1 hour, 56 minutes
Marketing a big-budget, high concept film is always going to be a tricky business. Sometimes, in an effort to get the advertising out in front of audiences, movie trailer companies cut together a trailer with footage from a film that may only be partially finished. Sometimes, a trailer includes dramatic scenes and lines that don’t ultimately end up in the final edit of a film. Case in point: “Rogue One’s” trailer is packed with moments and lines that are nowhere to be found in the actual movie.
These days, with movie bloggers trying to get the scoop on the latest films by trafficking in rumors and leaked set footage, it’s even more important for a studio to get out in front of a story and make sure that audiences are getting the best vision of an upcoming movie possible. That’s why you start getting trailers up to a year before a film is actually released.
But sometimes the marketing department has a different problem. How do you market a movie to a demographic that might otherwise skip it? This is different than marketing that is outright deceitful, such as the trailers for this season’s “Collateral Beauty” which offers an emotional and uplifting story of spiritual magic instead of the cruel and deceitful tale of a trio of advertising execs who try to capitalize on a friend’s tragedy in order to get him fired. No, marketing that is misleading doesn’t traffic in outright lies, but is deceitful in its own way.
The trailers for this week’s “Passengers” suggest a fun and exciting romance in the stars between two of America’s best loved actors, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. And that trailer, which has been playing for months and months, completely distorts your impression of what the movie actually is: a tense, emotional character study about loneliness and isolation, and the lengths people will go regain connection.
Chris Pratt plays Jim Preston, one of 5,000 passengers on a luxury space ship traveling to a distant planet. Jim, an engineer who had become fed up with his shallow and disposable life on Earth, has spent his life savings and signed up for indentured servitude in order to be a part of something larger than himself. He’s left his life behind and embarked on a journey that will take 150 years — time he will spend in suspended animation — all for the chance to get in on the ground floor of a new world.
This kind of travel, while not exactly routine, has been tested and tried and found to be nearly fool-proof. Hyper sleep pods, of the kind that are housing the 5,000 passengers and crew, are fail-safe, guaranteed to function. This is why it comes as a complete shock to Jim when his pod malfunctions, the result of an unexpectedly robust meteor shower, waking him up some ninety years early. As it’s explained, the process for putting a person into hyper sleep is far more complicated than maintaining that sleep, therefore, Jim is unable to go back under.
Fortunately, Jim is on an all-inclusive resort style ship, so there’s plenty to keep him entertained. On the downside, Jim has one of the lowest level tickets, limiting his access to certain meals and denying him access to important parts of the ship. Also, he’s completely alone, aside from a robot bartender played by Michael Sheen, and the sleeping forms of his fellow 5,000 passengers spread throughout the ship.
As the weeks and months creep by, Jim becomes more and more despondent. Nothing he tries has the least effect on his situation, and it’s beginning to look like he’s in for a long, lonely trip in which he will definitely not make it to the end.
The first act of the film is a lot like “Castaway,” though not quite as emotionally affecting. After coming very close to taking a very final spacewalk, Jim’s attention is grabbed by the slumbering visage of Aurora Lane, played by Jennifer Lawrence. Aurora is a writer, and Jim gains access to all of her published work, including her biographical profile included in the ship’s archives.
As time goes by, Jim becomes obsessed with Aurora. In his research on sleeping pods, in the attempt to go back to sleep, Jim has learned how to manually wake the sleeper, an act his logical mind rejects as tantamount to murder. But as Jim’s mental state continues to diminish, Aurora feels more and more like a lifeline. Eventually, Jim succumbs and wakes the object of his obsession, though without telling her the truth. He’s not alone anymore, and his mental condition is rehabilitated, but can he live with himself? And how will Aurora live with him once she inevitably discovers the truth?
The first two-thirds of “Passengers” are very good, and completely unlike the movie the trailer offers. It’s in the last third that the film falls apart, and unfortunately, much of what the trailer highlights is from this section. There are explosions, death-defying acts of heroism, at least two examples of deus ex machina, where the script just offers up a solution to an insurmountable obstacle without any work from the characters.
The end of the film is really frustrating, with the exception of one clever element that I didn’t see coming. It’s a real shame, because, though the first two-thirds of the film aren’t perfect, it’s at least interesting and thought provoking. This is one of those movies where the screenwriters didn’t know how to bring it in for a landing and just settled on cliche and bombast.
Pratt and Lawrence are both great as long as the script is giving them interesting work to do, but even they can’t bring it back once it goes off the rails. I was especially impressed with Michael Sheen as Arthur, the android bartender, because, as annoying as he is in the trailer, they do a good job with him, making him relatable and human-like, without ever becoming fully autonomous.
I wasn’t looking forward to this movie because I was so done with the trailer. Then, once the movie got going, I completely bought in. Too bad the ending was such a misfire, though. It’s almost the exact opposite experience I had with “Rogue One” where I was excited going in, bored in the middle, and jazzed by the finale.
I guess it’s pretty rare for one of these big, high concept vehicles to get it exactly right. Maybe I should give the marketing department a break. They’ve got quite a job to do.
“Passengers” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and adult themes.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.