Romantic Science Fiction: Reviews of “Passengers” and “The Space Between Us”

My Daughter has finally (FINALLY!) been getting into science fiction films. She’s always been a “Princess,” worried about what she perceives as “Boy” things, or worse, “Dad” things. Of which, Science Fiction and horror top the list of Things Not To Partake Of.

That’s changed recently, however. First, with the Star Trek and Star Wars reboots. These franchises finally wormed their way into her heart the way they’re supposed to, like Toxoplasma Gondii, slowly eating away at her frontal lobe and making her susceptible to the suggestion that Sci-Fi is enjoyable.

Then we saw “Arrival”, this year’s Serious Science Fiction Film and Hopeful Oscar Contender. She really enjoyed it, and left the theater excited to see two films she saw the trailers for: “Passengers” and “The Space Between Us.”

So we went out to see both last week.

“Passengers” was first as it was at the second run cheap seats the week before TSBU came out. Now, I read about how problematic the story was, and didn’t feel like giving the studio all the moneys, so this was a nice compromise. And yes, this is a very disturbing film. The film starts off well: The Aurora is a luxury commercial colony ship transporting 5,000 settlers to a new colony. No FTL, so the passengers are in suspended animation for the 120-year duration. Unfortunately, the ship runs into a deep space asteroid field 30 years into its flight and is damaged, waking up Chris Pratt. In Early scenes, the ship refuses to acknowledge that anything is wrong, setting up some “HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” satire that really goes nowhere. Pratt cannot get back to sleep, cannot wake the crew, and is looking at spending the rest of his life alone. He begins to obsess over fellow passenger Jennifer Lawrence for no reason, eventually making the decision to wake her up and sentencing her to death too. He acts all surprised, makes her believe he also was woken up on accident and starts a romantic relationship with someone he has absolutely nothing in common with based on lies and criminal behavior. Lucky for him, She falls in love because she has nothing better to do anyway.

And let’s talk about Jennifer’s character for a second. She’s a writer, the daughter of a prize-winning Author. She’s not trying to start over in the new colony. Instead, she’s making the trip to report on the expedition before returning to Earth. She’s rich, sheltered, and begins a blog to nobody.

By this point, the cringe factor was pretty high. But Wait! There’s More! The ship’s systems continue to fail, eventually waking up a crew member, Laurence Fishburne. Lt. Larry is damaged from the malfunctioning pod, gives a few lines of exposition to move the story into the climatic third act, rewards the hero with a plot coupon in the form of access codes, and promptly dies, fulfilling the trope of “Black Guy Dies First” in a show with only two characters.

Yadda Yadda Yadda, Crisis Crisis crisis, and the Crew wake up 90 years later to find the remnants of a beautiful relationship that lasted into old age.

There’s so much Wrong here. Let’s start a little list, shall we:

  • The ship refuses to acknowledge or Help Chris Pratt in any way.
  • A catastrophic meltdown that takes two years to be noticeable, but gives them 20 minutes to fix before destroying the ship.
  • The crew is completely inaccessible for no reason. If the ship was “Perfect”, and everybody was asleep, why section off the crew, who are supposed to wake up first anyway, from the passengers”
  • There is no redundancy in any system.
  • Chris Pratt tries to send a message to Earth, Learning about lag. However, Jennifer Lawrence never sends her blog home or makes an effort to find out what’s going on on her own. Writers. Amirite?
  • The whole “Wake up a girl for my own amusement” doesn’t even need to happen. What’s wrong with two pods malfunctioning? Especially since Laurence Fishburne’s pod malfunctions later anyway.
  • Robot Bartender is stupid. Not stupid like as an idea, but stupid as in, “I look human to provide companionship but basic emotions and logic are beyond me in any way, even though my entire purpose is to provide mood altering drugs in a recreational setting.”
  • Sick Bay: I’ma gonna rant here a bit because this pissed me off to no end and deserves its own list of items:
  • So, the sick bay only seems to contain one medical pod? for 5,000 passengers?
  • And it refuses to help heal Fishburne.
  • And it refuses to revive Pratt until Lawrence enters the override code.
  • What good is a medical robot that refuses to provide medical care?
  • Oh, and once they have the override entered, they find out the Medical bay can put them into suspended hibernation after all.
  • Only one, though, because someone needs to enter the codes.
  • But the override doesn’t seem to be biometric, so why not just have the Bartender do it for both of them?
  • Or, for that matter, Why not just have a medical robot that actually provides medical care?

Did I mention How stupid this movie is? It’s good looking though.

It’s not good to start a romance with an immoral act, and although the movie lampshades it, it’s hard to root for Chris Pratt’s character. He does a horrible thing in a moment of weakness. Luckily, Jennifer Lawrence’s character is totally objectified. Just like the ship, she has meltdowns on cue as needed by the plot, and thanks to the plucky determination of her engineer boyfriend, comes through in the end to service his story. Wonderful.

Although “The Space Between Us” has been getting critically lambasted, It’s the more enjoyable story. Notice I said “Enjoyable”, not good. If anything, it’s completely inoffensive and lightweight, the perfect YA romance for pre-teen girls.

The story rip-offs many, many better science fiction stories- “Stranger in a Strange Land”, “The Martian”, John Carpenter’s “Starman”, Disney’s “Race to Witch Mountain” — Even scenes from “North by Northwest”. There’s not an original idea in it’s earnest, sunny body. It’s going to be hard to describe the plot because it’s already fading from my mind like yesterday’s daydreams (unlike “Passengers”, whose rage inducing plotholes will stay with me forever), but here goes:

Gary Oldman plays a character based on Elon Musk. He’s sending a crew to Mars to start a colony. The Mission commander learns she’s pregnant while en route, has a baby on Mars and promptly dies. No one knows who the father is, except for the audience.

16 years later and Asa Butterfield plays Ender. His existence has been kept secret for reasons, But he uses his high intelligence to hack the interplanetary communication system to chat with a single girl on earth. He’s getting restless, and the astronaut acting as his step-mom gets permission to bring him to Earth. They do, he escapes, has a bunch of epiphanies, warming the hearts of everyone he meets before finding the girl, Tulsa, played by Britt Robertson. Tulsa is a motorcycle riding rebel and con artist, so naturally, she doesn’t believe him until they’re attacked by the Men in Black, and they commandeer a cropduster, escape again, and decide to go find Ender’s father.

Much hilarity ensues as they stay one step ahead of Elon Musk. Ender starts dying because of Earth’s gravity, but she helps him commit suicide by continuing to drive him to his Father, even though the audience Really really really knows who the real father is by this point and is screaming at the screen.

Ender’s heart gives out just as he realizes who his father is, but don’t worry they save him from Earth’s gravity by subjecting him to multiple artificial G’s in a space plane, where suborbital flight instantly cures him. Cut to Mars, where Ender and his Father are playing catch in spacesuits, and Earth, where Tulsa is training to be an astronaut.

OK. Yes. Put it that way, it sounds dumb. But that’s only because it is. But…But…It’s an enjoyable breezy kind of dumb. The world holds together a lot better than “Passengers”, and I really found myself rooting for Tulsa. She’s a self-assured strong character, even if the script turns her into a Mary Sue. Where Asa’s character is supposedly the genius smart one, he’s pretty limited because he has no experience. Tulsa is the type of character we need more of in Sci-fi.

No words on the adult characters: since this is a YA movie, they’re to a person useless. That’s just the trope.

“Passengers”: D+ (Points for scenery, including the actors)

“The Space Between Us”: C+ (Enjoyable if Cheezy and Derivative)

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Photo by Kevin M. Gill

Photo by Kevin M. Gill

Originally published at Byzantine Roads.