The shadows of many films loom over Passengers, whose screenplay by Jon Spaihts was on Hollywood’s Black List since 2007 before finally getting off the ground. The Black List is a catalogue of the best unproduced scripts, and one can imagine the conversations around Passengers. It’s Castaway meets Titanic meets Armageddon meets The Shining...in space.
Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), a mechanical engineer, is one of 5,000 earthlings on a mission to colonise the planet Homestead II. The journey will take 120 years, and all the inhabitants on the Avalon spaceship are in hibernation pods. A malfunction causes Jim to wake up 30 years into the journey. Every evening, Jim finds comfort at the spaceship’s bar and receives counsel from the android bartender (Michael Sheen) to “live a little”. A year into his exile, like Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in the isolated Overlook Hotel in The Shining, Jim is teetering on the brink of madness until he decides to awaken another one of the ship’s inhabitants. She is predictably a beautiful female writer named Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), rather than a scientist or someone else who could save him from his predicament.
The questionable decision to turn what is essentially a kidnapping into a romance without debating the consequences doesn’t allow us to fully sink our teeth into the tale.
But that is not to say that Passengers isn’t enjoyable while it lasts. If there was anyone from the current crop of Hollywood actors with whom you would want to spend 90 years alone on a space ship, you wouldn’t have to look beyond Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Pratt has evolved from Andy, the lovable goofball in the television show Parks and Recreation, to an unlikely action star in the movies Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. His effortless charm and charisma and easy sense of humour mean that he makes the perfect everyman. Lawrence, already a Hollywood star at 26, has shown through her wide range of roles that she is deeply serious about her craft. Their mutual chemistry does help negate the creeping disquiet caused by the sci-fi romance’s sinister stalker undertones, but cannot rescue the movie from the overtly melodramatic and saccharine finale.