The modest amount of promotion that "Pandorum" received around its release back in 2009 intrigued me enough to actually leave my house (a rarity these days) and see the film in a proper theater. I like sci-fi on the big screen, especially scary sci-fi. Seeing “Aliens” with a packed house back in the day is one of my fondest movie-going memories, as the combination of the kick-ass FX and the bountiful scares made for one helluva good time!
Plus I was stoned out of my gourd on some extra stinky skunk weed.
I was looking to replicate that experience, (sans the skunk weed of course – do you know how expensive that shit is these days?) but Pandorum wasn’t playing anywhere within an hour’s drive of me, and, after a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical run, I knew this would be one of those cases where I’d have to wait for the DVD. Now that I’ve seen Pandorum, I’m a bit bummed that I didn’t get to chance to see this trippy flick on the big screen, but, at the same time, I actually sort of think this is one of those movie experiences that’s best-suited to the creepy confines of one’s own crib.
A man (Ben Foster) wakes up from a centuries-long hypersleep, alone, frightened, and unaware of who or where he is. After matching the numerical code tattooed to his arm with a code on a locker, the man discovers that his name is Bower, and he is aboard the deep space vessel, Elysium. While Bower begins to piece together his identity, Payton (Dennis Quaid) is also awakened, and, with Bower’s help, learns that he is one of the ship’s commanding officers. The two men find their way to the bridge of the ship, but cannot gain access as systems are down, so they set up shop in an adjacent control room where they begin to piece together more details about their mission. It’s here that they also come to the realization that not only are the ship’s other 50,000 occupants unaccounted for, but Elysium’s reactor is on the verge of a cataclysmic breach, leaving it up to Payton to guide Bower through the ship’s labyrinthine tunnel system in hopes of reaching and repairing the reactor in time. Along the way, Bower looks for signs of life, and finds them in the guise of Nadia (Antje Traue) and Manh (Cung Le), two Elysium crewmembers who had awoken long before Bower and Payton, and have been eking out a living whilst avoiding a savage alien menace who have somehow populated the ship. Payton, meanwhile, finds another survivor – the babbling, traumatized Gallo (Cam Gigandet) – who knows far more about their situation than he’s letting on. Now, with the fate of the human race hanging in the balance, Bower must fight his way to the reactor room while Payton must contend with the increasingly dangerous Gallo, who has succumbed to the Orbital Dysfunctional Syndrome that is “pandorum”.
While Pandorum borrows bits and pieces from everything from “Sunshine” to “Ghosts of Mars” to Pandorum producer Paul W.S. Anderson’s own “Event Horizon”, the end result still feels surprisingly fresh and exciting. Director/Co-Writer, Christian Alvart (Antibodies), does a fantastic job of merging “serious sci-fi” with balls-out action/horror, resulting in one of the best hybrid flicks since “Pitch Black”. The script is smart, scary, and quite inventive in its execution. I especially enjoyed how the bits and pieces of the story come together through recollection and discovery, revealing the mysteries to both the characters and viewers at the same time. It heightens our investment in the film’s outcome, and really helps to ratchet up the tension. Pandorum is a visually stimulating film, as well, with a gritty, grungy aesthete that compliments the material quite nicely.
As much as I like Pandorum, I do have a few minor quibbles, the biggest of which involves a camera effect employed whenever the “aliens” appear on screen. It’s as if they removed a few frames in editing to give the footage a herky-jerky look that I’m assuming is meant to suggest the speed at which the creatures move, but I found the gimmick somewhat distracting and felt that it actually detracted from a few of the movie’s tenser confrontations. I was also a little let down by the film’s final act as it felt a tad rushed, especially in light of how much I enjoyed everything that led up to it.
Anchor Bay/Starz! release Pandorum on Blu-ray with a very nice 2.35:1 1080p transfer that boasts strong detail and excellent contrast. Much of the film takes place in darkness, and black levels are strong and consistent, with nary a hint of digital crush. The excellent Dolby 5.1 True HD audio track offers robust bass, crystalline highs, and crisp dialogue, with an impressive assortment of surround effects that provide a rich and deeply immersive experience.
Extras include an audio commentary by director Christian Alvart and producer Jeremy Bolt, a fairly meaty making-of featurette entitled The World of Elysium (HD), a somewhat cheap looking “prequel” short called What Happened to Nadia’s Team (HD), a short Flight Team Training Video (HD), a half-hour’s worth of deleted/alternate scenes, and trailers for this and other AB/Starz! releases.