23 January 2011


Pandorum is a German-American science fiction film of the interstellar horror genre directed by Christian Alvert and released in 2009. 

The film features Dennis Quid and Ben Foster who find themselves awoken from "hypersleep" sealed in a room on board a interstellar cruiser. Foster's character escapes to find unimaginable chaos going on in the ship and embarks on a mission to bring order to the situation.

The film met with little critical acclaim and was described as "derivative" and slagged off elsewhere as an example of why sci-fi is dead. It seemed pretty unlikely that reviews written with the presumption that the film is part of a dead genre featuring in their opening paragraph would give us much useful insight into the quality of the picture. Even if we take into account the relative unpopularity of the sci-fi genre, ratings amongst critics are remarkably poor for a high budget film. Audience responses were much better with the film given a B rating on the audience response site Box Office Mojo.

The general view amongst professional reviewers seems to be that they didn't enjoy the film and that it is probably best left to science fiction fans to enjoy, a view supported by a 4/5 rating on the sci-fi website SFX. The reviewer claims that it is an "intelligent SF masquerading as a big, dumb action movie" a statement which could have only been written by someone with complete ignorance of or disdain for the concept of hard sci-fi. I would say the reverse is true this is a big, dumb action movie masquerading as intelligent SF.

To his credit the SFX reviewer does pick up on a number of fatal flaws in the film that would have had the hard sci-fi fans grinding their teeth, however his claim that the "the creatures’ origins eventually make logical sense" could only have been written by someone with a very limited understanding of genetic processes given the impossibility of evolutionary survival of the fittest creating ultra strong, near invincible fighting machines from human stock within only a few dozen generations even given the mythical "artificial accelerant" cited by the ships botanist as an explanation. 

There are a number of other gaping flaws which I do not have the inclination to list, however I will briefly discuss one that nobody else seems to have picked up on, which is the complete disregard for the physics of gravity. The film started promisingly with a ship designed with massive ring like structures which given enough spin could create the gravitational forces necessary to keep the charactor's feet on the floor, however when the plot twist about the ships location is unveiled the whole gravitational basis of the film is ruined. The floor would be as likely to be a wall or the ceiling in a ship built with a concentric gravitational system were it to be lying motionless on the surface of a planet, however the characters never faced this necessary problem providing another devestating blow to the believability of the film.

Most reviews seem to be wrong about the film, the general reviews were generally negative while the general audience actually seemed to like the film quite a lot. The concession by general reviewers that sci-fi fans would like it is just wrong because it is clearly a weak example of the sci-fi genre and the sci-fi review at SFX is not nearly hard enough on the film from a sci-fi perspective.

My main problem with the film is that it tries to make itself an "intelligent sci-fi" film in completely the wrong way, devoting far too much screen time to long explanatory monologues from various characters instead of allowing the circumstances become clear through osmosis. An example being the long ranting monologue from the crew member turned cannibal given to his captives, apparently only levered into the film to add more explanatory guff. Why on earth would the old git have bothered to take the time to enlighten his fellow crew mates about the ship's history if his only intention was to eat them? In fact my favourite character in the film is Cung Lee's agricultural worker turned martial arts survivalist who only speaks Vietnamese which saves him the chore of delivering one of these tedious monologues. This film would have been much better had they given up their efforts to justify their sci-fi credentials, concentrated on making this a non-stop action film and spent more effort on creating characters worthy of audience empathy.

Despite all of my criticism the film does do many things well, it provides plenty of dramatic tension, a foreboding atmosphere, enjoyable action sequences, a few memorable fight scenes and the gratuitous gore and grime of a good horror film.

My view is that if you enjoy action packed horror films you will probably enjoy this for what it is, if you are the kind of sci-fi fan that has never read or only dabbled in reading sci-fi you will also probably like it, however if you have ever been a prolific science fiction reader or see yourself as a bit of a film critic the cack handed pretension at being an "intelligent sci-fi" film is bound to annoy.

Overall review: 3  (what does this mean)

See also

Pandorum on IMDB
Pandorum at Wikipedia
Pandorum at Rotten Tomatoes

1 comment:

  1. I think the creatures got so strong due to have a fighting culture that was started by Gallo.