District 9 and Moon proved that there’s plenty of space left for intelligent, thought provoking drama alongside the action spectacles of warp factor 2009. There’s a good chance you missed sci-fi horror Pandorum on its theatrical run. To say it bombed would be like saying Mr. Spock’s ears are kind of pointy. Two astronauts awaken from hyper-sleep aboard a seemingly abandoned spacecraft. Its pitch black and they’re disoriented, worse still, they can't remember a thing about their previous existence. Cpl. Bower (Ben Foster) ventures deep into the ship and uncovers a terrifying reality. Slowly, the spacecraft's shocking, deadly secrets are revealed. The ones you can see, that is.
Pandorum is directed by Christian Alvart, but more disturbing than that; Pandorum is a new film from producer Paul W.S. Anderson. Though to be fair, I actually quite liked Event Horizon, and Death Race was more fun than I'd anticipated. Perhaps it’s time to give Pandorum another chance on DVD, but then again; perhaps I should stop listening to the voices in my head. Your enjoyment of Pandorum can be assessed by answering the following question, don’t worry; it’s not going to turn into a test or anything. Do you like your horror tinged with sci-fi, or your sci-fi masked by horror? There are aspects of Pandorum that work really well, and as you may have already attained, there are elements that fall flat on their collective arses.
Horror fans have certainly seen it all before, or in the case of Pandorum, not seen much at all. Christian Alvart disguises the poor visual effects with blankets of darkness, with too much of the movie hidden beneath clouds of incomprehensible bleakness. Not only that, he successfully extracts any hope of suspense with the aid of jittery camerawork and fast editing. It’s no wonder the cast members are going insane, I get a headache just thinking about it. The creature effects (yes, there are creatures) are poor throughout, coming on like a made for TV version of Brit horror The Descent. Tension is seen fleeing towards the nearest escape pod, and only fans of the Resident Evil franchise will get a kick out of the predictable scares and deafening noises that punctuate the deathly calm.
Thankfully, the sci-fi angle is a whole lot more pleasurable, hardly groundbreaking, but there are signs of a good movie hidden beneath the terrifying exterior. The initial set up is promising, only to be squandered by the traditional horror fare that follows. Running around in dark corridors, being chased by demonic beasties with a taste for flesh, we’ve seen it all a thousand times before. Scratch beneath the surface and there’s an intelligent movie waiting to be found, hand it to Paul W.S. Anderson and you get what you pay for. The ending is actually rather affecting, which makes it all the more disappointing that we have to wade through ninety minutes of mindless action just to get there. Themes of isolation, paranoia and fear lack the edge required to drive the movie forward.
Performances are as strong as you might expect, as long as your expectations aren’t too high. I’ve always been a fan of Dennis Quaid, because even when he’s bad he’s somehow bewitching. But then again, maybe that’s just me. I laughed my ass off through G.I. Joe. Having said that, I was laughing my ass off anyway. I always find Ben Foster enticing; he certainly stands out in films like Alpha Dog and Hostage. Ben isn't your typical choice of leads, but that shouldn't be considered a criticism, Foster’s turn is one of the few pleasant surprises this film has to offer. That and the appearance of relative newcomer Antje Traue, they certainly make for an outstanding pair.
Pandorum is not quite the cinematic beasty critics would have you believe. If you’re hoping for a new breed of terror, maybe you should take cover, Pandorum suffers from the same terrifying flaws as the vast majority of Hollywood horror movies made today. Fortunately, hidden beneath the surface, is an intriguing sci-fi concept that will hold your attention up until the enjoyable low-key ending. If it’s solid sci-fi shenanigans mixed with over familiar horror convention you’re after, Pandorum is a mixed bag of delight and disaster waiting to be torn apart. AW