Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pandorum Critique: Subtlety Going Over Heads

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 like John Campea and Spoony. I have seen terrible plot synopsis and I've only come across a few that fully understood the narrative. I'll being posting this blog on the film's TV trope page, IMBD page, and wiki talk section page. 
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 the with 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 the red herrings, Chekhove's Gun, and foreshadowing. 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 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 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 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. 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.


  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. I'm excited to read your character analyses when I get a few minutes.

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

  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!

    1. Read.

  4. You keep forgetting process of inbreeding !
    Inbreeding was inevitable, as they were probably a small number, let's say a hundred, maybe, to couple of hundred at most, but probably even less then hundred.
    Basically, he released one group, which probably reasoned rationally at first, trying to survive on what ever resources they have or could find, they themselves probably never attempted to release anyone else as they knew it would mean more mouth to feed, and when they, eventually, went mad, they were already divided into even smaller groups, and probably already forced to kill and eat each other.
    This process also probably accelerated already chemically induced and accelerated mutations.

    However, all this doesn't affect any of your explanations, so it's just an addition which, actually, enforces everything you wrote here, and with which I agree completely.

    It's a film which I consider one of the best of all time, among, let's say, 15 greatest SF of all time. European (German) art-film director, current environmental concerns on which extremely interesting story was developed, one of the best soundtracks ever - what could we need more !

    Great job !

  5. Your "duh, didn't you get this thing that I've decided is fact based on almost nothing" style is somewhat irritating. Work on toning it down.

  6. a very poorly written analysis of a very poor film