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The UnPopular Opinion: Passengers

11.30.2017

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

For decades, Hollywood has churned out all sorts of films in every conceivable genre. There have been winners and losers in regards to both execution and creativity, but there has never been a lack of star power to fuel even the most ambitious film project. With the advent of the Internet, the critical eye of both audiences and those who review films has changed. Gone are the days of the traditional studio romantic melodrama which is now looked down upon by modern audiences. Everything has to be a spectacle and nothing can just be an enjoyable genre flick. What happened to the days of Bogart and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy, or even Hoffman and Streep. Pairings of talented actors in films that made them interact with one another and produce emotional responses from audience are relics of a bygone era. But, luckily, we still get treated to films like this here and there. Such an example is PASSENGERS. Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, PASSENGERS is a sexy romance that may be light on logic but more than makes up for a thin story with chemistry between the two leads.

PASSENGERS is director Morten Tyldum's follow-up to the vastly overrated THE IMITATION GAME. That film, also a film heavy on dialogue and exposition, put the focus on the actors and their ability to create emotion in an unstable setting. PASSENGERS relies completely on that same tactic. Jon Spaihts' screenplay leaves a lot of room for the camera to linger on both the spacecraft and the isolation felt by Pratt and Lawrence's characters. The giant budget allotted to this film is clearly seen on screen. While there may not be a need for massive space battles, the production values are top notch and truly make the Avalon look and feel like a real vessel. The fact that the ship feels tangible and not a CGI creation allows the viewer to focus on the scale of the Avalon and the vast loneliness it represents for the characters destined to perish aboard it.

The UnPopular Opinion, Passengers, Science Fiction, Romance, Drama, LAurence Fishburne, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence

To call PASSENGERS derivative is an insult. Yes, there are a lot of cliches on display in the movie but there are few romantic movies that are not rooted in cliches. But I would not call the recognizable elemnts of PASSENGERS as cliches but rather archetypes. The crux of any romantic movie is going to force a filmmaker to rely on boy meets girl, they fall in love, they have a conflict, they reconcile that conflict. What a great movie does is take those benchmarks and turn them into something much more affecting. PASSENGERS succeeds by taking a rote love story and turning into something much more intense. There have been criticisms of the film that call Jennifer Lawrence's character weak for succumbing to the stalker behavior by Pratt's character. I can see elements of Stockholm Syndrome being relevant to the conversation, but there is also the more present conversation about mortality. Despite the questionable actions that lead to Lawrence being awakened in the film, the relationship that develops is real. While it does not excuse the actions that preceded it, it definitely does not need to be overanalyzed. This is a fictional movie set in outer space, after all.

The intensity of the romance between Aurora and Jim is paramount to why this movie works. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, a pair of the sexiest actors working today, clearly have something that clicked between them. One an Oscar winner and the other quickly proving himself as one of the most capable leading men in Hollywood, Lawrence and Pratt could have held their scripts in front of them as they filmed each scene and it still would have been worth watching. Many called this superficial and cold while failing to truly understand that this is not a movie aiming for realism but instead wants to transport the viewer to a very foreign landscape and present a scenario that none of us will ever face in our lives. Is it any more disturbing to see a woman revived and doomed to death unless she falls in love with the man who awakened her than the Sandra Bullock movie where she pretends to be the fiance of a man in a coma? We forgive countless romantic dramas and comedies for abhorrent details because they ultimately do not matter in the grand scheme of the story being told. They are the MacGuffins used to get us to the love story.

Many have criticized the third act of the film as both anticlimactic as well as tonally dissimilar from the rest of the film. For the first two-thirds of the movie, the outer space setting is not played up as much as it is in the action-oriented closing third. But, to call it an action sequence is truly literal and not at all insightful. Yes, there is some tension that is more fitting with the prior work from Pratt and Lawrence rather than the dramatic film that PASSENGERS start out to be, but it also works as a form of redemption for Jim's selfish act that sets the film in motion. By sacrificing himself to try and save Aurora, Jim comes close to repenting for reviving her against her will. Many have said that it becomes a wish fulfillment of a nasty male-oriented fantasy which makes Aurora into a weak female character defined by her male counterpart. While that is a fair analysis of PASSENGERS, I opt for a more hopeful alternative. Aurora is clearly given the chance to return to her pod and complete the journey she set out for, but she opts to stay with Jim and forge a life together. Is it so hard to imagine that after the time they spent that her feelings could actually be genuine?

Outside of plot or acting, PASSENGERS is a visually accomplished film. While we spend time debating the abyssmal special effects in films like JUSTICE LEAGUE, PASSENGERS showcases all of it's budget on screen and not just in the hefty paychecks banked by Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. Everything looks expensive in this production which is surprising since it is really a small film. With only Michael Sheen (in a great supporting role), a brief turn by Laurence Fishburne and a non-speaking cameo by Andy Garcia, PASSENGERS could very easily have been a stage production. The sheer workmanship on display here is astounding and should be appreciated by anyone who loves movies. Thomas Newman also delivers an accomplished musical score that is both ethereal and fitting of a science fiction epic and a romantic drama. 

The UnPopular Opinion, Passengers, Science Fiction, Romance, Drama, LAurence Fishburne, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence

With the slew of sexual harrassment and abuse stories revolving around Hollywood these days, maybe PASSENGERS is not the ideal romance to demonstrate the proper way a man should pursue a woman. Hell, PASSENGERS probably couldn't even get made if it were being developed in 2017, but I choose to look at the movie in a more positive mindset. PASSENGERS is not without flaws but it is far better than critics gave it credit for. Not every film has to be either an Oscar darling or an indie sensation. Sometimes, like the films of the 1940s and 1950s, a movie can just be a melodramatic experience that you watch and leave having enjoyed experiencing. It may not be a movie you stream regularly, but it is nowhere near the debacle you are led to believe. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are both very entertaining to watch and it doesn't hurt that they are both very good looking people. PASSENGERS is not a film that will leave you believing that this sort of story can actually happen to you, but I am glad someone in Hollywood tried to make a film that doesn't rely on superheroes, musical numbers or cheap laughs.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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