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.


The Film Doctor said...

Pandorum seems to incorporate elements of Silent Running and maybe some Event Horizon? You made the right choice to not see Surrogates. After GI Joe and Pandorum, I guess Quaid has found his niche in scifi?

I still wonder, is Pandorum mostly artful, or mostly cheesy?

Richard Bellamy said...

FilmDr, thanks for confirming that I made the right choice. I was driving to the movies on Friday night, debating the whole way - Surrogates or Pandorum - and I happened to have read a brief positive review somewhere, but, mostly, it was the poster. As I rarely do, I made my decision at the ticket counter.

Pandorum is much more in the style of Event Horizon - and I have to say, the art direction is memorable. They took some time and care with these sets, apparently constructed in Frankfurt. So it's sometimes cheesy (a shoddy CGI shot at the end), but mostly artful. And, although the screenplay is unfortunately rather sketchy about how it all happened, the environment of the ship's interior and the things going on there are quite compelling.

Richard Bellamy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Information Review said...

I saw this movie few months ago and its a mix of residentevil/pitchblack and was quite good.

Good review

Richard Bellamy said...

Thanks for the above comment. There are definitely elements of Resident Evil and Pitch Black here - along with some original visual elements - and that's why I liked it. We need more science-fiction. I don't see any interesting prospects this year. They are releasing another installment in the Resident Evil saga, but I was fine with the first one. Spielberg needs to get off his lazy ass and make a kickass sci-fi movie; he's got the money for it.