The term mashup is not usually a compliment. It means mixing different genres in a way that looks interesting, gets a laugh, or makes a mess. It is unlikely the sci-fi rom-com melodrama Passengers (2016) intended to be a mashup but that is the result. If it stayed on-track as sci-fi, all the ingredients are present for an outstanding film but box-office considerations require a love story with a moral dilemma so the film ends up a mess.
We are aboard an intergalactic spacecraft for a 120-year voyage as part of a commercial outer-world migration venture. The ship’s set and digital effects are some of the best seen on film in years, conveying an enormity of scale and futuristic design that is mesmerising. Five thousand volunteers are ensconced in hibernation pods en route to capitalism’s version of eternal paradise when one traveller, mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is accidently awoken 90 years too soon. Travelling through space with every conceivable luxury at your fingertips, worry-free for the rest of your life, sounds appealing but the problem is that he gets lonely and conversation is very limited with an android bartender. After a year of flying solo he is on the verge of flushing himself into the cosmos, when suddenly he becomes obsessed with sleeping beauty Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) and believes he has found true love.
Of course true love is never that simple. He first must grapple with the moral horrors of his predicament: does let her sleep in peace for another 90 years so she can live in paradise with the 4,998 other passengers or does he do what the male species has been known to do sometimes and wake her up for some fun. The film trailers make the answer obvious, but when Aurora finds out that Jim was being selfish, she throws a galactic hissy-fit and the film turns into a domestic melodrama with more flashing stars inside than outside the ship. She refuses his every advance until the spaceship’s gizmos turn wobbly. Forget feminism: a girl needs a guy when things get tough…but let’s not go there.
All the potential evident in the early part of the film is frittered away in a silly ‘romance on the rocks’ space opera as it becomes a philosophical debate on which gender is capable of the greater quantum of selfishness. Pratt and Lawrence are really quite watchable in spite of the script, the filming is very entertaining, and the whole love scenario would have been interesting in someone’s earthly kitchen but not on the most advanced galactic odyssey ever undertaken. But if you enjoy turbulent romance in unusual places this is your film.
Director: Morten Tyldum
Stars: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence