This week in film: Sail through space in a luxury-liner spaceship


“Passengers,” a new sci-fi thriller romance, opens at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center next weekend, just before Christmas and Hanukkah.

“Passengers” director Morten Tyldum is best known for “The Imitation Game,” about mathematician Alan Turing, the WWII codebreaker and father of theoretical computer science. That movie was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for star Benedict Cumberbatch. It won best adapted screenplay. Despite its Norwegian-born director’s credits, “Passengers” is less likely to earn Oscar nominations or other awards. It was not available for screening by this reviewer, but has been commented on extensively elsewhere.

“Passengers” opens with mechanical engineer Jim Preston, played by Chris Pratt (of “Parks and Recreation,” “The Lego Movie,” and “Jurassic World” fame), who is en route to Homestead II, a distant space colony. The corporate entity that owns Avalon, the spacecraft carrying Preston, also owns the colony, said to be an alternative to an overpopulated Earth. Preston is one of 5,000 passengers contained in individual suspended-animation pods, until a meteor damages the spacecraft and pops him out of his pod 90 years too early for the 120-year voyage.

As Preston wanders around his cruise-ship-style accommodations, he discovers that no one else has been ousted from a pod. Basketball and video games keep him occupied for a while, but his is a lonely existence, and his future looks bleak. A charming android bartender named Arthur, played by Michael Sheen, provides interaction of a sort, as do a series of less-than-helpful holograms. Then another beautiful pod occupant captivates the solitary engineer, and he makes the disturbing decision to break her free from her suspended-animation chamber.

Out emerges Jennifer Lawrence, the inimitable Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” and Oscar winner for “Silver Linings Playbook.” In “Passengers,” she plays journalist and writer Aurora Lane, awakened in a oddly contemporary twist on the Snow White fairy tale. The catch for her is that at first she doesn’t know Preston is responsible for consigning her to life — and eventual death — in the Avalon. As the two wander through their luxurious trappings and cope with continuing malfunctions of the spaceship, romance blossoms. Preston even courts Lane with a space walk, á la “Gravity.”

Reviewers have praised the special effects used for a zero-gravity scene involving Lane in a swimming pool, as well as the star power of Lawrence and Pratt. The supporting cast includes veteran actors Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia. Variety critic Owen Gleiberman suggests, however, that “Passengers” “begins promisingly but gets lost in space.”

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