Monday, January 25, 2010

Movie Review: Pandorum

I kept seeing ads for a movie called Pandorum.

Science fiction. Dennis Quaid. Ancient starship. Creepy alien monsters. Things gone horribly wrong.

Sounded like something right up my alley.

Except, well, it wasn't in the theater, it was on DVD.

A production big enough to have an A-list star like Quaid and it went straight to DVD? You could almost smell the suck.

But I kept seeing the commercials. And they looked interesting.

So I picked up a copy.

It's a strange movie. More than anything, it reminds me of something Fritz Lieber would have written, a cross between Ship of Shadows and 28 Days Later maybe.

The premise is simple, a man awakens violently from suspended animation. He doesn't know where he is. He doesn't know when he is. He doesn't know who he is. You assume he is on a spaceship of some kind, so does he. On his arm is a tattoo telling him that he is part of Flight Crew 5. The locker next to his suspended animation pod is labeled "Corporal Bower." Bower is also the name stenciled on the front of his suspended animation capsule. The clothes fit, he assumes he's the good corporal.

Nothing works. He's locked in the room in which he awoke. The lights are barely functioning, computers and communications are not. Things have apparently gone horribly wrong while he has been asleep.

There are two other suspension capsules, one empty, one is occupied. The name on the occupied capsule's face is Lt. Payton. Bower wakes him.

Payton is suffering the same symptoms of memory loss as Bower, apparently a side effect of long term suspended animation. The memory loss is not complete however, they both retain specialized skills, indicating that memory loss and disorientation were expected and that certain steps must have been taken to ensure retention of vital and necessary skills - those skills being more muscle memory and less conscious knowledge. They know how do certain things, but not how they know. Payton knows how to activate the computer/comms console via a backup system (unfortunately it's not connected to anything else and contains no information to clarify their predicament. They both know that one of the compartment's hatches leads to the bridge (where, presumably, the answers to all of their questions lie) but it - indeed all of the exits - are firmly locked.

Payton sends Bower out through an air duct while he guides the young man via radio from the comms console.

Bower escapes the locked compartment and finds himself in the ship proper. It's a huge maze of corridors and passageways. Rusting, ancient, damaged, derelict, abandoned. He finds a dead man, a member of Flight Crew 4.

Bower and Payton begin to remember, apparently the memory loss isn't permanent. The ship is the Elysium. They left Earth with 60,000 people in suspended animation, bound for the only earth-like world ever discovered, Tanis, in order to establish a colony. The voyage should have lasted a hundred and twenty years or so. They both suspect that it has been much, much longer than that.

Payton tells Bower of a condition called Pandorum, a form of psychosis including homicidal madness, delusion, and paranoia. Payton recounts a horrifying story from the early years of space travel and the first cases of the disease.

Then Bower encounters a live human being. A very, very unfriendly live human being.

Then the monsters arrive.

Full details can be found here. Be warned, there are spoilers; the entire plot is explained in detail. Including the twist at the end.

I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It was strange and creepy and dark and alien. The director didn't hold your hand, things were explained but you really needed to pay attention. It got poor reviews, and spent less than a week on screen in the US. However, the majority of non-professional reviews on Amazon and IMDB seemed to be generally enthusiastic. This was supposed to have been the first of several films, but sequels are pretty unlikely given the movie's poor showing.

This flick isn't for everyone. This is no Avatar or Star Wars and the happy ending becomes less and less happy the more you think about it - which, I suspect was the director's intention. There are some nightmare scenes, and when you finally discover what really happened to the ship and crew and the passengers - well, let's just say it is a damned ugly foray into the depths of human evil.

As I said above, a very Fritz Leiber story.

Which is probably why I like it.


  1. Jim, Pandorum was released to theaters. It just didn't stay there very long. Box office info can be found here if you're interested.

    pocksh: what Sean Connery puts his spare change, keys and wallet in. ex.--"I sheem to have a hole in one of my pocksh."

  2. thanks for the heads up. It also sounds a bit like Stanislav Lem.

    Gander= a real word, and also a place name.

  3. Eric, yep, that's what I said.

    You might really like this movie, Eric.

  4. Hmm - sounds like a little 'Orphans of the Sky' mixed in?. I'll have to check the movie place on the way home...

  5. This seems a lot like a video game I played briefly back in the 90s whose name escapes me at the moment. Waking up on a ship with no memory and only vague clues, solving the puzzles of identity and how to control the ship while killing nasties. And, yes, it does seem to have echoes of Lem and various SF novels, which isn't surprising. Sounds fun, thank you, and I'm off to add it to Netflix.

  6. That does sound cool. Might have to check that out.

  7. Interesting...very interesting.

    I'll have to look that one up!

  8. 'A very Fritz Leiber story'---

    There are not many thing you could say that would catch my attention faster than that. It's going right on my queue.

  9. I know I'm a little late to this party, but I just watched Pandorum. While I liked the movie they definitely left some plot holes.

    Also, maybe I missed something, but while Bower was in the passenger hypersleep storage area, he sees the pod for Payton's wife, which makes him realize that Payton is not who he says he is. What did he see to make him realized this?

  10. I know this is an old review but I thought you might be very interested in this write up of mine on it.


  11. @Craig
    : He just remembered what his lieutenant really looked like.


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