Consider this your Spoiler Alert warning, because the film advertised is not the film we’re getting.
I can’t recall when there has been a more egregiously misleading advertising campaign as there has been with Sony Pictures’ Passengers. If you’ve seen the ads, you have a bit of a feel for the story: a spaceship full of people in cryogenic suspension is heading somewhere, but two of the passengers are awakened 90 years too soon. As Chris Pratt’s character says in the trailer, “There’s a reason we woke up early,” and then all hell breaks loose. Except …
That’s not exactly the story that is told on screen. Yes, there is a spaceship with 5,000 passengers and 238 crew. Yes, they are on a 120 year journey to a new planet, basically to colonize a new earth, to give humanity a chance to start over from scratch as it were. During the voyage, the ship encounters an asteroid belt when one particularly large rock collides with the force shield meant to protect the ship. But the size of the asteroid causes some damage, resulting in the sleep pod of Jim Preston (Pratt) to open prematurely. He goes about his business but then realizes he is the only person still awake, and sending a message to earth will take 56 years to get a response (and costs over $6,000). Jim can’t find a way to get back to sleep and tries to find ways to keep himself entertained over the course of a year, including having conversations with the ship’s bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen, apparently the only android on the ship with a human form as the rest are boxy looking things).
But a year of solitary confinement almost takes its toll on Jim until he fixates on another passenger, Aurora Lane, an author from New York. Jim researches her, reads her works, watches videos of her and decides she would make a good companion … except she’s still asleep. He battles with himself when considering the unthinkable … waking her up. The moral implications are enormous, but he does it anyway basically taking her life away. So now the viewers are left with a real bad taste in their mouths because you’re supposed to be charmed by these two people while knowing what the reality of the situation is and then wondering what will happen once she learns the truth (and she does). And then when one of the crew members awakens and discovers there really is a major problem with the ship, Jim and Aurora are tasked with helping save the rest of the lives still in hibernation … even though she hates Jim by this point. Oh, and if you noticed the bearded Andy Garcia in the trailer or TV ads, that’s about as much screen time as he actually gets in the movie.
So does Passengers have problems? It sure does, and they may be insurmountable for audiences who will almost certainly doom the film with terrible feedback after opening weekend. What the movie does have going for it is some terrific production design and special effects. The film is put together very well, and if you can put the awful plot device far enough in the back of your head to not let it disturb you for the last hour of the movie, you can’t deny that Pratt and Lawrence have a charming chemistry. But it just all leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and the ending doesn’t help. Aurora is a strong, independent woman and her ultimate decision just strips her of any dignity she had. Perhaps it comes as resignation to the situation, but if you think about it, she ends up with an almost kind of Stockholm Syndrome (or worse because you can certainly substitute different scenarios in which it would be ill-advised for a victim to stay with their abuser). It’s a seriously bad plot device.
The biggest question I’m left with after watching Passengers is did the studio interfere with the story in any way? Was the trailer selling something that was part of the original story, or did the studio just feel it was necessary to sell it as something else so as to not immediately turn off potential viewers? I still managed to find the movie enjoyable, but I still feel a bit dirty about it.
Want to see Passengers and decide for yourself? Click on the images below to buy your tickets now, and be sure to come back and tell us what you thought!