Although it appears cliche at first, Pandorum is one of the best scifi/horror films in recent memory.
Note: minor spoilers ahead
Borrowing liberally from films such as Event Horizon, Alien, and even The Descent, Pandorum comes across as your average science fiction horror film at first. You quickly find out that although Pandorum may be similar to many other movies you have seen, it stands entirely on its own. Upon awakening from extended cryosleep, two crew members of a massive spaceship find themselves seemingly alone. As they work to bring the ship back online, they start noticing that things went wrong long before they woke up. While one sets out to find survivors, the other stays behind to work through the dead systems. Naturally, they aren’t as alone as they think, and ::insert bad thing here:: is just waiting to pounce on them.
This isn’t your typical monster-in-space movie…the cause for ::insert bad thing here:: being around is very legit, although I wish they had gone into detail about how it happened just a little bit more. The good news is that even though you are left on your own to figure out the gritty details, you are given enough info to piece it together by the end of the film. One thing I love about Pandorum is that the viewer NEVER knows more than the main characters…we are just as clueless as they are. The audience learns right along with them as their memory returns (apparently, memory lapses are common in long-term cryosleep…a cliche, but in this instance an effective story-telling device.) The pacing of the film is excellent; just as you feel ready to learn something new, you do. Also, Pandorum makes use of an idea that I can’t believe hasn’t shown up in science fiction before: there are hand-crank emergency generators built into EVERYTHING that requires power. That way, in case the ship’s main power goes out, you can still power up individual consoles and doors.
Pandorum isn’t really a horror film in the traditional sense. There isn’t a lot of gore (although there are a couple of GREAT money shots), and you won’t be freaked out by the time the credits roll. Most of the creepy sections show up in the earlier, slower parts of the film, while the last third or so comes across like a well made survival/action movie. The ::insert bad things here:: are presented similar to the I Am Legend novel…it isn’t just “here is some scary stuff”, it’s “here is some scary stuff that has a functioning and identifiable hierarchy.” Due to the reason ::insert bad things here:: are there in the first place, this brings a sense of realism to the film, preventing it from being “just another space scare.”
The film’s budget of $40 million is readily apparent, with highly detailed and large sets, extensive makeup and prosthetics, and well-implemented CGI. The overall film is fairly dark, however you won’t find yourself having trouble seeing things. Some shots in this film are truly amazing, such as one scene where the production crew managed to make just the whites of two actors’ eyes appear in the dark. This may have been enhanced with CGI, but I don’t think so; the effect appeared to be done using nothing but lighting techniques. The whole film has a real dirty and grimey feel to it…the ship is supposed to be not well maintained, and it shows. The acting is good, the script is good enough, but the sets really steal the show here. Sound design is overall great; this is a movie that really benefits from a powerful surround system. Unfortunately, the dialogue mix goes back and forth between merely ok to just plain horrible. Characters whisper throughout much of the film, as they don’t want to attract attention of ::insert bad thing here:: or ::insert other bad thing here::. The volume in these scenes relative to what else is going on is always far too low, while normal-volume speaking sounds a bit washed out, almost like the treble and mids are set too low. It’s a shame that the vocal portions are so poor, as the rest of the film has a great overall sound mix.
While it didn’t end the way I originally thought it should, the ending is fitting and works quite well within the context of the story. Pandorum borrows little bits from the films that came before it, but it manages to carve out its own little section in the science fiction horror genre. This is a science fiction film that is an absolute must-see. Find and watch it ASAP.