Two astronauts awaken in a hyper-sleep chamber aboard a seemingly abandoned spacecraft. It's pitch black, they are disoriented, and the only sound is a low rumble and creak from the belly of the spacecraft. They can't remember anything—who are they, what is their mission? The only way out of the chamber is a dark and narrow airshaft.
Corporal Bower (Ben Foster), the younger of the two, crawls inside, while the other, Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid), stays behind for guidance on a radio transmitter. As Bower ventures deeper and deeper into the ship, he begins to uncover a terrifying reality. Slowly the spacecraft's shocking and deadly secrets come unraveled, and the astronauts realize that the survival of mankind hinges on their actions.
'Pandorum' is the kind of visually muddy, hopelessly derivative sci-fi film that is best suited for a lonely Saturday night, when your standards are low and you're just happy to be spending time with someone (the television) and watching something that's a slight cut above your average Sci-fi (excuse me, Syfy) Channel original movie.
The film opens with two astronauts awakening from hyper-sleep. Unlike in most sci-fi movies, this is not a cleanly process where you yawn, climb out of your chrysalis-shaped chamber, and talk about how rough it is to travel across the galaxy while lighting the nearest cigarette. No, in 'Pandorum' it's a painful, torturous ordeal involving pulling tubes out of your flesh and ripping off a kind of gooey secondary skin. We see most of this through the experience of Bower (Ben Foster, excellent as always), but we get some of it through the experience of Payton (Dennis Quaid). The two get to know each other by trying to get to know themselves - another side effect of long distance space travel is memory loss.
They awake to a ship art-designed within an inch of its life, but seemingly deserted. With Payton at a communication station, he sends Bower out to uncover what, exactly, is going on with the ship and what has happened to its thousands of travelers. (The ship is headed to a far away second-earth.) So, Bower heads off into the bowels of the spooky ship, and Payton stays put. They are both haunted - Bower by crazy, humanoid beasties (think the Reavers from Joss Whedon's 'Serenity') and Payton by his own past. They've got to quickly put all the pieces together and try to salvage the ship's operation and wake up the rest of the people on board.
What's a shame is that this description makes the movie sound pretty cool, when in fact, it's not. 'Pandorum' refers to what is essentially the space crazies, and is something that serves as a ticking clock to the story (somewhat), with both of our heroes seeing symptoms in themselves - can they solve the mystery before going batshit insane and killing each other? But even this seems like a gimmick.
The main problem with 'Pandorum' is that there's probably a fairly cool movie in there somewhere, but all sorts of phony, repetitive nonsense gets in the way. Bower's story, in particular, which is played out throughout the course of the movie, was engaging and fun to watch. With the flashback structure, this section of the movie felt like a really good episode of 'Lost.' But then you realize that you have to return to the main thrust of the story, with Bower running around dimly lit sewer-like sets while being chased by unimaginative monsters, and that's a real drag.
Unlike Danny Boyle's criminally underrated 'Sunshine,' there's not a single philosophical or moral dilemma that's posited at the forefront. Elsewhere on the disc, the creators (including director Christian Alvart, who made a nifty German horror movie a couple years ago called 'Antibodies' - check it out) talk about the deeper implications of the movie. But none of that is clear because all you can think about are those rubbery monsters, the film's muddy cinematography, and a climax that fits far too much plot (and far too many plot twists) into the last act of the movie.
While the lead performances are fine, there are a few missteps in the supporting characters (Bower meets some other awakened space travelers in his grubby quest for answers) and both the creature design and production design lacks anything even remotely describable as 'imaginative.' Combine 'Sunshine' with 'The Descent,' 'Alien,' and another half-dozen B-movie fantasias, and you've got 'Pandorum.' After sitting through this movie, which feels draggy and over-long at 90 minutes, I'm fairly certain 'Pandorum' is the sci-fi term for something else: tedium.
While the movie's overall look is quite grubby, you could do worse than to watch it on this quite presentable MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (aspect ratio: 2.35:1).
A lot of 'Pandorum' takes place in near or partial darkness, and what this transfer does really well is to give us different levels of that darkness, so that the image seems both fuller and more dense. It was enough, at least, to make me reconsider how much I disliked the look of the film, because with this transfer you can at least understand what the filmmakers were trying to get at with the movie's look.
The blacks look deep and bottomless, while shadows vary accordingly. It's the perfect transfer for a movie cloaked in darkness like this.
It's this lack of light that leaves much of what he consider when evaluating picture quality in the dark as well. Still, when you can see what's going on, detail is good (particularly on the space suits), skin tones look fine, and when color does pop up (like in the green glow sticks) it really shines. As far as grain goes, there is a fine, filmic layer on the image that never distracts or overwhelms.
Additionally, there are no buggy technical issues to speak of. While I wouldn't call this a reference quality picture, it is the best possible image for this type of movie.
Even better than the image, though, is the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix.
Since so much of the movie is predicated on Bower scrambling around the seemingly abandoned ship, getting chased by spooky creatures, the mix really needed to deliver. And it did, big time.
The surround tracks are used virtually throughout the entire film - with the ship's groans, the creatures' cries, and every bump, scrape, and scuffle rendered in couch-rattling clarity. The level of this track makes you think the movie is bigger and more explosive than it actually is, and I mean this as a compliment. Both the stuff on the ship and the flashback events we see with Bower on earth take on another bombastic dimension (or two) that adds a lot of depth to the viewing experience. Nothing ever overwhelms anything else; it's just a dynamic, lively track, through and through.
None of the effects get in the way of the dialogue either, especially since a lot of the movie is a back-and-forth between Quaid and Foster's characters. The dialogue is just as sharp and well prioritized as the more massive stuff.
The atmospheric track is a joy to listen to, full-bodied and fun, and it's not marred by any technical issues (pops, crackle etc.) either.
There's also a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
The extras on the 'Pandorum' Blu-ray are identical to those on the DVD, except, you know, spiffier-looking. The only difference is that you get another disc with a digital copy of the movie, although trying to watch this thing on an iPod would probably be impossible. There are also a bunch of trailers for lackluster Anchor Bay/Starz movies and television series but I wouldn't classify them as special features (although they too are in HD).
'Pandorum' is a terrible movie; a hodgepodge collection of the most memorable bits of recent science fiction (haunted space ship, psychological unease, creepy creatures), gracelessly squished together into something that is less than the sum of its parts. If you want a thoughtful and introspective look at space travel with a genre twist, watch 'Sunshine.' If you want a junky sci-fi flick that's a cut above whatever you'll find on cable tonight, check out 'Pandorum.' This borderline recommendation is heightened by the disc's superior picture and audio, although its limp special features don't do it any favors. I'd say rent 'Pandorum,' especially if you have a kick-ass surround sound system. Otherwise, let this baby drift off into space.