Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pandorum Critique: Character Analysis

                                               Click HERE for the Narrative Analysis.

(1:47 in the video)

According to director/co-writer, Christian Alvart, character represents how civilized he/she is and how much they are all about survival. Characters exhibit various characteristics from being altruistic and cooperative to the egocentric and competitive. But some viewers says that the characters are undeveloped for odd reasons. Here is my analysis of each character from most civilized to savage. 

We do get some history on the protagonist and deuteragonist as to why they enlisted on the mission and a little bit of history of them before the flight but not much else nor even their first names. It isn't due to lazy writing but the fact that they have amnesia which makes sense as they were comatose in hyper-sleep through the use of general anesthesia. They were in such a state for over nine centuries them having long-term memory loss makes sense, this is science fiction after all

Now some people criticized the films for having all flat characters. The only reason they are saying this is because the film uses indirect characterization and which involves subtlety which people often fail to catch.Or just don't know the meaning of being a round or flat character. Being a round character has more to do with having a complex personality, he or she is portrayed as a conflicted and contradictory person(read). The point is making character feel real, writing them as human beings. This video explains it while.

Now I'm to touch on three dimensions of each character to see if they were present, except Gallo I already discussed him in the previous entry.
First Dimension: Surface traits, quirks, and habits
Second Dimension: Back Story and Inner Demons
Third Dimension: Action, Behavior, and World View
Corporal Bower (Ben Foster)

First Dimension:

Our protagonist is mechanic engineer who wields a Yaujtia-like non-lethal weapon but could be dangerous up close. As a quirk he is a claustrophobic and its the first thing we learn about him the moment he wakes up. With a running gag where he falls a lot, like nearly 20 times in the film.

Second Dimension:

He remembers his profession very well but not much of his personal life. He remembers watching the discovery of Tanis on television as a child, being inspired by the idea of sending people there. He does remember his wife, Evalon, mouthing the words "I love you" whom he believed was on the ship and hopes to found before the Hunters do. However, when his memories slowly return to him he founds out that his wife left him. He had nothing left after his divorce, so he pursued something he was inspired by since childhood and found a place in history. This infers that he was sorta loser back on Earth where Evalon remained, disappearing along with it. This along with his claustrophobic fears pushes him closer to insanity. 

Three Dimension: 
Bower is a round character as he is portrayed as both vulnerable and bold. He's afraid of closed spaces as shown when he awakes from hyper-sleep and panic due to being trapped in the pod and panics when traveling through vents needing Payton to walk him through it. Being on a ship with cramped corridors and tight vents, he doesn't have much of an option but to face down his phobia. This is one of several factors that push him towards madness.

But at the same time he is also a brave boy scout with a strong sense of altruistic morality. He risks his own life to save others. He tries to save Shepard(Norman Reedusand a Russian passenger(Jon Foster from being eaten. When Nadia suggests to leave Mahn behind in the creature's hunting ground he objects to it. He's empathetic, understanding Nadia and Leland's egocentric manages to talk them into helping him. He tries to be optimistic and believes that "a little f**king solidarity goes a long way" as he puts it. 

Bower cares about the safely of Evalon, hoping to found her before the hunters do. But when he founds out the truth that all their families are dead he temperately losses his boy scout mentality. Even though Evalon left him Bower clearly still loves her as he kept a photo of the woman. He becomes pessimistic as he truly feels that there is nothing left to live for as everyone he ever loved along with his planet is now gone, thus sees no point in going on. But Nadia convinces him to be resilient and his boy scout attitude returns, later saying that there will always be law. But Gallo plays his nasty mind game with him and exploits his fear by opening up the control room window revealing nothing but pitch black. Bower then suffers from claustrophobia due to there being no escape now and is closed in by the creatures. However Nadia snaps him out of it and they escape in a hyper-sleep pod flooded with water he selflessly gives her the oxygen mask and he holds his breath. Puts his head on Nadia's in relief that they have survived,completed their mission, and found a place in history like he wanted. However we don't know if is going be the same after this because now he has developed space madness. 

Manh (Cung Le)
First Dimension:

A spear wielding Vietnamese agricultural expert and martial artist who's name ironically means "strong". A minor character who appears to have just awaken wake and speaks no English. He's stock character that is mostly a storytelling device to infer that the mission is a global endeavor involving many cultures which was indicted by the transmission in broadcast in several languages. It kinda makes sense that some of the passengers didn't speak english with memory. There are no subtitle for his lines and that is because we are to be in the main character's shoes, as Cung Le stated in this interview.

Second Dimension:

Lacking in this category due to his lack of communication.

Third Dimension:

Mahn is a flat and static character with an "If I'm going down, I'm not going down without a fight" attitude which he displays when the hunters close in even though he knows he is physically outmatched. He just doesn't take crap laying down as shown when he tries to attack Leland for his actions.
He is a cooperative boy scout like Bower. He's the only survivor Bower has come across who isn't a foe at point of the film. He saves the lives of strangers just out of pure civility in this bleak environment and he's heroic as puts himself in danger so that Bower could save the ship. Though his civility helped saved humanity leads to his demises, making him hesitate to kill a hunter child who take advantage slitting his throat(kinda contrived).
Nadia (Antje Traue)
First Dimension: 

Nadia is the tritagonist, is a survivalist and obviously Ripley inspired. Character is used to give the audience some information about what the Hunters could be and is somewhat used as Ms. fanservice with her sweety/dirty cleavage. Yes, she's attractive but that's just a character trait that is never called attention to by the other characters and her cleavage isn't in the audience face. She'll also not a love interest as Bower has a ex-wife to worry and grieve about. She is a survivalist who uses a knife as a weapon, is athletic, and has unorthodox fighting skills. Her character is also there to infers its a mission involving the global as she is German but she speaks English fluently.

As a quirk, she is an entomophagist offering Bower a grasshopper to eat claiming that it is "good for protein" which he accepts and they eat them together, which disgusts Mahn.(image above)

Second Dimension:

Before the flight she was apart of the Brandenburg Institute genetic sampling team located in Germany. She spend seven years collecting and readying earth's biosphere for the trip to Tanis. Her motive for enlisting on the mission was that it didn't felt right handing it off the genetic samples so she volunteered to go along with it. This infers that she was a workaholic back on Earth, addicted to her workShe's been awake from months along with five others who are now dead. 

At one point in the film she pours out her heart and broods about how she knows everything about her career but not much of her personal life, like where she grew up or her brother's name.  

Third Dimension:

This character is portrayed as morally grey. Initially, she's pessimistic, egocentric, cynical, and hostile. Mugging Bower for his supplies at knife point threatening to gut him if he resists and puts a knife to his neck when he touches her. The reason for this is because she believed there wasn't any crew left to fly them where they were going she results to every-man-for-himself tactics. She's willing to leave people behind if they slow her down as she believes that running is always the best option. This has also caused her to become a  loner who doesn't immediately join with Bower, she doesn't trust him. That's because it others have resulted to tactics similar to her's in order to survive as shown with Leland who tries to kill her, Mahn, and Bower to use them as food.

However, she's not devoid of positives as she can be protective and sympathetic towards others. As shown during her second mugging where Bower resists her she shows compassion after making Bower fall from a great distance, contradicts herself by asking if he is "okay" instead of gutting him. This infers that she has a problem hurting others and doesn't have it in her to actually gut someone. She's protective of an Embryonic chamber that holds livestock, wildlife re-population, and Ecological development, because it holds the world they are going to live in as she puts it. She also saves a hunter child from being killed thinking it was a human being.

She goes through a character where she learns solidarity. As after Bower saves her from being cannibalized she warms up to towards him and cares able him founding Evalon. Showing empathy by giving him emotional support to help him remain optimistic and motivated after founding out the truth about Evalon. Telling him that she saved his life and preaches that humanity was meant to go on, survive, and now that its more important than ever, causing Bower to move forward. She also defends him from Gallo and snapping him out of insanity. In return he risks drowning himself and comforts her after they survived the ordeal, firmly telling her "its safe to wake up now" making her smile.

Leland (Eddie Rouse)

First Dimension:

Leland is an old hermit cook turned survivalist. He tells what happens on the ship based on the accounts of other passengers say "that's what some would say" whom I assume were other people Gallo drove insane. 

Second Dimension:

He has survived for years by killing, cooking, and feeding on both humans and hunters. He states that he wouldn't have survived this long if he had a heart(aka altruism).

Third Dimension:

Leland is a static and an almost round character. He is more extreme version of Nadia, he is about self-preservation and didn't think there was any crew left, but is willing to kill. He's all pretty cynical, stating he didn't survive this long trusting strangers and proves this points himself. He displays dishonesty by trying to be funny and offering the group soup stating it is "Kosher" before revealing his true selfish intentions. His behavior pattern is consistent as he shuts the door behind Bower and Nadia when they try to get to the control room as they are being chased by the Hunters. Which leads to him getting killed by Gallo, if he had waited for them Bower would have subdued Gallo.

Its just survival of the fittest or maybe the brightest as he puts it. He's 
pessimistic, believing that there is really nothing else to live for other than to go by survival instincts and live as long as he can. Earth is gone so no rescue and they lost control of the ship so no escape. He doesn't just say it isn't personal, as like Nadia he truly doesn't want any blood on his hands. Like with Nadia Bower understands his actions, stating that he did what he had to do to survive and no one was going to judge him. Then Leland's facial expression and body language shows signs of guilt for he what he has done(image above) and doesn't want to be judged. This actually humanizes him showing he is conflicted and actually does have a heart, this is out of pure desperation. 

The Hunters 

The Hunters continue the game Gallo started with their ancestors as shown in the drawings. They're behavior had nothing to do with the enzyme, that only helped them survived on the ship. Nor do they need humans as a source of food as there is nutrition from other sources like feeding tubes from hyper-sleep pods, water dipping from the ceiling, algae that was growing around the ship which Leland used as a source of food and the Hunter child was eating some. There's not enough humans to support these creatures for centuries. They are cannibals by choice like primitive cannibal tribe in reality and that's what Gallo means by "natural state" which is defined as a wild primitive state untouched by civilization. 

They are far from mindless animals since they are smart enough to build blowtorch spears, they wear armored clothing(made up of skin, bone, metal around the ship), and its shown that they teach their young how to fight. Their bodies being covered in scars is an indication of their long warrior culture that lasted for centuries. Just look at the image below comparing the hunters to their ancestors hanging people and cutting their stomach open. 

So as you can see, there was a decent amount of characterization. So how can some people that they were underdeveloped? My guess is that they judging by the standards of character driven stories and think that a good character is  someone with charisma.

The Survival Theme

The movie ends showing the population of Tanis being "1213" with an ellipsis appearing after it implying that numbers is going to grow and history is going to repeat itself. Christian Alvart did state that he wanted to rise questions about humanity with this film, similar to Lord of The Flies

The ending echos the beginning showing the technological evolution(foreshadowing)  of space travel and showing the human population number evolving, growing. Throughout history, populations have grown slowly despite high birth rates due to the population-reducing effects of war, plagues and high infant mortality. Which is called a Malthusian trap  and Malthusianism is the theory that population tends to increase faster than resources unless things such as moral restraint keeps the population growth in check or war reduces the population, called Malthusian catastrophe. 

As one of the characters state "It's just survival of the fittest...Or maybe it's the brightest", a phrase is widely used as a catchphrase for any topic related to evolution by means of natural selection. It has also be used as a synonym to other dialogue mentioned in the film such as "every man for himself" and "dog eat dog" both which describe egoistic competitive situations. They're all summed up as the The Law of the Jungle which some believe should apply to humans believing that social process resulted from conflicts in which the fittest or best adapted individuals, or groups, would prevail. Such a philosophy is referred to as Social Darwinism which happens to be based on the Malthusian concept that humans require competition in order to survive in the future. Something that Gallo obviously believed.

The mission was about the survival of humanity and both evolution and paranoid are survival mechanisms. Its not just these creatures who are hunters but survivalist such as the mugger Nadia and the cannibal Leland who survived as long as they did by programming themselves to be savages in their hostile environment where it is every man for himself. As Leland states "I'm a little too old & too tired for the honorable way of hunting game". They had be egoistic savages in order to prevail or as Leland put it "I wouldn't have survived this long if I had a heart", heart meaning capacity for sympathy which leads to altruistic behavior. 

An example is shown with Mahn, who remained civilized and died because of it, evoking the "kill or be killed" themeThis reflects Gallo's view, that a civilized state conflicts with survival while a wild state is perfect, as our moralistic altruism are chains that holds us back from what is, dog eat dog (or life eats life as he puts it) because that hunter/prey dynamic has kept the population in wildlife in check and that is what the hunters present. In contrast to his view is solidarity, unity of sympathies among a group which Bower believes goes a long way when it comes to survival. This is reflected through Leland, who died as a result of his of selfishness and the fact that humanity survived due the solidarity that Mahn and Nadia displayed. The film is addressing the positives and negatives of civility and savagery in regards to survival.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pandorum Critique: Most Misconceived Plot Ever

All links will be in red. 
My very first film spoiler filled critique, hope you enjoy! The very attractive woman above is Antje Traue who played Faora, in Man of Steel. Wanting to see more of her I watched another science fiction featuring her that is getting more attention because of the recent Superman film and a Walking Dead hoax, resulting in a growing cult following. A survival-adventure, horror, and mystery 2009 film, Pandorum. A somewhat spiritual successor of Resident Evil.
I like this movie because its masks itself as "Resident Evil in Space" but becomes its own movie and really should have been marketed as an art-house film because it clearly wasn't made for everyone. I'll dissect the narrative to reveal some subtleties many don't notice and teach some science along on the way. As another reason for this is because many didn't seem to fully comprehend the context of the plot and the film's intent, like John Campea and Spoony. Either misinterpreting it or are just outright confused by it.
Pandorum(paranoia+delirium) is the nickname of a psychosis called Orbital Dysfunctional Syndrome. Which causes severe paranoia, delirium, and nosebleed that results from deep space travel. Basically a throwback to the classic science fiction trope known as "space madness", which somewhat happens in real life(read this and this). 
The basic plot is about a sleeper ship and interstellar ark carrying 60,000 on a mission that is now lost in space. The mission being a one-way ticket to colonize an earth-like planet Tanis because Earth's population has grown to the point where its exceeding the carry capacity. The trip is 123 years long so the crew and passengers take shift every two years. Its a global endeavor with the crew and passengers being of multiple cultural backgrounds ranging from American, Indian, Russian, German, to Vietnamese. Also indicated by the transmission in multiple languages saying saying "You're all that's left of us. Good luck, God bless, and God's speed". 
But eight years later into the mission two men named Corporeal Bower and Lieutenant Payton a are awaken from hypersleep by power surges. They have amnesia due to being comatose by general anesthesia in hypersleep. They found that the ship is now roamed by tribal-like pale creatures who feed on both humans and themselves, with physical abilities above that of humans. Worse, the ship is going to blow if the nuclear reactor of the ship is not resent so Bower goes out to fix it with the help of survivors named Nadia, Mahn, and Leland. 
Nonlinear Narrative
The director wants the audience to feel what the protagonist feels. This is why there are no subtitles for the foreign languages. The idea is to force the viewer to empathize with the main character's claustrophobic phobia, isolation, and especially his confusion. The narrative is a Jigsaw Puzzle Plot, as it gives the audience answers in a subtle way rather than spoon feeding it to you in order to challenge you like a puzzle. So basically, the big question is what happened and what is going on which is shadowed in mystery to the very end. Here's some clues in the video below, which  I'll dissect it piece by piece.
How Did We Become Like This?:
Misconception: Some people think Gallo's motive was that he thought he was God. However...he says their is no god. 
The Truth:
Paranoia is thought process influenced by fear and and anxiety leading to often to the point of irrationality, delusion, and distrust. As shown in the film a Captain of another ship named the Eden caught Pandorum and became convince his flight was cursed and made the choice of launching everyone in hyper-sleep into space. In Gallo's case he distrusts human civilization, that it will eventually overpopulate and use up the resources of Tanis as they did Earth which alluded in his dialogue: "That baggage from the old world. We all know how that worked out, didn't it. They f**ked up our planet!"His resolution to overpopulation is "life eats life" and a "natural state"(wild and primitive) in which he is obvious telling about cannibalism, because that is how the issue is solved in wildfire. So his goal was to make a new world more like wildfire.
What Happened To The Crew That Gallo Released? 
Misconception: Some people have complained that the space madness aspect was never tied to the cannibals and it isn't explored beyond Gallo. That he just tortured people and locked them in the cargo hold. But they are just overlooking a scene that brings everything together and that's the drawings, which serves as on a "Chekhov's Gun".: 

The Clues: Now in the story Gallo was said to be their master and "those who had behaved" were sent to the part of the ship holding sleeping passengers (they are the cargo as mentioned in the film) to play a "nasty little game", which involved them fighting and feed on their own. Meaning he had control over them, they acted as he desired and later on its made clear that he favors cannibalism and wants others to embrace Pandorum based on his statements in the video. 

If you look the image above of the drawings from the video, you'll noticed that those people are depicted with electric sparks over heads hinting something abnormal with their mindsAlong with them grabbing their heads in pain with blood pouring out of their noses. Bower sees electric sparks around Gallo's heads as he preaches cannibalism, flashes back the first stages of Pandorum and the drawings. The film is trying to tell the audience something with those drawings and that those bolts mean something. It means that  they all had Pandorum and it's the cause of the cannibalistic behavior. Keep in mind that the last person that suffered from the disorder thought that a ship was cursed and believed he was better off killing himself along with everyone else on the ship. So them being convinced to play Gallo's cannibalistic game and exiling themselves on the ship isn't far fetch. Gallo is clearly attempting this with Bower near the climax. 

What Are The Creatures and Where Did They Come From?
Misconception: It was assumed that they are transformed crew-members.

The Clues: Gallo's dialogue makes this clear that this was on purpose, as when he says "this ship is a seed which they could create! A new world!". Obviously alluding to Nadia's theory that the Hunters are beings who have adapted to the ship. But her theory is not completely accurate as by the climax its revealed that over 900 years have went by since the crew members went mad. So the creatures are not the crew unless they could survive for centuries on that ship which is implausible. 

Its mentioned that the ship is build to out last their children's children's. The answer is that the creatures are not the crew but their descendants. The film doesn't directly tell this because its somewhat self-explanatory and they want you to put it together yourself. They even mention it on the DVD and its even amazing how so many people have this oversight with 923 years is literally in your face. That would make the Hunters over 900 years olds if that was true. 

So their evolution worked like natural evolution but was speed to cover centuries rather than several millennia to create a new species, similar to Darwin FinchesThat explains why they look the way they do, as the ship lacks sunlight they adapted to having low levels of melanin(pale skin) and heighten smell like troglofaunal species like HG Well's  Morlocks

Red Herrings, Unreliable Narrators, Chekhov's Gun and Foreshadowing: 

Its time to point out what is mentioned above. The first red herrings are actually the trailers. Stating that the crew are turning into creatures by the enzyme, that they are 500,000 miles from Earth when they are in fact way further than that, and showing clips of Bower's wife on the ship when in fact was never on the flight. It wants the audience to think its doing the obvious so we don't know what its really doing. Making us think the mystery just a Resident Evil in space to surprise you in the end.

When the film start shows a timeline of the technological evolution of space travel, which of course foreshadows the biological evolution that is shown to follow. 

The Hunter's Origin:

The enzyme is stated to jump-start evolution which is a change in a population that happens change in population over generations, not in an individual's single lifespan. Hence Bower's question "why are they effected we're not?" and Nadia's reply "Maybe they have been awaken longer than us". Gallo has been awake for decades unchanged and the fact that the creature weren't the crew like Nadia assumed, this tells the audience that she is an unreliable narratorShe clearly knows little about how the enzyme works with her saying "maybe" and she has memory loss so her rendition must be taken with a grain of salt. This red herring was ultimately effective, maybe too effective, since the reveal of their true origin went over so many heads. Sad, because this was the film's ultimate twist rather than the ship's location.

The Ship's Location:

The "twist" where Gallo's "mind turned against itself" is obviously influenced by Fight Club twist and it doesn't even hide that fact as it uses "some of the blood is mine" line to allude to it. But its not trying have the same impact as Fight Club, the delirium's main purpose is to create a red herring. As it makes the audience believe the ship is lost in space and that not much time as passed with the young Gallo's line about "stars all look alike" and talks about launching themselves into space. But its revealed that the ship has been in on Tanis underwater all this time.

It's purpose isn't to surprise us, but to distract us and twist can be seen a mile away and its done on purpose as: 1)Payton has a nosebleed in the first act before Gallo appears. 2)The Fight Club blood line. 3)The story of the ship saying that Gallo "grew" into manhood. 4)Gallo has a beard in the drawings. 5)Bower realizing that there is something up with Payton. 6)Gallo calling Payton Corporal instead of Lieutenant. 

Bower puts the pieces together before its revealed and the audience is suppose to feel what he feels, thus the audience puts the pieces together. While at the same time the film drop hints to the planet-of-ape-like twist that the ship is on Tanis underwater. As there is dust covering the ship implying that no one has cleaned it from a long time, the water dripping from the ceiling and later on Bower notices algae covering the ship. The point of this is keep the audience guessing.  

It also makes blatant references to the Alien series to make you think it is set in space like the original. Antje Traue's character kinda resembles Ripley from the fourth film, the child hunter's introduction resembles is similar to that of Newt's in Aliens, and Bower at one point has a theory that the creatures are aliens. But it not really trying to be like Alien and its not really trying to be like Resident Evil, but to provokes the sense of familiarity for misdirection. 

Noah's Ark Parallel/Poetic Justice:

Now the aforementioned twist serves as poetic justice. At one point Nadia say that "this ship truly is Noah's ark", which foreshadows the third act. 
Like the actual Noah's Ark the ship saved the last of humanity(60,000 people) from the end of the world and it turned out to be in the ocean like an actually arkThe ship is said to hold the world they were going to live in as Nadia put it and creating a new world is one of the themes. This is alluded later by Leland saying "a whole new world of evil grew", and again by Gallo saying that "this ship is a seed which we can create a new world". Gallo decided to rebuild a new one after the destruction of the old world but abandoning civilization and replacing it with a savage culture. His world of evil ends with a great flood, allowing a new world to take its place, just like in Noah's Ark. 

PART 2: Character Study and Survival Theme
My only major criticisms are the three over edited and unnecessary mixed martial arts (which was obviously Paul W.S Anderson's idea as it was not in the original script) as it creates an uneven tone, though it could have just been trying to give a Resident Evil feel. Cung Le's character is too much of a flat stock character and the actor just seems to be there to attract fighting fans of his. Another major flaw is that the viewer knows what the destination of ship is before the characters due to the title cards at the beginning of the the film, which was also not in the script. 
I feel that the narrative is a little too complicated and may have worked better on a television mini-series. Also, I don't found this movie scary, but it was trying to be more than a horror film and was pretty good in those other areas.
Pandorum must be treated as a puzzle to appreciate it, thus it may not appeal to those who prefer things to be told to them directly. I wish I could rate Pandorum higher as I admire it but the forced in martial arts action and title cards giving away one of film's mysteries is too great to overlook. But it is a pretty dense narrative with decent performances and atmospheric set-pieces. Glad to see that it is slowly gaining a following based on the ratings on Netflix
            Rating: 7/10 = Mostly good, but with a few significant flaws.