Pandorum (2009) dir. Christian Alvart
Starring: Ben Foster, Dennis Quaid, Antje Traue, Cung Le, EddieRouse and Cam Gigandet
By Greg Klymkiw
"Pandorum" is as derivative a hodge podge of other sci-fi horror thrillers as one could begin to imagine - a celluloid gumbo of "Alien", "Event Horizon", "The Descent" and a few dozen other movies of a similar ilk. It is a picture that's infused with some of the stupidest dialogue that is truly worthy of holding a second place finish to the work of the late, great Edward D. Wood Jr. The peformance of one of the picture's leads is so godawful, it's hard to believe he was once a good actor.
And yet in spite of ALL this, the picture manages to succeed on a level of pure visceral thrills and the giddy directorial flourishes of Christian Alvart who infuses the proceedings with the kind of kid-in-a-sandbox joy that allows us the feeling of being invited into said sandbox to have one grand old time with him.
The plot is pretty straightforward. The Earth is a mess. A humungous spaceship with 1500 crew members is sent into deep space to another Earth-like planet. The journey is so long that several crews rotate in the ship's operation. When not at work, the crew members are shoved into icy pods where they live in a state of suspended animation. When senior officer Dennis Quaid and a subordinate (Ben Forster) wake from their slumber, they find themselves locked in a tiny room with no crew to greet them and no way out. Eventually, Quaid stays behind to navigate while Forster makes his way through a heating duct and into the ship itself. Once out into the ship proper, Forster encounters a fetching Ninja-trained female soldier of the German persuasion (Antje Traue) and a kung-fu fighting Vietnamese crew member. Their mission is to get through the ship to reset the nuclear reactor in order to restore power to the ship.
But first, they must fight a seemingly infinite army of bloodthirsty monsters who are suitably cool looking and one delightfully crazy cannibal (delectably played by Eddie Rouse). As well, they have to fight the "pandorum" - a deep-space disease that causes massive paranoia and psychotic behaviour.
Amidst several violent, terrifying set-pieces, they all learn to respect each other and as the dangerous journey ventures deeper into the bowels of the ship they all come to (insert "ugh!" here) understand each other. Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya!
We've seen it all before, but this still works on a roller coaster ride level - the jolts of suspense and at times, utter horror, are thrown at us with style and aplomb. It's well photographed and, for the most part, Alvart's mise-en-scene lacks the confusing geography so often inherent in most other contemporary action thrillers and the pathetic herky-jerky incompetence of such boneheads as J. J. Abrams (who continues to astonish with his inability to craft actions scenes)
Most of the performances are terrific, too, but Dennis Quaid, looking a bit bloated, blotchy and disinterested, is completely in the let's-get-this-over-with-so-I-can-cash-my-cheque zone. That said, his sleepwalking seems perfectly in keeping with the picture's B-movie roots. In fact, Quaid almost appears to be turning into his generation's version of ex-Mr. Shirley Temple stalwart of 50s Bs, John Agar.
I can live with that! I do hope Mr. Quaid can.
There's even a surprise ending (kind of in the original "Planet of the Apes" zone) that genuinely surprised jaded-old-me.
When a by-the-numbers plot can actually deliver on an ending I have NOT already predicted within the first ten minutes of a picture (coupled with its considerable style, thrills and chills), I'm happy to recommend such a picture even to discriminating fans of such genre pieces.
The "Pandorum" Alliance DVD release comes replete with all the usual making-of extra features which will satisfy fans of this sort of thing, but I personally hate it when too much is given away about the filmmaking process - especially special effects. It takes away all the magic for me.