08 January 2017 07:00:13 IST

Passengers: A space cocktail only its director would like

Beyond a point, the leads are on autopilot mode

Genre: Sci-fi adventure

Storyline: Two people wake up from interstellar hibernation much earlier than they are supposed to and find out why

Bottomline: By the time they figure it out, we slip into hibernation

Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen

Director: Morten Tyldum

Screenplays that revolve only around two characters for about 95 per cent of the running time are tough acts to pull off. And director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), unfortunately, has not done so with Passengers .

The film, which runs close to two hours, has an interesting plot — two people who are supposed to be in hibernation for 120 earth years, along with 5000 others, until their spaceship reaches a new habitat, find themselves awake after just three decades.

They happen to be two of the most good-looking white people on the planet — a small-town mechanical engineer, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), and a journalist, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). Well, the second awakening (if that term can be used) is not exactly automatic. But we’ll try not to put out any spoilers here.

The initial bits where Jim — who looks more like he’s brought up in downtown Manhattan — tries to reconcile with his loneliness works well. A spacewalk scene wonderfully captures his inner struggles and longing for human company. But the vastness of the spaceship from outside, which we see every now and then, is not exactly captured indoors. What we witness is a grown man who appears to be lost within a grand, empty mall in Dubai, surrounded by technology that was created if Apple had outsourced designs to North Korea. He hits upon an android (Michael Sheen, giving a fine robotic performance) who serves him whisky on the rocks and philosophical advice in equal measure. As time passes, gauged by the length of Jim’s beard, he decides to live life to the fullest.

When Aurora also wakes up, it feels like the film’s pace quickens for the worse: initial surprise and panic (check), cute conversations (check), falling in love (check), making love (check). But they’re still figuring out how to fall back asleep. “Are we there yet, where things start falling apart?” the director seems to be asking his team. By the time they do, you don’t really care.

The use of 3D seems justified especially during the scenes where gravitational control goes haywire. But do we still have to point out that explosions cannot be heard in outer space? C’mon Hollywood!

Passengers seems to be a cocktail of earlier Hollywood formulas — strains of I Am Legend, Gravity, Interstellar, Elysium are quite visible — that only its creator would enjoy sipping. “We’re on a sinking ship,” Aurora says towards the end. There’s even a strange reminiscence of Rose losing Jack as the Titanic sinks behind them (just replace the seawater with deep space and you’ll see it). The tension that Tylden attempts to create is less than palpable and beyond a point, the leads are on autopilot mode… much like their spaceship. Instead of them, we find ourselves hibernating before the final credits roll.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu CinemaPlus.)