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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Siraj Syed reviews Passengers: Window seat at the journey of a life-time

Siraj Syed reviews Passengers: Window seat at the journey of a life-time

They’ve got it right. Not perfect, but right. Mind-boggling special effects and a mind-toggling emotional narrative. It’s an elusive, coveted recipé, and for once, somebody nailed it. Use state-of-the-art VFX, but blend them with an equally compelling story-line, sometimes shaken, sometimes stirred, and then pray you hit bull’s eye. Passengers is a journey that starts in outer space, but gets you to Homestead 2, a planet far, far away, after 120 years, in a state of wondrous amazement. And never mind that the two protagonist passengers, out of the load of 5,000 plus, and the Deck Officer with a heart of gold, do not make it.

Yes, it is the predictable blue-grey 3D for most of the film, but some optimistic colourful moments are interspersed, via a tree, a flower, tongue-tickling snacks and coffee. Full of profound moralising, Passenger conceals and submerges its sub-text so well that you begin sympathising with so many ‘fellow travellers’ who got it all wrong since 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Star Wars and Star Trek. Substantially original, Passengers is a bowing of the head to the other space-ships that traversed roads less travelled, and uses as few as five characters to manoeuvre along its charted path. One of those five guessed it...a robot. “Android,” insists Arthur, insisting on being technically correct. And one other is a hologram of a woman from the company that operates the spaceships.

The star-shipAvalon is transporting over 5,000 colonists to the planet Homestead II, a journey that takes 120 years, by commercial space travel operator. The colonists and the entire crew are in hibernation pods, to prevent aging and death during the journey. An asteroid crashes into the craft, and, as a result, a technical malfunction awakens one passenger, mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), 90 years early. After a year of isolation, with automated food and entertainment systems at his disposal, but no company except Arthur (Michael Sheen), an android bartender, Jim grows despondent, to the point of nearly jumping out of an airlock. One day, Jim notices beautiful Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) hibernating in one of the pods. Her video profile reveals a humorous personality and that she is a writer.

Jim struggles over the morality of manually reviving Aurora for companionship, but eventually does. He lets her believe that her early awakening was a hibernation pod malfunction, like his. Aurora, devastated that she may grow old and die before the ship reaches Homestead II, attempts a fruitless effort at re-entering hibernation, just as Jim once tried, and failed to. Finally, she comes to accept her situation and begins writing a book about her experiences.

Passengers was written by Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour, Prometheus, Doctor Strange) in 2007, but production began only in 2015. It is worth commending that the film has something for all age levels. There is technology overload for the geeks, love and sex in outer space to appeal to the romantics and the voyeurs, and a serious dissertation on the socio-psychological dilemma of colonisation and capitalism, catering to the 40+ age-group. Besides the obvious comparisons, thought to be one with Solaris too, which deals with illusions and dreams in outer space. Some of the lines might make you cringe when you hear them; a split second later, you will realise that a robot would not be expected to talk in any other, intelligent conversational, manner. Lines for the human characters are far more engaging and in-character.

Morten Tyldum (Fallen Angels, Headhunters, The Imitation Game) had expressed his desire to direct a space action thriller, but with a big-hearted guy at the centre. There is adventure of the nail-biting kind, but little action. Nevertheless, Tyldum is on home-ground. Either he is a wizard when it comes to shooting just what he needs and no more, or he has a wizard of an editor in the shape of Maryann Brandon, who has spliced the shots to near absolute perfection. Scenes assemble so smoothly that you feel a film was already complete and the exercise since then has been of breaking it into jigsaw puzzle pieces and re-assembling it seamlessly. Hardly ever does the hoarse lisp of Lawrence or the beefy, smithy frame of Pratt appear incongruent. There are some indulgences, though, like the repeated swimming pool scenes, and the Deck officer does not come across as somebody who knows too much about Information Technology and space travel machines. (All nudity and sex has been delight...ooops, deleted. Well, almost all.

Jennifer Lawrence (X Men, American Hustle, Hunger Games) is convincing, even if we allow for the stereo-typing of the written character. She is sexy too, prone to swaying her hips and taking the bull by its horns. Chris Pratt (Zero Dark Thirty, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Magnificent Seven)’s luck holds. There used to be a tag line at Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM)’s Metro cinema in Mumbai: Big Ones Come to Metro. Pratt is like a magnet for the last few years, attracting the big, MEGA projects. He has a vulnerable, lovelorn side to him too, which is well-exploited in Passengers.

Can you non-act and get short-listed for an acting award? Maybe, just maybe, the robotic Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, The Queen, The Damned United) a Welsh actor, might be in the reckoning. Laurence Fishburne (Apocalypse Now, The Color Purple, Man of Steel, Batman v/s Superman) as Gus Mancuso, the chief deck officer, is almost let-down by his lost and groping routine. Soon enough, this is explained as an illness; what’s more, a fatal illness, at that. Andy García as Captain Norris has a walk-on part...walk-on Homestead 2, 120 years away. Aurora Perrineau as Celeste is the hologram, or Hullogram, considering she appears only when people wake-up and greets them.

Music by Thomas Newman is eerily soothing and cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is futuristic and dreamy.

See it. The re-run is not likely for another 120 years.


Rating: *** ½  



About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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