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Pandorum (2009)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/19/2010

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/20/2010

When science-fiction films entered their heyday in the 1950s, the term "sci-fi/horror" wouldn't have made any sense. Why? Because most sci-fi movies from that era were scary whether they wanted to be or not. The movies dealt with alien invasions which were just a thinly veiled view of the rise of communism. Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still, the Martian ships from War of the Worlds, the thing in The Thing -- these were all frightening images. Over the next few decades, science-fiction and horror would grow apart, meeting every now and then. However, things changed in 1979 with the release of Alien. While clearly a science-fiction film, this was also a terrifying film which made the term "sci-fi/horror" make perfect sense. Since that time, these films have become fairly commonplace, but every few years, one crops up which really fits the definition. The latest entry into this cycle is Pandorum.

Pandorum opens by informing us that in this dystopian 22nd century, the population of Earth has grown to dizzying levels and natural resources are scarce. The spaceship Elysium is launched on a journey to the Earth-like planet Tanis, in hopes that man can relocate there. Bower (Ben Foster) suddenly awakens in his hyper-sleep chamber aboard the ship. He fights his way out only to find that the room is deserted. He gets dressed and finds a sign which informs him that temporary memory loss is a normal part of the waking-up process. He then opens the tube of Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid). Tattoos tell the men that they are part of the flight crew and they both know that the previous crew should be there to meet them. However, the room is locked and they can't get to the bridge. Using an air duct, Bower makes his way into the ship, only to find that it is deserted. Or so he thinks, he quickly learns that something terrible has happened on-board Elysium and that danger lurks around every corner. Even worse, the ships nuclear reactor has become unstable.

At first glance, Pandorum is going to remind viewers of two films; Alien (which is unavoidable) and Event Horizon. That second part can be explained by the fact that Pandorum was produced by the Director and Producer of Event Horizon. However, the movie contains many other homages as well. The film's first act seems to draw influences from two main sources. First, it's like any "locked room" mystery ever written, except in reverse -- the characters are locked in a room and must get out for the story to progress. (It reminded me of Cube in a way). Also, the idea of characters who can't remember/don't know what's happening and must explore an area is the idea of many, many video games. And I don't want to give too much away here, but some characters arrive in the film who have a very The Road Warrior feel to them.

I could nitpick all day about what other movies Pandorum looks like, but the bottom line is that when all is said and done, this movie works. The script by Travis Milloy and Director Christian Alvart makes a smart movie by opening as a mystery, as this draws the viewer into the story. Bower and Payton don't even know where they are, so at that moment, the audience is one step ahead of them. But, from there on, we are right with them, learning what has happened on-board Elysium. As Bower explores the ship and finds clues, the tension mounts, as the mystery gives way to horror. There are bad things lurking on the ship and Bower must overcome his disorientation and quickly learn to survive. As the movie progresses, the action and pacing increase, leading up the exciting ending.

While Pandorum does have some shortcomings (The Mad Max look? Really?), the strong script and production design really carry the film. Again, Pandorum is clearly drawing influence from other movies, but when the script calls for them, there are some nice plot-twists and touches here. If you had asked me to guess the ending, I couldn't have come close and this film contains one of the most satisfying final twists that I've seen in a while. The other strong suit are the sets. Yes, Elysium looks a lot like other spaceships which we've seen over the years, but (as far as I can tell) the actors are playing on some huge sets here and CG backgrounds are kept to a minimum. The movie had a reported budget of $40 million and it looks like much of that made it on-screen. In addition, Alvart has done a fantastic job shooting the film and the move contains some great visual touches, the best coming in a story of another doomed spaceship.

It's a shame that Pandorum died such a quick death at the U.S. box office, as it's a solid picture. Ben Foster is in nearly every frame of the film and does a great job of carrying the movie. The sci-fi elements of the movie are solid, and yet there's some gore for those seeking it. My only problem with the movie was that it's a bit long and I could have done without some of the longer fight scenes. Still, if you want to see that Alien is still influencing movies over 30 years later, you could do much worse than Pandorum.

Pandorum eats a cricket on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image here is very sharp and clear, showing very little grain and no defects from the source material. Despite the fact that this is a dark film, the image is never overly dark and the action is always visible. The color palette lives in the blacks and grays, but when greens, reds, and blues appear, they look great. The level of detail is very good, most noticeably in close up shots. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is one of the better Dolby tracks that I've heard. The stereo effects are notably good and do a fantastic job of putting us right there with Bower as he explores. The surround sound effects are nearly constant and are nicely detailed. There are some nice shots of sounds moving from the front to the rear. The subwoofer effects are outstanding and produce wall-shaking sound throughout. Overall, a great technical display.

The Pandorum Blu-ray Disc has an assortment of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Christian Alvart and Producer Jeremy Bolt. "The World of Elysium: Behind-the-Scenes Featurette" (14 minutes) is a wide-reaching piece which contains comments from the director, producers, and cast. They discuss the story and the development of the film. While there are too many clips, we do get some nice on-set footage, most notably the creation of the creature make-up. In the most interesting aspect, we get a look at the set design. "What Happened to Nadia's Team" (5 minutes) is a brief video which plays like a deleted scene, as it fills in at least of the blanks in the story. "Flight Team Training Video" (3 minutes) is a faux educational piece designed for the Elysium crew. The Disc contains sixteen DELETED & ALTERNATE SCENES which run about 28 minutes. There some new dialogue scenes here, but nothing ground-breaking. A flashback to Nadia in the lab is the best part.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long