This is going to be two reviews: The one without spoilers and the one with.
I first started seeing material for Pandorum late last year, where it looked like a film in the space horror tradition. The previews also suggested the possibility of a Big Action Movie element as well.
Pandorum is a German/American production directed by Christian Alvart and written by Travis Malloy. It stars Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster as crewmen on the Elysium, a long-term colony ship bound for Tanis, the only habitable planet identified by a humanity on the edge of annihilation — in the 24th century with a population of 24-ish billion people. Their memories return to them only in chunks after extended hyper-sleep, heightening the initial tension as they discover the power is comprimised and the proper rotation of crew is very very off.
The film maintains tension quite nicely, parceling out information in chunks. Though there is some “As You Know Bob,” it’s more like “As You Should Remember, Bob” with the two leads reminding one another about things drawing from their fuzzy memories. The title, Pandorum, comes from the term given to extended-space-travel sickness. Remember one of the theories about Reavers (from Firefly), how they were people who traveled too deep into the nothing and it consumed them? Kinda like that. There are creepy monster people doing creepy monster people stuff. There’s some fighting, but it stays as more of a horror/thriller than an action movie most of the time.
The film was very freaky, and notably original in several places. Yes, it seems apparent that Alvart and Malloy are familiar with films like the Alien Series, Event Horizon, and the like. Many critics whose reviews are collated at Rotten Tomatoes calls this being ‘derivative,’ but for me that just means Pandorum is a continuation of the discussion that is the Space SF-horror genre.
Go see this movie if you missed Event Horizon in the theatres and then discovered it years later to great enjoyment. Go see this if Alien took your breath away with Ridley sneaking through the corridors of the Nostromo hoping to never see that black-glossy carapace again. See it if the idea of a psycho-thriller-slash-horror-movie-with-some-action appeals to you. Chances are this is going to bomb in the box office and then sell well over several years in DVD/Blu-Ray, but if any of the above sounds appealing, do yourself a favor and see it in theatres.
And now the spoilers (as in stuff that’s farther than 15 minutes into the film and not given away by trailers).
I really liked the way that the monster-people were explained — all of the colonists-to-be were injected with chemical re-agents that were supposed to help them adapt to Tanis, this new planet to be settled. But instead, when Gallow went crazy and exiled people into the cargo hold, they evolved to survive in the ship, eventually becoming the albino spiky-shoulder species of cannibals with blue lights and stabby things.
They played Payton well, slowly unhinging, and while I didn’t ID the thing with him and Gallow right away, I was pleased by its execution, and the psychological thriller aspect of the film. I was kind of annoyed that the only people of color died, but in a small cast like that, most of the characters will die, and then so did one of the white people. 2/5 isn’t a big survival rate, and it’s lower when you include the couple of other people we see throughout. All in all, that’s probably not a big issue.
I approve of the way that they depicted the evolved-for-Elysium people, with pack-mammal behavior in the sleeping arrangements, and how they showed the way that the people-released-from-pods would and did evolve/devolve into the Elysium-People, with the cannibal cook.
I was also glad to see that they went for the hopeful ending instead of the Everyone Dies! ending by letting a number of survivors make it to Tanis. Life will be anything but easy, especially if they realize that they need to go back into the ship to get Nadia’s biological Ark samples, but they’ll actually have a future, despite the depredations of space dementia, despite an offshoot-strand of humanity that appeared to have lost all morality. Because I don’t think I would have enjoyed the film half as much if they’d all died in the end to the sound of Dennis Quaid’s laughter or Albino-Monster-People’s screaming.