Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pandorum Critique: It's Like Solving A Puzzle


All links will be in red. 
Introduction
Hope to my very first film spoiler filled critique! 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 and mystery 2009 film, Pandorum. I liked the plotting to this and I'm going to discuss in eight paragraphs. I'll dissect the narrative to reveal some subtleties many don't notice and teach some science along on the way. As another reason why I wanted to make this is because many don't seem to comprehend it. They are divided into two types: A) Those who lack critical thought misreading it as "crew members transform into zombies due to science and space madness only effected the two main characters. They all lived happily ever after", clearly overlooking major denials saying that's not true and there was no captain. B)Those who are utterly confused by the plot leaving them to ask more questions and that seems to have been done on purpose by the film makers. I've only come across few that fully understood the narrative on the first viewing like I did. I'll being posting this blog on the film's TV trope page, IMBD page, and wiki talk section page.
Premise
The title is named after a rare psychosis in the film caused by deep space travel. The basic plot is about a sleeper ship and interstellar ark carrying 60,000 on a mission now lost in space. The mission being a one-way ticket to colonize an earth-like 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. 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 roamed by tribal 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 fixed so Bower sends out to fix it with the help of survivors named Nadia, Mahn, and Leland. 
Context: Solving The Puzzle Plot
The director wants the audience to feel what the protagonist feels. That is why there is such a claustrophobic atmosphere and that 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 his confusion. The narrative is a Jigsaw Puzzle Plot, as in it leaves out some of the crucial details that the audience is left to fill in to solve the mystery and challenging us like a puzzle. This is mostly a "howdunit" based on the question the characters ask: 1) "What's the mission?2)"What happened to the rest of the crew?" 3)"What the **** is going on?" 4) "What's happened to us" 5)"What are the creatures and where did they come from?" 6)"How long have we been out?".7)"Where are we?" 8) "How did Earth disappear?". The big question is what happened and it is toward through drawings, which is the most confusing part of the film for many viewers. Here's the video of it below and I'll dissect it piece by piece.
video
How Did We Become Like This?:
Pandorum(paranoia+delirium) is the nickname of a psychosis called Orbital Dysfunctional Syndrome. Which causes severe paranoia, delirium, and nosebleed that results from space travel and is a throwback to the classic science fiction trope known as "space madness", which somewhat happens in real life(read this and this). This trope has been utilzed by works such as Disney's The Black Hole, Armageddon, Sunshine, and parodied by in an episode of Ren and Stimpy. But here its not the focus like in those works but rather a plot device and use to create red herring. 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 humanity, 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 nature. 
What Happened To Earth?: Unsolved mystery
All of this was caused by the truth about Earth, which is somewhat derived from the premise of "When Worlds Collide" which served as the inspiration for Superman's origin story, as well as the promise of Titan A.E and The Starlost. However, in those works we know that Earth was destroyed, but in Pandorum it just mysteriously vanished without a trace and what exactly happen to it is left a complete mystery. 
What Happened To The Rest of The Crew? Answer: They caught space madness!




Some people have complained that the space madness aspect was never tied to the cannibals, but they are just overlooking a scene that makes the film cohesive. Here is a powerful rebuttal: 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 minds. Along 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 thought he was better off killing himself along with everyone else was  the best option. 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. Its surprising how this easter egg of the film is so often overlooked because its pretty easy to spot.

How long have we been out? Answer: 923 years



What Are The Creatures and Where Did They Come From? The descendants of the insane cannibal crew



It was assumed that they are transformed crew-members and you have be pretty unperceptive and uneducated to believe so as that doesn't added up at all. 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 self-explanatory like the Planet of The Apes twist. They even mention it on the DVD and its even amazing how so many people are not insightful enough to realize this and some actually believe the Hunters are over 900 years old.

Why are they affected and we're not? Answer: Read up on evolution  

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 narrator. She 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. Thus the audience is left to piece the truth together through all the half-truths. The answer is to look at evolution as guide as the enzyme is stated to jump-start evolution, which is something that needs reproduction to happen so the genetic changes happened generations later, which explains why they weren't affected. So their evolution worked like natural evolution but was speed to cover centuries rather than several millennia, like the evolution of Darwin Finches in real lifeThat 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. This is yet another science fiction trope derived from HG Well's paled skin Morlocks, but instead of evolving in a cave its a ship. A concept present in other works such Jeff Long's novel The Descent, and Neil Marshall's film of the same title(which many say is a rip-off of Long's book). But the evolution of the creatures in those works moved at a natural pace without human intervention and they adapted to living underground inside of a ship, it was also the caused of their cannibalism rather than madness.
What's going on? Answer: Tradition

What is going on is tradition, as 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), they show sportsmanship for fighting, and they teach their young how to fight. Their bodies being covered in scars is an indication of their warrior culture. Just look at the image below comparing the hunters to their ancestors hanging people and cutting their stomach open. 





Red Herrings and Foreshadowing:


So now that we know what happened its time to point out the red herrings and foreshadowings. The first red herrings are actually the trailers. Stating that the crew are turning into creatures, 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 the typical "science turns the crew members into cannibal zombies" but its something more complex like mysteries should be. 

Some people have criticize the scene where Gallo's "mind turned against itself" for being disjointed, but that's missing the point. It's 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 that, as the delirium's main purpose is to create a red herring. As it makes the audience believe the ship is lost in space and not much time as passed with the young Gallo's line about "stars all look alike" and talks about launching themselves into space. There are about four twist in this film this one is predictable, at least for me as due to hints such as: 1)Payton having a bloody notice in the first act before Gallo appears. 2)The Fight Club 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. 5)Gallo calling Payton Corporal instead of Lieutenant. However, Bower figures it this out before its revealed and the audience is suppose to feel what he feels. Add in the fact that its also a "howdunit" instead of a "whodunit" so Gallo's identity is not one of the mysteries so the viewer realizing it before Bower not a major flaw. While at the same time the film drop hints to the planet-of-ape-like twist that the ship is on the planet underwater, with the water dripping from the ceiling and the algae covering the ship. Its one of those "Locked Room Mysteries" where the viewer in encouraged to solved the mystery before the reveal, dropping off hints like in the pictures below. I guess is pretty successful so many get confused or give the wrong answer. 





Noah's Ark Parallel



Another form of foreshadowing is the film's parallel to Noah's Ark. In the story God send a flood to destroy the world because of its evil deed and told Noah to build an ark to save a few lives from the destruction, creating a new world afterwords. The plotting is an obvious a parallel to that story, as the ship is blatantly Noah's Ark called by Nadia. 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". Like the actual Noah's Ark the ship saved the last of humanity(60,000 people) from the destruction 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 a theme. 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. This how Gallo is both God and the Devil, but of course he doesn't believe himself to be this because to him God is dead along with the rest of humanityGallo gives the speech he used to manipulated others with the psychosis on how civilization and its concepts of reality(law,order,religion, judgement, and morality) is what lead to their planet's overpopulation crisis. The Gallo offers the young Corporal to join his new world but becomes a lighter version of the Elder Corporal, a god making history by washing away his world of evil with a great flood, allowing new world to take its place, just like in Noah's Ark. However, its not really a happy ending when you think about it. Sure humanity survived and Bower makes history but they left their supplies behind which was established to be important and is shown in the credits to remind the audience of it, they have to build civilization from complete and utter scratch. Also, imagine how the passengers would react if they found our the truth about Earth and all their families. Is Bower completely sane? Is Tanis going to be overpopulated like Earth? It's a rough road ahead for them, which makes it a strangely bitter sweet ending.    

 Character Study: CLICK HERE

Where I analysis the characters and explain misconceptions about what characterization is.                  
Science Fiction Theme: Ecology and Survival: CLICK HERE                                               
Many science fiction film explore themes of science itself. Pandorum explores basic ecology and survival of the fittest.                                                                  
Criticisms
My only major criticisms are the three over edited(purposely) and unnecessary mixed martial arts which was obviously Paul W.S Anderson's idea as it was not in the original script. Cung Le's character is too much of a 2D stock character and the actor just seems to be there to attract fighting fans of his. 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. Minor ones are contrived character decisions like Mahn"s death and Nadia hitting Gallo with a keyword instead of stabbing him. Cam Gigandet also overacted at times but I he was playing a crazy guy and makes up for it by being menacing when he needs to be, so it doesn't bother me that much. Also, why title the film "Pandorum"? It wasn't the focus but instead was a plot device to turn passengers into cannibals and a red herring to make the audience think they were in space. The title should have been "The Ark" which it was originally going to be called, as it would fit the story. I also feel that the narrative is a little too complicated and may have worked better on a television mini-series. 
Now I have noted that this film reuses several scifi tropes but I'm not going to count that as a bad thing asw the film puts its own spin on them. Many films are derivative especially science fiction, but many have still been considered good. Examples being such as classic Planet of the Apes which is inspired by Worlds Without End and The Time Machine. Even the ones Pandorum has been compared to are derivative. Neil Marshall's The Descent IS, Ridley Scott's Alien IS, and producer Paul Anderson's Event Horizon IS , Alien was even hit with plagiarism charges back in the day. People seem to forget the first two were rehashing ideas from famous science fiction stories such as Solaris and The Time Machine. The notion that Paul Anderson and the guy who made "Doomsday" could come up with anything original is laughable(HG Wells is one of his favorite authors, btw).  Point is its is not a film's job to do that thing that has never been done before but to tell the story in their own way, becoming more than just the sum of its parts with The Incredibles being a good example of that. The only think Pandorum takes from Event Horizon is ship design and that's clearly an homage to Paul Anderson since he was producer of this film. And like I said before the creatures are part of a century old trope that Neil Marshall did not came up with(HG Wells is also one of his favorite authors). If there could be countless of films featuring vampires and zombies without criticism why criticize this film for reusing old monster tropes invented by HG Wells as well? 
Like John Carpenters "The Thing" all of Pandorum's questions can not be solved without turning your critical brain on. Pandorum must be treated as a puzzle to appreciate it, thus it may not appeal to those who think linearly. But that makes it an effective mystery as you can't solve it less you notice the small details that are actual major plot points. 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: High Tier 7/10 = Overall good, but with a few significant flaws.

4 comments:

  1. Nice read on the film! Very detailed. I like your Survival Theme section the best. All the hyperlinks to associated content are fun too. Larger text would do my eyes good :) Pandorum has some things going for it. It was a really fun and epic film. But some parts of it are pretty cheesy. The aliens are especially funny to me. I made some edits on my review after you left your feedback. Thanks. http://zombielady.com/pandorum I'm excited to read your character analyses when I get a few minutes.

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  2. That was a fantastic read. Insightful as hell.
    where do I subscribe?

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  3. One question which i don't believe was covered in your excellent post. The crazy guy who tells the story, how does he know it? 923 years have past. All that were there are long dead, there is no one who could have told him. I believe the story needed to be told and it wouldn't be that hard to make it work without leaving this plot hole (unless i missed something?). Should say really enjoyed the film regardless, just it been bugging me!

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    1. Read.

      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1188729/faq?ref_=tt_faq_sm#.2.1.12

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