The Ship Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us: A Review of Passengers

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This review contains spoilers!

In the realm of inferior movies there is a special category reserved for movies that are unsatisfactory despite their captivating and deceptively convincing trailers. Passengers is a new addition to this category, for despite its adrenaline-filled trailers that bombarded TV screens several weeks before its release, it leaves its audience with a bitter aftertaste that makes one think, “I could’ve written a much better space-romance than that.”

As the space-romance begins, the viewer finds themselves instantly thrown into a tumultuous story aboard the starship “Avalon,” which is flying through space on autopilot, navigating cosmic debris and asteroids. It is one of these asteroids that breaks through the defensive shield causing the ship to “rock”—already a rather unconvincing plot detail considering that the ship seems to have flown seamlessly for 30 years—and wakes Jim Preston from his hibernation pod.

Considering this is yet another space movie featuring Chris Pratt, one might expect him to be somewhat akin to Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy: clever, quirky, quick on his feet. However, when creating Preston’s character, it is as though the producers forgot all these things, resulting in him being, conveniently, an engineer that lacks a personality. His role does not go far beyond attempting to break open the door to the command center and to ultimately assume roles as a welder, botanist, jeweller, and stereotypical I-will-save-the-world hero. The only backstory he receives is that he could barely afford the ticket, but decided to leave Earth in an attempt to start a new life.

After Preston struggles over the course of a year with being alone on the ship and even contemplating suicide, the movie comes to what is the biggest and most problematic aspect of the movie: Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Aurora Lane. It isn’t so much the fact that Aurora is, like Preston, a monochrome character, or the fact that she’s yet another example of a writer who writes to achieve fame (and also happens to be from New York, and have a rich and well-known writer for a father). The problem is more in the way in which she appears in the plot.

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This is where the biggest source of anger and disappointment lies. The trailers present Passengers as a romantic story of two people who happened to wake up together and find themselves trying to save the spaceship, and in doing so, fall in love. In reality however, it is Preston who “wakes up” Aurora Lane by meddling with her hibernation pod.

Preston’s explanation for this is the inability to cope with his loneliness—his only other constant companion being the robot bartender Arthur—and despite how horrible his actions are, one can understand the motivation behind them. However, the way in which he specifically “chooses” Aurora—by accidentally coming across her pod, finding her attractive, looking up an interview with her and declaring that she is the woman of his dreams—raises eyebrows and exasperates.

This development overshadows the rest of the movie, and drastically changes the atmosphere. The viewer is put in the position of judging Preston’s decision. We’re left wondering when he’ll tell her, and then choosing sides when the truth comes out, and ultimately imposing a “final verdict” depending on which character’s side they choose.

However, even the morality issues of the movie are overshadowed by the scientific inaccuracies, despite the absolute frequency of the moral dilemmas. It is a movie that exasperates not only those of science and engineering backgrounds but even general viewers having some knowledge in the field. Examples, such as flying past a burning planet, catch the eye of an audience who know that in real life the ship would be pulled towards the planet by its force of gravity.

Other glaring errors in logic are difficult to forgive even in a sci-fi fantasy movie: scenes such as Aurora floating in a water bubble and not drowning, or Preston surviving a massive flame without even minor damage to his space suit. It goes without saying that some semblance of scientific law and common sense is appreciated. For this reason, scenes like the ending lose their sentimental touch, instead provoking a stream of questions like “wait, what is that tree growing on? And how are all these animals surviving?”

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The one positive of this movie, which can also be interpreted as a negative by some, is how easily it opens up the debate on morals and what constitutes romance (although the faulty science still looms in the background as another big topic of discussion). While Preston is easily criticisable for his decision to awaken Aurora, one can counter by saying that she got the adventure she was hoping for, a bigger one than spending a 240 days in hibernation flying to a space colony. The way the viewer interprets the movie is a demonstration of their thought processes.

The movie is viewed differently by different age groups. Teenagers and young adults might see it as a destruction of dreams and the snatching away of possibilities, similar to the way in which Aurora often accused Preston of doing so. Some adults, however, will argue that it is a movie that counters the ‘dream big’, ‘dream without limits’ ideology by showing that not all people can have their dreams fulfilled; a fact that is very much a part of reality and that which is still reluctantly acknowledged by the entertainment industry.

What I got out of this movie is that capitalism is scary, business comes first and foremost, and that if I were in the movie I wouldn’t get onto the Avalon even if they paid me. (Also that writers aren’t always weak and can actually swing sledgehammers or beat-up the jerks that ruin their lives.) Other than that, Passengers was a source of disappointment and emotional discomfort, with a bland storyline, shallow characters, a “romance” that is neither believable nor right, and an ending that makes one reach for a pen and paper and yell “I can do better!”

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

More than Dinosaurs: The Humans of Jurassic World

This post contains spoilers.

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Eager as ever, I arrived at the theater for Jurassic World just in time and sat through the previews, which is how I learned that Adam Sandler’s still making movies. Less disappointing than this was Jurassic World itself.

The credits open on eggs hatching in a lab, accompanied by traces of the original music. For me, what really makes a reboot or a sequel is the soundtrack, so it was a good sign that the music connects this movie to its predecessors. We’re introduced to Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), brothers who are being hurried by their mother (Judy Greer). They’re visiting their aunt, who works at Jurassic World, and from here the story takes off.

The boys arrive at the park and with their arrival we are given some exposition: we learn that the park has fourteen species of dinosaur, and that the kids form the predictable pair of surly teen and his excitable younger brother. The music swells as they make their way through the scenery, and the classic theme plays as Gray looks out the hotel window and sees the island. It is impressive. Overall, the design is really nice.

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Image from Jurassicworld.com

We are then introduced to both Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the topic of consumerism, a major theme of the movie. “No one’s impressed with a dinosaur anymore.” In their search for bigger attractions, the genetic team behind Jurassic World has come up with a genetically modified hybrid: Indominus rex. As exemplified by this display of ambition, this movie is about capitalism, certainly, but not in a way that’s preachy or too intense.

Claire meets up with her nephews, but, as a serious career woman preoccupied with the new dinosaur, leaves them in the care of her personal assistant. The first sign we see of Indominus is the foreboding cracked glass of her containment area. Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), the owner of the park, describes Indominus as something that will give parents nightmares, let alone their kids. All of this seems like a really good idea for attracting new guests to the park.

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Cowboy indeed

Next, we finally meet Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, the cowboy of Velociraptors. With him comes another conflict of the movie: the militarization of Jurassic World’s creatures. Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), head of security, is pushing this idea on Owen and Barry (Omar Sy), who also works with the raptors. “War is part of nature,” he reminds them.

Claire asks Owen to have a look at Indominus, and the encounter reveals that they dated briefly in the past. They call out each other’s flaws for a bit before heading out. This romance is completely unnecessary, and it doesn’t get much more developed; it’s pretty much the bare-minimum as far as romantic subplots in action movies go.

Owen brings up the psychology of animals in captivity as they visit Indominus’ cage, and what follows is an expression of her character. In a quick series of action, she outsmarts them and escapes, removes her tracking implant, kills the squad that was sent out to contain her, and establishes herself as a considerable danger. Doctor Wu (B. D. Wong, in a role reprised from the original films), the park’s chief geneticist, reveals that her genome contains cuttlefish and tree frog DNA, allowing her to camouflage and hide from thermal imaging, respectively. But there is still a piece missing from her genome: something far deadlier.

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RAAAAAAWR

The park issues a vague evacuation message—the perfect time for Zach to convince his brother to take a detour. After a weird Jimmy Fallon cameo, they narrowly escape Indominus, and Zach realizes he’s not as edgy as he thought. Claire and Owen, close behind, realize that Indominus is hunting for sport. The boys find the ruins of the old Jurassic Park, and use an old jeep to escape. Hoskins strongly suggests using Owen’s raptor pack to get Indominus.

Indominus breaks into the aviary, setting hundreds of flying reptiles loose, and things gets real when Masrani, the park’s owner, dies in the process. Hoskins takes control of the park, and gets what he wants: the raptors are used to hunt Indominus, who eventually kills almost all of them. During the showdown, Owen realizes that Indominus’ DNA is part raptor. Wu, who had been working with Hoskins, escapes with lab material, while Hoskins is killed by a raptor.

Claire realizes that they need something bigger to take down Indominus, and unleashes Jurassic World’s Tyrannosaurus rex. Together with the lone surviving raptor, they are able to defeat Indominus. The loose Tyrannosaurus is a non-issue, and everyone reunites with the people that matter to them.

The Jurassic films are often criticized for not being scientifically accurate. However, they are meant to be science fiction, not a National Geographic special. For the sake of the story, the scientific fabrication can surely be excused.

At any rate, this is even explicitly addressed in the movie. Dr. Wu’s team of geneticists are not recreating dinosaurs as they actually lived, but are recreating them to be edgier and scarier, with an ultimate goal of getting people and money into the park. The “mad science” is not natural, and the ever-changing dynamic between humanity, nature, science, and the environment—as it is in the real world—is well explored while still appealing to a mass audience.

In my opinion, Zach and Gray were some of the least interesting characters and their brotherly discussions of what growing up means felt like boring filler. However, they were believable, young teenage boys, and the family dynamic with their parents was nice. In a way, the film is about family as much as it is science fiction: Claire’s desire to be more involved in her sister and nephews’ lives—but her inability to actually do so—was addressed throughout.

The adult characters were far more interesting, and their development felt more genuine and complex. While the action of the movie was entertaining, I would have enjoyed a more in-depth exploration of what went on in the labs. The power struggles between different factions of Jurassic World staff were interesting and made it a movie about people as much as dinosaurs.

Overall it was an exciting and aesthetically pleasing film, and though it lacked in Jeff Goldblum screen time, it made up for it in almost perfectly balancing action and human emotion. The subtle continuities from the older films—the soundtrack, the reprise of the DNA cartoon—made it not a movie but a part of an ongoing cycle: a tradition. There is a beautiful story about nature here, one that has been growing for decades, and I’m excited for a sequel. The ending, while satisfying, left many loose ends. This is clearly not a full-stop, as in the end Doctor Wu escapes with his research. I leave the theater wondering what lies in store for Jurassic World now that it has met the same fate its aged predecessor.

Contributed by – Risa Ian de Rege