The unfortunate meh of Passengers

Hi guys,

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.



ARRIVAL. All caps. (Not to be confused with Charlie Sheen’s, The Arrival which, to be honest, isn’t a bad little alien invasion film from the guy who directed the fantastic Pitch Black and the not-so-fantastic The Chronicles of Riddick, before Charlie Sheen suffered a Freaky Friday-like mind switch with a brain damaged hedgehog)

Hey guys,

It would seem we fans of Smart Science Fiction only get about one worthy entry in the sub-genre a year (I count Smart Science Fiction as a category all its own).  Sometimes every few years.  Films like The Martian, Ex Machina, Moon, Contact, Solaris (both versions, although the original Russian film is superior), Primer, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey and dare I say it… Interstellar (I didn’t particularly like Interstellar, but I never considered it a stupid science fiction film – it just wasn’t my cup of tea) come out in theaters all-too-rarely.  Instead we get stupid shit like endless Transformers, Resident Evil, and Alien vs. Predator franchise films.  For every one fantastic and cerebral film like Timecrimes we get a dozen Battlefield Earths, the Rollerball remake, Wing Commander, Lost in Space, the Lawnmower “Virtual Reality Will Turn You into a Superhuman Digital Monster” Man, that totally fucked first Planet of the Apes reboot starring Mark Walberg directed by, holy creeping Jesus, Tim Burton?!?  I mean, seriously, I could spend the next several days amassing a master list of all the worst Science Fiction films ever made.  It would take me an hour to make the same list for the greatest Sci Fi films.  There’s that many bad Sci Fi films out there and that few good.  It’s like film studios are clown cars and stupid sci fi movies are the clowns.  Stupid, ugly clowns sitting around drooling into a pile of their own shit wondering how in the world anybody can possibly sort out gross grammatical pickles like the proper usage of there, their and they’re.  You see, because they’re morons.

And then there’s ARRIVAL. That’s right, all caps [sic].  I put it in all caps because, HOLY SHIT IT’S GOOD.

Arrival is one of those rare films where your movie-going experience is 100% enhanced by knowing exactly dick going into it.  If you’ve seen a trailer then you know the basic premise, but what the trailers do not show you is what makes Arrival such a fantastic, not only Science Fiction film, but film, period. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote a very pointed and concise description of how Science Fiction is unfairly viewed in critical circles. Arrival is one of those films brimming with heart, brains and confidence, the same qualities that allowed ________ to win a Best Picture Oscar in _______. You’ll notice the Best Picture winner and year are left blank.  That’s because no Science Fiction film has ever won a Best Picture Academy Award.  This is a trophy that has gone to dreck like Crash, Chicago, A Beautiful Mind, Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, and the king mother of films wrapped in unwarranted, unearned, and totally unbelievable praise… Forrest Fucking Gump.  Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated for Best Picture last year, along with nominations in 9 other categories.  It did not win Best Picture, but it did win 6 Oscars in other categories.  So there is hope.  Maybe this year Arrival will make history by actually winning Best Picture.  It won’t.  Not when critics are creaming themselves over ‘serious drama’ like Manchester by the Sea and Fences.  But one can dream.

I’m not going to run the risk of negatively impacting your movie-going experience in any way if you have not seen Arrival.  I won’t get into the super smart plot or wonderful performances.  Just go see it.  Nooooooo, don’t get sucked in by La La Land’s pandering horse shit, Assassin’s Creed’s hazy rooftop antics, or Passengers lead actors’ chemistry.  Buy a ticket and go see Arrival. If you come out of it with a negative opinion, then ask yourself this… is Forrest Gump a better film than Pulp Fiction (or The Shawshank Redemption for that matter)? If your answer is yes, then please, for the good of humanity, lay down and stop breathing.  You’re poisoning the gene pool.

I really hate Forrest Gump.


p.s. I am aware that Lord of the Rings: The Return of the The King won Best Picture in 2003.  It’s not Science Fiction.  It’s Fantasy.