Picking Nits out of J-Law’s latest movie

Right off the bat, lemme admit that I enjoyed Passengers, Jennifer Lawrence’s latest movie, co-starring Christ Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Parks and Recreation). Two-thirds of the movie dragged on a little too slowly, but the remaining third picked up the pace considerably. That and Lawrence’s great acting managed to keep the movie from being a total dud.

Watch the trailer and be warned. Spoilers after the jump.

Great premise, right? On a 120-year flight to a distant planet, more than 5,000 souls are placed in hibernation on-board a fully automated ship, only to have two of them wake up 30 years into the journey. And by the end of the trailer, you know that the shingle is gonna hit the fan something fierce.

Right of the bat, questions start flowing: What woke them up? What was the emergency all about? And what the heck are they gonna do the rest of the way?

Like I said, it was an enjoyable movie. But no movie is so enjoyable that it’s gonna be safe from nitpickers. So, here we go.

  1. The Avalon is a long-haul vessel intended to transport colonists to a distant world, more than a century of travel away. It clearly isn’t the first, either. In order the trip in a hundred or so years, the ship is travelling at half the speed of light (299,792.458 km/s) or 149,896.229 km/s. At that speed, hitting even water vapour – clouds! – would be catastrophic. How did an asteroid not do more than punch a clean hole into the ship’s innards?
  2. The Avalon was powered by a nuclear fusion reactor which creates two problems: first, where’s the fuel? Exterior shots of the ship show that it looks like a spindly starfish – no fuel tanks at all; second, according to the Avalon’s designer, the ship draws fuel from free floating hydrogen in space – the so called interstellar medium. The only problem with this is that this theory of free floating hydrogen being a viable fuel source was debunked as early as the 1960’s when scientists at NASA determined that there wasn’t enough of the stuff to begin with.
  3. At one point, the Avalon actually shuts down and its rockets go completely dark. It stays this way for at least 15 minutes while the problem is resolved. Since the ship can’t possibly go back up to half-light speed immediately, I suspect that the deceleration would have thrown the journey’s timetables off by quite a bit, possibly even with adverse impact on navigation. And yet, at the end of the movie, the biggest thing that seems to shock the newly awakened captain – a hilarious looking Andy Garcia – is the jungle that’s all but reclaimed the insides of his ship.
  4.  Speaking of this not being the first time colonists have gone out to distant planets, how believable is it that the hibernation pods are considered so “failsafe” that no protocol exists to deal with malfunctions?
  5. And while we’re on the subject of believability, how convenient is it that the two people accidentally pulled out of hibernation turn out to be a gifted mechanic – able to teach himself how to repair starships with just a handful of manuals – and a crew chief (played by Laurence Fishbone who looked and moved exactly like how an old and sluggish Morpheus would) with exactly the level of security clearance needed to move the plot along?
  6. Much more believable was the med-bay’s autodoc which, when tasked to diagnose the crew chief, promptly told him that he was dying. Kinda like WebMD (stop diagnosing yourselves on the internet, kids), only in the future.
  7. Jim and Aurora should have totally had kids. Then Andy Garcia wouldn’t be stuck with just overgrown foliage. There’d be a welcoming party of at least one septuagenarian waiting for him.

The physics aside, Passengers is really nothing more than an updated Titanic. The story revolves around a doomed ship and the survival of star-crossed lovers. Heck, even the mechanism for the ship’s doom is identical. Both are technical marvels, laid low by floating “rocks” and the hubris of their builders who never once accepted the possibility of failure. The only major difference, plot wise, is probably the ending.

I suspect that the writer of passengers is one of those people who left the cinema after watching Titanic, muttering about how Jack could have fit on the door and how Rose was such a selfish bitch for ditching the guy who saved her. To address that unfairness, he then goes and writes a script that evens the score for all the Jacks in the universe. Nice bit of poetic justice there, but a gross under-delivery of the potential of the movie’s premise.

Over-all, this movie me affected me like Stargate did, and the Core. All three movies started with great ideas, teased the audience with fairly tantalising puzzles, peaked with well-shot action sequences, and ended on a decidedly anti-climactic note.


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