Director: Christian Alvart Release Date: 2 October Review by Jack Burton I’m not much of a gamer. I’ve dipped into enough however to know that when friends make wild claims of complex narrative storytelling and levels of emotional involvement unthinkable to those of us whose gaming experience began and ended with the Nintendo 64 they’re not all overexcited geekboys. It’s clear, watching Pandorum, that whatever contemporary video games have that inspires such devotion, Hollywood now wants a piece of it. Sadly, this is not the film that will smooth the troubled relationship between console and cinema. We stood by while Hollywood ripped the heart and soul out of cherished masterpieces such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Now, it appears, is the time for games to wreak their revenge. Were Pandorum a video game it would be a welcome, albeit uncredited, opportunity for fans of the Alien franchise to relive the dark claustrophobia that made the first film of that series such a suspenseful watch. Like their predecessors Ripley and Dallas, Bower (Ben Foster) and Payton (Dennis Quaid) are unexpectedly awoken from hypersleep on a long haul mission. Disorientated and suffering temporary amnesia they are shocked to find the seemingly deserted vessel falling to pieces. As the sounds of the ship’s decaying generator are joined by those of something altogether more organic the two astronauts begin to suspect they may not be as alone as they first thought. Bower must find passage from the flight deck to the very bowels of the ship, Payton guiding him through the darkness via a single working transmitter, if they hope to survive. As he ventures deeper he uncovers a horrific reality that makes survival more essential even as it becomes more unlikely. Doesn’t that sound like a great video game? (It sounds rather like Dead Space so far –KS) It’s even got levels and everything. Stalking through endless dark corridors, catching glimpses of monstrous beasts in the half-light while Dennis Quaid whispers instructions and encouragements in your ear could even be fairly exciting were you controlling the main character. And here’s the crucial difference; in a film you are not directing the action. You are arguably a passive viewer and the plot must be noticeably more involving, or the raw thrill noticeably more visceral, if it has any hope of holding your attention. The film’s aesthetic would also certainly lend itself to the gaming format, with everything shrouded in so much darkness it’s hard to tell what’s actually going on much of the time. In a game this can often equal tension, in a film too much of it simply equals frustration. Part of this is clearly due to some budgetry constraints, the film’s ambition rubbing up against cost until the whole thing creaks like the ship itself. The money that is visible on screen (saved for a number of key effects shots) seems to have been raised by saving on light bulbs whenever possible. Certainly little has been spared for script and performance. None of the heavily expositional dialogue enlivens a frankly uncharismatic turn from the generally reliable Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid comes across more like a poor man’s Harrison Ford than ever. Once the action starts to become familiar the film does reach for a number of momentarily intriguing potential twists to regain our interest and backstory is gradually interspersed amongst the action like cuts scenes in a shoot-em-up. Unfortunately, none of these twists are particularly new and almost all are decidedly guessable. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with the kind of movies Pandorum references will doubtless come out with their mind a little less blown than the producers wished. That’s not to say that the film is a complete failure. There are some jumps and scares that it would be hard to argue, while cheaply derived, are anything less than effective and there’s just about enough mileage in the plot to make you want to stay in your seat, if only to confirm your own deductions. Part of what makes Pandorum feel so disappointing, however, is that it appears to offer more. The enigmatic title, the H.R.Giger-esque body-horror poster and the relative lack of star power suggested a sci-fi horror in the Alien mould. What the filmmakers seem to have forgotten though is that the original Alien, as well as creating its own unique aesthetic rather than pilfering another film’s wholesale, is more horror movie than action film. Ridley Scott made the best of his limited resources to draw the viewer into a scenario where there was the potential for dread around every corner and his film remains a stone cold classic. Pandorum offers less for the mind and, perversely, even less for the eye in its insistence on revealing more of the threat then shrouding the ensuing action in near darkness. After so many disastrous attempts to translate what works in games to the big screen it seems odd that Pandorum would strive so hard, both in plot and look, to make the audience feel as if it should be playing rather than watching it. If this points to the way movies are going don’t be surprised if you see even hardened film buffs like myself on X-Box Live pretty soon. Rating: 3/10