Monday, April 3, 2017

Guest Post: An Alternative, Happier Take on PASSENGERS

I'm Facebook friends with Van Allen Plexico, who I met through James R. Tuck at DragonCon awhile back. He's friends with Jayme Lynn Blaschke, who wrote the following post about the science-fiction semi rom-com Passengers on Facebook and graciously allowed me to borrow it.

So take it away Mr. Blaschke. Beware spoilers if you haven't seen it...

Okay, PASSENGERS. The Wife and I saw it last week. You all know about the controversy surrounding the Chris Pratt character's actions. I'm not going to talk about that. I'm going to talk about something that has been overlooked amidst the hubbub: This movie just isn't very good. At it's heart, it's a rom-com, with all the requisite story beats that go with the type (once Jennifer Lawrence arrives on the scene, that is). 

Trouble is, there's no comedy. There are a few jokes, sure, but the story type depends on humor to carry the narrative. That's missing. Instead, the script compensates by replacing the comedy elements with Serious Bleak Interpersonal Trauma, which doesn't work with the established structure. It *could* have worked, had the film been intended as a "ship in a bottle" type story about mortality, gender issues, consent and free will... but it isn't. Those issues are pulled in to the story for cheap emotional resonance, with no intention of examining them in any depth. Instead, all that is chucked out the nearest airlock for an absurd, action-packed 'splodey finale. Lawrence's character is instantly back in love with Pratt, her bitter hatred and feelings of betrayal completely forgotten. They live happily ever after.

There are four separate movies fighting for supremacy here, and none of them triumph. It's a mess. Jon Spaihts is the screenwriter, and it's hard to judge his ability as few of his scripts have made it to production, despite buzz as to how great he is and almost the entirety of his output coming in the SF genre. Still, I get the impression that this is a guy who learned everything he knows about science fiction by watching Armageddon, Event Horizon, and the like. Bester, Clarke, Dickson and Simak are absent from his reading list, I suspect.

Case in point: HUGE SPOILER WARNING! The denouement comes when Pratt (who should've been vaporized 20 minutes earlier, and killed a dozen times over afterward, except rom-com, remember?) figures out that the "Autodoc" robotic healing chamber aboard the ship can induce a suspended animation-like state in subjects. But there's only one Autodoc on board the ship with more than 5,000 passengers and crew. So Pratt can put Lawrence under, so she can complete her trip, undoing the grave injustice he inflicted upon her earlier. He would die alone, however. Being the Love Of Her Life, she refuses, and they (presumably) grow old and die together during the 88 years of the voyage remaining. Isn't that romantic?

Which is fucking stupid, pardon my French. They didn't have to die. According to all the information given to the viewer, there was nothing to prevent the two from *alternating* their use of the Autodoc. Leapfrog, as it were. Assuming Chris Pratt's character is 30-ish (he's 37 in real life) and Jennifer Lawrence's character is 26 (her real age) or slightly older, and that human life expectancy is somewhat longer in this high-tech future (reaching 100 is reasonably common, I'd expect), then they potentially have decades left they could live on the colony world. Follow: Pratt puts Lawrence under for six months. She wakes up, they spend a month together making mushy sweet love, then *she* puts *him* under for six months. Repeat. 

By the time they arrived at Homestead II, they'd be in their 70s, roughly. Barring any injury or illness the Autodoc couldn't fix, they should be healthy and fit, and due TREMENDOUS compensation from the parent company for saving the gazillion-dollar colony ship and all the liability it going BOOM! would've created. And Lawrence should be independently wealthy in her own right, transmitting breathless, harrowing non-fiction accounts back to Earth to be consumed by rapt audiences (presumably, she still has an agent to handle that--The film's complete amnesia regarding her entire career at the end was another big annoyance for me). Point is, they'd have 30, maybe 40 good years ahead of them, and they'd set foot on the colony world as the richest, most influential people there. They'd arrive as celebrities. Pratt could build Lawrence a MILLION houses and be romantic as hell. Instead, the screenwriter had that final vision of the little wooden house under the tree, and didn't think beyond that.

Human beings want to survive. Want to live. The course this film took was defeatist and doomed. This film could've been so much better. It wasn't. The end.

I admit I hadn't seen the movie due to concerns from friends of more feminist inclinations about how creep-tastic the "I'm lonely to the point of suicide so I'm going to wake this hottie up to keep me company" part was. However, having read more about the movie, it's my understanding they do acknowledge how bad and selfish Chris Pratt's call was, even though he does have some very extenuating circumstances.

About the references to money, it apparently is possible to communicate with Earth--it just takes 13 years to get anything back. So with some creativity, the financial arrangements might be doable.

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