Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Eddie Rouse
Director: Christian Alvart
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: See Review
Length: 108 Minutes
Release Date: January 19, 2010
ďYour mind has turned against itself.Ē
Outer space horror is a subgenre Iím simply a sucker for. Itís why I really enjoyed the critically lambasted Event Horizon and never once objected to the spontaneous slasher climax of Sunshine, not to mention the classic that started it all; Alien. Thereís just something about the deserted landscape of space that can make horror elements seem all the more potent, especially when done right
And so a movie like Pandorum would appeal to me on that basis alone, but I was incredibly surprised to discover just how ferociously intense, visually dazzling and well acted the movie is. You donít normally get all these qualities in such a movie, and the fact that this was a more modestly budgeted flick made it all the more impressive. This European production very much illustrates that the fine folks overseas really do cherish some sci-fi and horror.
The movie takes place on board a gargantuan sized spacecraft called Elysium, where most of the people on board are engaged in a deep sleep process. The first to awake is Bower (Ben Foster), a flight crew member who, in a slight state of amnesia due to the effects of the cryogenic sleep, finds himself in an empty tomb of a ship. As he explores the vacant confines of the Elysium, everything starts to click regarding who he is and what his duty as part of the flight crew is.
The only one he is able to wake up is Payton (Dennis Quaid), the flight crew leader. The two come to the conclusion that it has reached their sleep period is up, and they are now responsible for guiding the ship to its destination. They were supposed to be awakened by the previous flight crew as part of a rotating periodÖproblem is the rest of the crew seems to have mysteriously vanished.
By now, what Iíve described to you seems like a plot scenario straight out of your basic outer space thriller, but director Christian Alvart and screenwriter Travis Milloy have added multiple nice touches and surprises as the rest of the story unfolds. The movie has the double advantage of having plenty of spectacle and an intriguing storyline, which ended up staying with me quite a while after I saw the movie.
Along the way, Bower soon discovers that a clan of mutated creatures is roaming about the ship. He also runs into two other humans, Nadia (Antje Traue) and Manh (Cung Le), who turn out to be from different sections of the shipís crew. Bower isnít trusted by them at first, since they havenít come across any other human until now, but soon has their help in fighting off the flesh eating creatures which, I should mention, look absolutely terrifying.
As this is going on, Payton also discovers a deserted crew member in the bowels of the ship. His name is Gallo (Cam Gigandet), who reveals to Payton that, during his run amongst the flight crew, the captain went insane and attempted to thwart the mission through a horrific circumstance. This came as a result of a crazed psychological state known as pandorum, which occurs as a result of having trouble adjusting to the being in space for so long.
Itís at this point where Pandorum evolves into an unexpected piece of psychological terror, which works amazingly well. In the end, what we have is a surprising mixture of well done creature horror and some really effective mind games, all of which taking place in the worst possible environment it could ever happen in. And although itís a bit sad that we now live in an age where 40 million is considered close to a low budget, the movie actually looks more visually engaging than most releases with a 100 million plus budget.
And the acting, as I mentioned earlier, is pretty much terrific all across the boards, even if itís all that the service of what is essentially a well polished B movie. Dennis Quaid, fresh off his brilliantly goofy turn in G.I. Joe, is in top form here, but itís in the final half of the movie where he fires on all cylinders. Ben Foster, one of our finest young actors, definitely makes the most out of what couldíve been a dull role. The most surprising turn comes from Cam Gigandet, an actor who Iím so used to despising (The O.C. and Never Back Down) but who is startling good in a mostly insane performance.
In short, Pandorum is a nerve-jangling, and rather unique piece of outer space horror. Itís a rather inspired mixing of the psychological bits from Solaris mixed with the creature-based horror of The Descent. And it demonstrates, once again, that you donít need a massive budget to deliver potent thrills.
Most of the movie is shot in near darkness, which is why Iím kind of stunned that the Blu-ray release from Anchor Bay looks so amazing. Mind you, I watched the movie with the lights off, so that might make a ton of difference. But as it stands, this visually engaging sci-fi flick gets a grand presentation by way of the 1080p. And when there is a good deal of light in the frame, the picture really soars (especially in a blue-tinted sequence towards the climax). But detail is strong and spectacular throughout the film, and those horrific creatures look even more so thanks to the superb HD touch!
Sci-fi is a genre that Blu-ray was made for, and the Dolby TrueHD mix on this release is a fantastic example. The lossless audio gets this movie kick started pretty much from the opening frame. The setting of the empty space vessel provides endless outstanding surround sound pick up. And when those monsters show up, get ready for some purely show-stopping moments. Dialogue delivery is well handled throughout and balanced tremendously well with all the chaos surrounding it.
On this Anchor Bay release, we get
a commentary with director Christian Alvart and producer Jeremy Bolt. Thereís
also a featurette titled ďThe World Of ElysiumĒ , as well as two shorts; ďWhat
Happened To Nadia's TeamĒ and
ďFlight Team Training VideoĒ. Lastly, we have Deleted And Alternate Scenes, Still Galleries and a Theatrical Trailer.
If youíre not into the outer space horror sub genre as I am, then you probably wonít dig Pandorum as much as I did. But if you are into it, then you will find plenty to be blown away by, and will definitely appreciate the unique twists as the story progresses. And of course, itís the kind of flick that should only be experienced on Blu-ray!