Saturday, September 26, 2009
Grungy, Grimy Sci-Fi - Pandorum
German director Christian Alvart’s Pandorum borrows visual elements from Alien, Resident Evil, and The Descent to create the creepy carnivorous mutants and the grungy, greasy setting of the vast interior of the spacecraft Elysium (irony here) that drive this satisfyingly interesting sci-fi thriller about a Noah’s ark mission fleeing a doomed Earth for an Earth-like planet called Tannis, humanity’s last desperate hope.
Dennis Quaid, masking his minimal acting talents by glowering and barking his lines gruffly, and Ben Foster, brave but effectively scared out of his wits, play crew members who wake up from hyper-sleep nonplussed in regards to the location of the ship and the condition of the thousands of other members of the ship’s Earthling cargo. Meanwhile, German actress Antje Traue and kickass martial artist Cung Lee play two crew members who have survived in the bowels of the ship, eluding the predations of ugly, slimy carnivorous warriors who look like the cave things in The Descent but come armed like the Urakai in The Lord of the Rings. Amazing makeup in this film as characters are smeared with just about every kind of disgusting effluvium.
Although the mystery about what pandorum is disappoints in some respects, the film delivers entertaining action, suspense, and surprises, along with interesting and sometimes bizarre characters. Just the word – pandorum – suggests Pandora’s Box; unfortunately, the film does not incorporate the moral dilemma and the dark meanings of that myth. Instead, pandorum seems to suggest pandemonium – and the hellish conditions suffered by humanity aboard the Elysium certainly fit that implication.
The dark, claustrophobic atmosphere, along with the tension generated by greasy passages and hatchways, opening to who-knows-what, is enough to generate some good suspense. Unfortunately, the film has the bad habit of accompanying these scenes with overloud sound effects that turn the impacts of punches and bodies falling to lower decks into rather head-aching explosions. Yeah, he’s been punched! Yeah, he’s fallen. I get it! And here’s another gripe about an element that, in fact, weakens the suspense. Jeez, those carnivorous warrior mutants move way too fast for me! There are some chase scenes, combats, and literal cliffhangers that look suspenseful; but they certainly don’t feel as suspenseful as they could be when things move so fast in some shots that the shots look wasted and in need of being cut out. Slow it down, Herr Alvart, mein Freund; let me see what’s going on! The film’s major strength is visual; the art direction effectively depicts a nether region of black tubes, dripping passageways, and oozing bulkheads. Some of the shots of the swarming mutants border on the artistic. Alas, there’s little time to fully absorb them.
Now take a look at the poster above. What does it depict? It’s a masterful teaser. Look at it quickly and it sure seems to depict some sort of alien creature with a small head and a long, muscular leg ending in a hoof-like foot. That’s not what it is.
A side note here. Move over, Milla Jovovich. Sorry. Antje Traue is my new favorite ass-kicking female survivor! It’s amazing how sexy she is with her hair matted into dried strands, her face and cleavage smeared with grime and blood. Ah, cinema! Call it the grungy, grimy sci-fi look.