Release Date(s)2016 (March 14, 2017)
Studio(s)Village Roadshow (Sony Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
Passengers is a frustrating film. It has all the makings of something interesting, but confuses its emotional tone so often that it’s difficult to connect with. The film essentially wants to be Titanic in space, and it hangs that ambition on a simple science fiction premise: What if two people in suspended animation on a 120-year voyage to another star system woke up early with no way to go back into hibernation? They’d essentially be condemned to live their entire lives alone on the spaceship, a potentially interesting vehicle for exploring character, Human nature, and identity… provided you don’t think too deeply about the premise’s inherent problems (if each journey takes that long, new technologies would be invented, faster ships would pass them en route, it’s unlikely corporations would operate on profits measured in centuries, nations would rise and fall, economies would boom or bust, etc).
But it turns out that while the first of those characters woke up by accident, the second was woken deliberately by the first out of loneliness. As that first character is a man, Jim (solidly played by Chris Pratt), and the second a woman, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence – who gives a great performance here with limited material), some critics had a strong negative reaction to this film, even drawing comparisons to rape. That’s certainly as valid a reading as any other. But it’s still an interesting dramatic premise for a film to explore… except that this one doesn’t really bother. Deeper aspects of these characters are only given lip service and the terrible deed itself is quickly brushed aside when Jim and Aurora realize that their spaceship is breaking down, at which point Passengers becomes a glossy, action/survival tale, with an implausibly adolescent love story tacked on because that’s what you have to do these days in Hollywood to hit all four quadrants (male under 25, female under 25, male over 25, and female over 25, respectively).
The film’s emotional arc is muddied even further by having Jim and Aurora fall in love before she finds out what he’s done, a revelation made worse by the fact that he was only alone for a year before he thawed her out. You can’t help but think of all the ways this film could have unfolded more interestingly as you watch: What if Jim had woken up as a 10-year-old child, and essentially grew up alone on the ship for 20 years before waking Aurora? That at least would have made him a more sympathetic character, and made his actions – though no less wrong – more understandable. What if it had been Aurora who woke first, reversing the usual Hollywood misogyny dynamic? Or what if three people had woken accidentally, two of whom then fell in love, resulting in the kind of jealousy/triangle dynamic that drove the more successful Titanic? The shame here is that this film is beautiful to look at, with lavish and highly-stylized production design, and fine visual effects. Laurence Fishburne and Michael Sheen appear as well in smaller supporting roles. If only any of this were working in service of a better film.
Thankfully, Passengers was shot using ARRI Alexa 65 cameras in ARRIRAW (6.5K) format, and was mastered to a true 4K Digital Intermediate. The film is presented here in its original 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. This is a stunning presentation. Detail and texturing are exquisite. Contrast is lovely, with truly deep blacks, bright whites, and a richly nuanced color palette. The image offers a wonderful sense of depth. One might wish for the High Dynamic Range to have just a little more pop – the filmmakers went for a more glowingly “realistic” style than neon-bright eye candy – but this 4K presentation is absolutely reference quality. The 4K disc offers an audio experience to match, with a Dolby Atmos mix that’s creamy smooth and incredibly immersive. The field is expansive, with staging that feels effortless and natural. The mix’s use of the height channels is more subtle than you find in other Atmos mixes, but it still adds lift and serves to round out the dimensionality of the overall soundscape. The LFE provides a quiet sonic foundation for the experience, but kicks in with tremendous energy during the film’s action sequences. English Descriptive Audio is also available, as are additional 5.1 mixes in French, Italian, Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, and Thai (with subtitles in English SDH, the various audio languages, and several more). Bottom line: Passengers is one of those 4K discs you’ll probably want to own simply to show off your home theater system.
There are no extras on the 4K disc itself, but the package includes a good-quality 1080p Blu-ray Disc version of the film with the following bonus features:
- Deleted Scenes (8 scenes – 9:49 in all)
- Casting the Passengers (10:39)
- Space on Screen: The Visual Effects of Passengers (7:26)
- On the Set with Chris Pratt (4:19)
- Creating the Avalon (9:35)
- Outtakes from the Set (4:23)
- Book Passage (4 separate Homestead company promos – 4:40 in all)
The design and VFX featurettes are interesting and the promos are terrible, but there’s a couple of interesting deleted scenes, one of which actually has a bit of genuine emotion. An additional Blu-ray 3D disc is a nice inclusion by Sony (and it bumps up the Extras grade a bit). It offers a terrific 3D viewing experience that greatly enhances the cavernous interiors of film’s spacecraft setting, not to mention the exterior views of space itself. And as the film’s action sequences aren’t overly chaotic, the sense of depth and object separation in the 3D image never breaks down or feels too cluttered. The zero-G pool sequence is particularly impressive. Of course, there’s also a Digital HD copy accessible via a code on a paper insert in the package.
Passengers certainly had potential, but it stumbles in the treatment of its characters, and then attempts to paper over the resulting emotional confusion with a Hollywood-standard action finish. The truth is, this probably shouldn’t have been a $110 million studio epic. The story might have been better served had the film been made as an indie, with a $10-20 million budget, or even as an episode of an Outer Limits-like sci-fi anthology series. In any case, Passengers certainly looks and sounds great on 4K Ultra HD, and the Blu-ray 3D disc isn’t bad either. At the right price, you might find this title worth having for demo reasons alone. If you actually enjoy the film, flaws and all, then so much the better.
- Bill Hunt