizon (Paul W.S. Anderson was a co-producer on Pandorum, by the way), or even Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. Had I seen the film on television I would’ve been impressed, but if I’d paid to see it in theatres I’d be disappointed.
Pandorum is certainly a pretty production, and there are plenty of itty bitty details to explore on this 1080p transfer. Sadly the transfer’s best moment is the opening shot of the Elysium spaceship. The model is full of minute details, which are crystal clear as the camera slowly slides over the ship in an almost pornographic manner. The rest of the film’s admittedly gorgeous production design is usually obscured in utter darkness. I’m positive that a standard definition release would lose almost all the detail in the film’s first act especially. These blacks are quite pure and consistent, and the edges are sharp enough to make out these smaller, easily obscured details. There is a pervasive fine grain over the entire production, but this is clearly intended, and certainly adds texture. Occasionally the darker scenes suffer a little too much grain, especially when lit with warmer colours, but this is likely mostly intended as well. During the brighter moments entire scenes are often gelled in monochrome throughout the film, and these are wonderfully pure. Even more satisfying are the mixed gels and pin-point highlights, which cut sharply against each other. A standard definition release would bloom with noise and blocking during some of these standout colour moments.
The film’s sound works best in its constant dynamic differences, which are usually used to shock the audience in a very cheap manner. Any moment of utter silence is guaranteed to be shaken by cantankerous noise any second. Both elements of the dynamic are utterly pure, without any noticeable distortion. When it is loud, this lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track bursts with the best of them, and every channel gets into the act. The surround and stereo channels feature plenty of ambience (growling in the distance, dripping water, powering-up electronics), and during the more action based scenes a fair number of directional effects. The bass track is sometimes a little overwhelming in terms of impact (every punch and stab is a little over-pumped), but when it’s needed it’s there to support the action. The dialogue is well mixed into the chaos, but the lip-sync is a little off throughout the film. Michl Britsch’s musical score is the usual mix of modern rock/techno and traditional symphonic elements, and it’s a vital piece of the mix, from ambient soft effects to full-on bombast.
The special features begin with a commentary track featuring director Christian Alvart and producer Jeremy Bolt. This is a relatively consistent and informative track, and at times the participants are quite personable. Both commentators are pretty valuable, though Alvart is the biggest wellspring, while Bolt sometimes devolves into back patting. Apparently the film was pretty far into development when Alvart came onto the scene with a different project. The two projects were then merged, which partially explains the disproportionate good and bad story elements. From what I can gather Alvart’s additions were the better part of the final script. Overall a good track with very little blank or wasted space.
Next up are a series of featurettes, starting with ‘The World of Elysium’ (14:00, HD), a reasonably well disguised EPK that features cast and crew interviews (rather fluffy ones), some raw behind the scenes footage, and choice scenes from the film. The looks at Stan Winston Studios’ make-up design are definite highlights. ‘What Happened to Nadia’s Team’ (04:30, HD) is a sort of deleted scene of found footage that fills us in on a few back story elements. ‘Flight Team Training Video’ (02:45, HD) is a fun little addition that also widens the film’s scope and back story. This is followed by a series of sixteen deleted and extended scenes (28:00, HD), which add quite a bit to the first act, but would’ve bogged down the final film. Things are wrapped up with four image galleries (Models and Monsters, Designs and Drawings, On-Set and Turbine Pit Sequence), a trailer, and trailers for other Anchor Bay Blu-ray releases.
I’m finding it really hard to creatively review Pandorum. It all really comes down to the fact that it has a kind of lame and derivative storyline, but it does look very good and is rarely boring. Fans of films like Event Horizon and Alien desperate for similar entertainment could do a whole lot worse. This Blu-ray release features a sharp 1080p transfer, which likely has big advantages over the DVD version, especially concerning all the film’s blackness, and the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is no pushover. The extras aren’t the best, but are enough to fill in the basic behind-the-scenes gaps.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 12th January 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital Mono Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Director and Producer Commentary, The World of Elysium, What Happened to Nadia's Team, Flight Team Training Video, Deleted and Alternate Scenes, Still Galleries, Trailers, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Christian Alvart
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Norman Reedus, Niels Bruno Schmidt, Delphine Chuillot
Genre: Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 108 minutes
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