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HTF Blu-ray Review: PASSENGERS



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#1 of 1 Michael Reuben

Michael Reuben

    Studio Mogul

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Posted May 11 2009 - 07:59 AM



Passengers (Blu-ray)


Studio: Columbia/Sony
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: English Dolby True HD 5.1; French Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles: English; English SDH; French; Spanish
MSRP: $34.95
Disc Format: 1 50GB
Package: Keepcase
Theatrical Release Date: October 24, 2008
Blu-ray Release Date: May 12, 2009


Introduction:

When a director and script are mismatched, the result can be startling and original, but more
often it's a misfire. Despite an A-list cast, Passengers is the latter. Director Rodrigo García (son
of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez) is best known for intense character
studies like Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her: films that play well at
festivals and art houses and on the Sundance Channel. He's also an experienced journeyman
director for such HBO character-driven dramas as In Treatment and Six Feet Under. But when he
took on Ronnie Christensen's script for Passengers, a thriller with supernatural overtones,
García's instincts as a director led him in all the wrong directions.


The Feature:

Claire Summers (Anne Hathaway) is a therapist in training who has spent too much time in
academic pursuits. She is summoned by her teacher and mentor, Perry (Andre Braugher), to
perform counseling for the handful of survivors of a horrific airplane crash. Most of the survivors
are behaving in expected ways, either dazed like Norman (Don Thompson) or edgy and hostile
like Shannon (Clea Duvall). But one, Eric (Patrick Wilson), seems peaceful and newly
invigorated. He is also immediately and openly attracted to Claire.

It is difficult to describe much more of the plot of Passengers without spoilers. Although I am
not recommending the film, and even though spoilers already abound on the web, I will not add
to them. Let's just say that odd occurrences intrude into Claire's therapy sessions almost
immediately. For one thing, Eric, whom she's never met, seems to know personal details about
her, leading Claire, ever the good student, to repair to the library for research on PTSD patients
who develop paranormal abilities; but her books don't explain her own attraction that she finds
increasingly difficult to resist. Mysterious strangers appear in and around the therapy sessions
(one of them is played by William B. Davis, instantly familiar to X-Files fans as the infamous
Cigarette-Smoking Man). Then there's Arkin (David Morse), the airline representative assigned
to investigate the crash, who seems to be taking an unhealthy interest in Claire's work. Arkin
keeps insisting the crash was caused solely by pilot error, even though several of Claire's patients
distinctly remember an explosion in mid-air. One patient is sure the airline is covering up a
history of shoddy maintenance. And Claire has a strange neighbor (Dianne Wiest), who asks
more than the usual nosy-neighbor questions about Claire's personal life.

The script for Passengers is a derivative creation, cobbled together from pieces of other movies.
One obvious source is Peter Weir's 1993 film Fearless, although Passengers ultimately takes a
different direction. Unlike some, I don't have a problem with derivative films, as long as the
elements are assembled with flair and a sense of fun. (The Luc Besson factory has this down to a
science, as demonstrated most recently with Taken.) But Rodrigo García was simply the wrong
director for a script like Passengers. He lacks a pop entertainer's skill (or perhaps even the
desire) for manipulating an audience, and unless a director is willing to do the work to get an
audience tensed up, a thriller just won't work, no matter how interesting its third-act revelations
may be.

Part of the problem is the script itself. A story like Passengers, which we witness primarily from
Claire's point of view, requires that we experience the strangeness, uncertainty and tension of
events through Claire. By way of contrast, consider The Exorcist: It remains frightening after all
these years not because of its (dated) effects, but because the central performances by Jason
Miller and Ellen Burstyn effectively convey the terror of the situation in which Father Karras and
Chris MacNeil find themselves. But the only reason we're able feel what those characters feel is
because the film has taken the time to introduce them to us (Father Karras' guilt over his mother;
Chris' guilt over her divorce). Passengers does not give us a similar introduction to Claire. We
are well into the movie before we learn critical information about her, and we are almost at the
end of the movie before we know her well enough to see things from her point of view. A
director more attuned to the mechanics of manipulating an audience should have spotted this
problem and insisted on script revisions.

(M. Night Shyamalan, for all his flaws, understands this thriller dynamic perfectly. The opening
scene of Unbreakable is a brief, complete and elegantly efficient introduction of Bruce Willis'
David Dunn to the audience. Passengers needed something similar.)

Still, García has made a handsome-looking film. Shot in Vancouver, the film makes no attempt
to disguise its location, which gives the production team freedom to create a kind of misty,
otherworldly setting that perfectly suits the story. The cast is uniformly excellent, within the
limits of the script, especially Patrick Wilson, who has probably the most difficult role.


Video:

The 2.35:1 image is beautifully presented; in a contemporary film that's been processed through
a digital intermediate, one should expect nothing less on Blu-ray. The look and the color pallette
are established in the opening sequence, shot at dusk, of flaming plane wreckage on the beach.
The dark, bluish cast, interrupted by occasional bursts of bright flame, remains the general tone
of the film, much of which takes place at night or indoors. There does not appear to have been
any artificial sharpening or DNR, and the image is detailed - almost painfully so in the images of
the plane disaster.


Audio:

The mix is not aggressive, except in the flashbacks to the crash, which are relatively brief.
Otherwise the mix is relatively light on ambience and directional effects. Dialogue is clear, and
music is used fairly subtly.


Special Features:

CAUTION! Nearly all of the special features contain spoilers, some of them enormous.
Warnings and disclaimers should have been included on the special features menu.

Commentary by Rodrigo García and Patrick Wilson. Wilson and García were not in the same
room when they recorded this commentary, and I think it contributes to a certain disjointed
quality. García covers much of the same ground covered in the making-of featurette described
below, but goes into more detail regarding the casting process. He freely admits that Passengers
was a new kind of film for him, and that it was out of his comfort zone. Wilson talks about
working with his co-stars, especially Hathaway, and about the challenges of particular scenes. It's
especially interesting to hear him talk about walking through the elaborate pyrotechnics of the
plane wreckage - a reminder that practical effects have the benefit of eliciting a kind of
performance that green screens can't replicate.

The Manifest and Making of Passengers (23:15) (HD). A better-than-average making-of,
featuring interviews with all the principal participants. Don't be put off by the initial interviews
with the producers, who come off as cheerleaders. The actors, the director and the production
crew provide worthwhile insights into what they were trying to accomplish.

Analysis of the Plane Crash (16:28) (HD) (major spoilers!). A detailed examination of the
efforts by the effects teams, both practical and CGI, that achieved the plane crash scenes. The
goal here was to create something that did not feel like an action film but more realistic (and
therefore frightening). The account of creating the wreckage-strewn crash site on a Vancouver
beach is fascinating. Beware that plot points are revealed from the opening frames.

Deleted Scenes (app. 7:16) (SD). There are three deleted scenes that are somewhat interesting
but were clearly cut (and rightly so) for pacing reasons.

Trailers. When first inserted, the disc plays the latest promo for Sony Blu-ray as well as trailers
for Rachel Getting Married, I've Loved You So Long and Seven Pounds. These can be skipped
with the chapter forward button. They are also available from the special features menu, along
with trailers for Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway, Damages-Season 1, The Da Vinci Code, Final
Fantasy Vii: Advent Children, Lakeview Terrace, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
and
Premonition.

BD Live. To my surprise, I was able to access Sony's BD Live site through this disc prior to
street date, which is unusual. The site had the typical Sony promotion materials, of which the
only thing related to Passengers was the film's theatrical trailer: a truly misleading affair that
probably did little to help the film (though I can't imagine what other approach the marketing
team might have taken).


Final Thoughts:

Passengers could stand as a textbook example of how nobody sets out to make a bad movie, but
a large group of talented people with the best intentions can labor for months to produce a film
that simply doesn't work. It would make a fine case study in film school. Sometimes there's
more to be learned from mistakes than from successes.


Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (Dolby TrueHD decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
Velodyne HGS-10 sub


Note: Having taken pains to avoid spoilers in this disc review, I would be grateful if those
who have seen the film or have otherwise learned of plot points would use spoiler tags in
any subsequent posts. Thanks!



Edited by Michael Reuben - 7/22/2009 at 06:15 pm GMT
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