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Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: PANDORUM

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Michael Reuben, Jan 16, 2010.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Feb 12, 1998
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    Pandorum (Blu-ray)

    Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 108 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Codec: AVC
    Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; Spanish DD 2.0 (mono)
    Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
    MSRP: $39.98
    Disc Format: 1 50GB + DVD (digital copy)
    Package: Keepcase
    Theatrical Release Date: Sept. 25, 2009
    Blu-ray Release Date: Jan. 19, 2010


    Stronger on visuals and atmosphere than it is on exposition, Pandorum is an ideal film for Blu-ray. The script is a collage of sci-fi and horror elements from dozens of familiar sources, but the digital effects and production design weren’t done by the usual suspects in California and New Zealand, which gives them a welcome freshness. The film may not have been worth a trip to the theater, but it makes for an entertaining evening at home.

    The Feature:

    In the year 2174, with Earth’s resources almost entirely depleted, the spacecraft Elysium is launched with 16,000 passengers in hyper-sleep. Its destination is a planet designated as Tanis, which has been determined by long-distance probes to support conditions nearly identical to Earth. Then, en route to Tanis, the command crew of the Elysium receives a message.

    The next thing we know, we are with Bower (Ben Foster), an officer with Flight Crew 5, as he awakes from hyper-sleep aboard the Elysium. In the world of Pandorum, awaking from hyper-sleep is jarring and traumatic, and the body takes a long time to adjust. Memory is slow to return, and Bower’s confusion only increases as he realizes that most of the Elysium’s crew seems to have disappeared. The only other member he can find is Payton (Dennis Quaid), who awakes shortly after Bower, is apparently a superior officer, but is otherwise just as confused as Bower.

    Bower and Payton quickly realize that something catastrophic has occurred. The Elysium’s main reactor is on the verge of shutting down, and damage has occurred throughout the ship, blocking corridors and cutting off access to the bridge. Bower gradually remembers that he’s an engineer with the technical knowledge to restart the reactor, and Payton undertakes to guide him through the Elysium (which is enormous) to reactor control.

    But Bower almost immediately encounters other beings. The corridors are swarming with feral “hunters”, who prey on anything that moves. (The viewer will deduce the origin of these creatures long before the characters manage to do so.) Bower also encounters – or, more accurately, gets his ass kicked by – Manh (Vietnamese martial arts star Cung Le) and Nadia (German actress Antje Traue), two passengers of Elysium who have managed to evade the hunters. He also meets Leland (Eddie Rouse), who is probably the closest thing to a historian that the Elysium has. Leland also turns out to have other talents.

    Meanwhile, Payton has found another officer, Gallo (Cam Gigandet), who has managed to survive but appears unhinged by the experience. Gallo may or may not be suffering from the early stages of “pandorum”, which is the nickname given by flight officers to a nervous disorder that can afflict persons undergoing lengthy space travel and is characterized by tremors, nosebleeds and, ultimately, homicidal dementia. Is a case of pandorum the cause of what happened aboard the Elysium?

    I’m going to leave it there, not only to avoid spoilers, but also because I’m not entirely sure I could spell out the entire plot even if I wanted to. It’s never a good sign for narrative coherence when, during a commentary with the film’s producer and director, the producer actually asks the director to explain the plot. (And I don’t think he was joking.) Then again, who ever said that dotting every I and crossing every T is essential to making an effective film? If the atmosphere works, it doesn’t matter so much, The Big Sleep being the most famous example – and atmosphere is what Pandorum does best: an atmosphere of tension and paranoia that can largely be attributed to its central performance (about which more in a moment) and to director Christian Alvart’s ability to fill the frame in a way that keeps the eye off-balance. Alvart may not be able to shoot an action sequence so that it makes logical sense, but Pandorum isn’t an action film. It’s a film about not being able to trust anything you think you know, and for that Alvart’s style is perfect.

    But Alvart’s visual style would be empty without a credible human presence at the center, and Ben Foster’s performance as Bower provides it. Foster’s reputation was boosted in 2009 with the release of The Messenger, although his work in that film has been overshadowed in awards season by the nominations for Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton. But Foster is the genuine article, a disciplined actor who fully conveys Bower’s terror, frustration and, as his memory returns, his regrets and growing determination, all of it with the kind of conviction that the fantastical and sometimes eye-rolling world of Pandorum requires to make the film work. When your lead character has to go crawling through access tunnels, plummeting head-first into darkened lockers, running into hanging corpses, crawling across pools of slime and other ickiness, eat bugs and then talk his way out of being eaten himself, you need someone who can take truly bizarre situations and make you believe that the guy on screen believes they’re really happening. It may not be Shakespeare, but the performers have to take it just as seriously.

    The producers of Pandorum include Jeremy Bolt, who produced the Resident Evil series, and Paul W.S. Anderson, who directed two of the Resident Evil films as well as Mortal Kombat and Event Horizon. Those are good reference points for a sense of Pandorum’s cinematic DNA, but the film also owes major debts, in both story and visuals, to Ridley Scott, James Cameron and Joss Whedon. Kudos to Alvart (and original screenwriter Travis Milloy) for aiming higher.


    Pandorum is a dark film, and Alvart and Bolt speak frankly during the commentary about concerns raised by the finance people about how the film would look on television. Well, on Blu-ray it looks great. The blacks are deep, and there are sufficient delineations between levels of black to give you all the detail both in space and in the darkened corridors of the Elysium. Just how good the black levels are can be appreciated in the rare sequence that flips over to brightness, such as the scene in a bio-lab that, in appearance, is the very opposite of the rest of the Elysium.

    Colors are weighted toward the cool end of the spectrum, which is common in sci-fi, and they’re rendered accurately. Every so often, there will be a scene with a warm palette – a notable example occurs when Bower encounters Leland – and the contrast is immediately striking.


    The sound designers had fun with this one. The world of the Elysium is entirely artificial, which means that the sound can be anything. There is always something going on in the rear speakers: crackles, rattles, hisses, flames, noises that make you go “what was that?” Bass extension is solid and deep. If anything gets short shrift, it’s the dialogue, which tends to be buried under the sound effects and the occasionally overbearing score by Michl Britsch.

    The TrueHD track reproduces all of this engineered sound with terrific presence and fidelity. In fact, I doubt it would sound anywhere near this good in a theater. In a large auditorium, detail like this tends to get lost. Pandorum has the kind of track for which home theater is ideal.

    Special Features:

    The video for all special features is in hi-def.

    Commentary by Director Christian Alvart and Producer Jeremy Bolt. This is an informative nuts-and-bolts commentary about all phases of the production, with heavy emphasis on the casting and development. I enjoyed the frankness with which Bolt and Alvart discussed the commercial tug-of-war that typically ensues between moneymen who want familiar faces and creative people who want actors the audience hasn’t seen before (and for whom, therefore, the audience won’t have any predetermined expectations). Producer and director agree on the critical importance of Ben Foster’s convincing performance, likening his role to Sigourney Weaver’s in the first Alien – the audience was scared, because Ripley was scared. (In the process, of course, both men confirm, as they do throughout the commentary, just how derivative Pandorum is, but one doesn’t need a commentary for that.)

    The World of Elysium: Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (13:59). A typical making-of featurette including brief interviews with principal cast and crew. It contains major spoilers and should not be watched until after the feature.

    What Happened to Nadia’s Team (4:30). A “companion” feature created by the production team that made the featurette. It’s presented as a damaged video record “found” in the corridors of the Elysium and won’t make complete sense unless you’ve already seen Pandorum.

    Flight Team Training Video (2:45). A mock promotional piece for the agency that recruited crew members for the Elysium. It reminded me of something from Starship Troopers, but in a warped, “Earth Day” mode.

    Deleted and Alternate Scenes (27:57). There are sixteen in all. They don’t add additional story points (with the exception of a final “throwaway” that might have served as an alternative end), but they do provide some insight into what guided the editing process. A key example is the series of alternate scenes labeled “Leland’s Tank”, which are from a sequence in the film where critical plot elements are revealed. While not models of clarity, the alternate versions are much easier to follow than what ended up in the final film, but they’re not as eerie. Here again, clarity took a backseat to atmosphere.

    Still Galleries. These are comprised of “Models and Monsters”, “Designs and Drawings”, “On Set” and “Turbine Sequence Storyboards”.

    Trailers. The film’s trailer is included as a separate extra. At startup the disc plays trailers for The Men Who Stare at Goats, Law Abiding Citizen and the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand; these can be skipped with the chapter forward button and are separately available from the features menu. Also available from the features menu are trailers for Capitalism: A Love Story, Party Down and for Anchor Bay on Blu-ray.

    Digital copy. Unlike some digital copies, this one does not appear to have an expiration date.

    In Conclusion:

    If you can get past the derivative elements, Pandorum is an entertaining popcorn movie, and the presentation on Blu-ray is first-rate.

    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (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
    SVS SB12-Plus sub
  2. Ron-P

    Ron-P Producer

    Jul 25, 2000
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    Gave it a rent, and that's about all it's good for. No real suspense, some ok horror and gore, no explaniation into the "enemies" (don't want to give anything away). Not one I'd ever need to see a second time.

    Good A/V on the Blu though. I'd give it a C+

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