I have a pet peeve. Well, I have several pet peeves, but one of those peeves has to do with deceptive film trailers. I don’t like it when you see shots in a trailer that aren’t in the released film. The latest Fantastic Four rebooted turd was a huge offender in that regard. I realize that in a rush to entice viewers marketers often release trailers before a film is finished, oftentimes resulting in cut shots appearing in trailers that don’t make it into the finished film. I find it somewhat annoying, but understandable. But way worse, is when a trailer essentially lies to you. It doesn’t happen all that often, but there are a few key offenders. A few spring to mind…
I’m sure you’ve all seen, and most likely liked or loved, Pan’s Labyrinth. But if you recall their marketing campaign before the film’s release, they conveniently ignored the fact that the film was in Spanish, not English. But judging by this early trailer, you’d never know. The supers are all in English, as is the decidedly American-accented voiceover.
Another offender on the more egregious side would be Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Nowhere in that trailer do they even allude to the fact that the film is a musical.
There are lots of more minor offenses. Kangaroo Jack is not a film about a talking kangaroo. Bryan Cranston is not the star of Godzilla. Drive is not a film in the mold of The Fast & The Furious, Alien 3 is not set on earth, Bridge to Tarabithia is not a kid-friendly adventure fantasy film….
And Passengers is not a mystery.
Do you recall the trailer for Passengers? Pay close attention to Chris Pratt’s voiceover at 2:21. It’s hard to miss. There put extra focus on the line by having it occur under a black screen, giving it extra weight:
“There’s a reason we woke up early.”
This line isn’t in the finished film. And in the trailer, it was preceded by Pratt onscreen saying, “There’s something I have to tell you.” They set up a mystery in the trailer that does not exist in the film. He knows immediately why he woke up early. It is, in fact, an overly simplistic explanation. There’s no ambiguity, subterfuge, or conspiracy going on.
Nowhere in the trailer do they even hint at what Passengers is really about. Keeping the core plot secret is great. These days trailers give away too much, but such an obvious bait and switch is just plain shitty.
So… if it’s not a mystery set on a space ship bound for a distant world, what is it? At its core, Passengers is a character drama centered around an amoral decision made by one of the leads. It’s an interesting moral dilemma treated with patience and thought right up until that decision is made. After that, the moral quandary and interesting character study is tossed out the window (or air lock, as it were, ha ha ha) in favor of an obvious, by the numbers space thriller pitting man vs. technology in a way that makes very little sense and leans far two heavily on the chemistry and charisma of the two leads. Throw in Lawrence “Stop Trying To Hit Me And Hit Me” Fishburne because the plot requires a character to explain some stuff and a bizarre non-speaking cameo by Andy Garcia in a single throwaway shot at the end, and you have a fairly lazy, standardized “space movie” with extremely watchable leads doing stuff nobody really cares about. Passengers is a missed opportunity. The questionable action taken at the end of the first act could have lead down a darker and more interesting path. There’s a psychological thriller hiding in Passengers somewhere, an honest portrayal of man succumbing to his/her baser instincts in a moment of weakness and the aftermath that comes with such a decision. Instead they chose to have a couple of beautiful hollywood A-listers run around a space ship putting out fires with little regard for the fascinating character study they jettisoned along with a sensical plot and believable motivations.
The most maddening part is that the director made a film in his native Norway a few years ago called, Headhunters. It stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, of Game of Thrones fame. Headhunters is a grisly and violent little dark comedy whose twists and turns keep you guessing throughout. Passengers needed those oddball thriller sensibilities to elevate it beyond a dull yarn we’ve all seen before. The effects are great, and Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt are an endlessly watchable duo, but ultimately Passengers fails at presenting itself as anything more than proficiently made. Another middle of the road science fiction bore we see far too many of these days.
The most concise thing I can say about Passengers is this: what if 2001: A Space Odyssey was just about a malfunctioning computer aboard a space ship?
p.s. I neglected to mention that Michael Sheen as the robotic bartender was great. I would love to see a better movie starring him and Chris Pratt. They have great chemistry and play off each other well.