Starring: Ben Foster, Dennis Quaid and a bunch of low priced talent.

Director: Christian Alvart

There are a lot of films that on their face, look like they must be avoided.  Yet, deep in the sub-cockles of one’s heart, something draws you back.  “Pandorum” is one of those films.  There are lots of moments in “Pandorum” where you want to laugh, and just as many moments where you think, what if?

Since I saw the original “Alien” at age 9, I have been a sucker for the deep space sleeper movies.  All you have to do is sleep and then you travel farther than any human to God-knows-where.  And then you add the monsters creeping around in the ship, you have a recipe for a thrilling ride.

Wake up call for Bower

“Pandorum” starts with Ben Foster’s character, Bower, being ripped out of a dream about the woman he loves and into a dark abyss within the confines of the ship, Elysium.  He does not know where he is, who he is, or even anything about his situation.  But he will soon learn that he was part of a set of rotating crews working on a ship sent from Earth to send as many humans as possible to a new planet that closely (but not quite) resembles earth’s atmosphere.  He also comes across Payton (Quaid) from another crew who is similarly clueless as Bower.

Together, they ascertain that one of them should stay (Payton) and the other explore the ship to try to figure out their condition and what can be done to improve it.  Along the way, they discuss stories of other ships and episodes of deep space travel that were affected by an illness called pandorum, which amounts to the shakes that Michael Beihn got in “The Abyss.”  One can’t help but wonder why they discuss this phenomenon…

Onward through the ship, Bower encounters murdered passengers, wild humans, and even wilder humanoids.  We find out why each is encountered in due time, and then once Bower convinces what he knows as survivors to accompany him, they subsequently get caught and almost eaten by another survivor.

Another theme that develops in this time is the discovery that the ship’s nuclear reactor is offline and will soon cease to function.  This appears to be the reason Bower was awakened, so he dutifully sets about correcting the issue.  This leads to an inexplicably mundane LED-sequence where Bower has to jump through hoops in order to accomplish a seemingly mundane task, just, apparently, so the screenwriters can add an artificial tension to the scene.

Hold on, peripheral characters, I need to have this bridge fall with me on it...

Back at headquarters, Quaid encounters and has an intellectual battle with Gallo (Cam Gigandet) over who might be suffering from pandorum.  For me, seeing Dennis Quaid in this role lead to some suffering on my part.  I have not seen him ham it up this strangely since “Enemy Mine.”  That said, the storyline, while familiar, adds a bit more crunch to the soft chewy center of the film.

Things being as they are, you know there has to be a big confrontation between the leads and the damsel in the end.  The confrontation is somewhat silly, given the circumstances.  But the end result has a nice twist, for those who have made it to this point.

To me, the strengths of this film lies in the premise.  Many people like stories of imagined futures, however dire, and the idea that humans will always survive.  The humanoid monsters are an interesting failure.  They really are not that scary, but the idea of how they were created is original, at least.  The rag tag bunch of survivors seem tacked on, even if they use an intriguing idea of making language and memory barriers to working together.  For his part, Foster is up to the task of lead, as he provides an interesting contrast to the superman ideal that normally inhabits the lower end of conventional Hollywood films.  He gets the wind knocked out of him a lot, and seems really frustrated much of the time, but his style is at least believable.

All tolled, I understand why this film did so poorly in the box office.  Mixed signals between thought and visable expression often dooms science-fiction.  The most successful stories (Ender’s Game series, for example) of this genre have yet to be brought to screen.  There are too many producers out there, trying to input convention into unconventional plots.

That said, I enjoyed this film, not so much for what it is, but for what I feel it was meant to be.

**1/2 out of *****

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