Friday, May 27, 2011

Pandorum -- judging others

Director: Christian Alvart, 2009. (R)

Pandorum wants to be a sci-fi chiller in the vein of Alien, but it is not nearly as good. It is set sometime in the late 22nd century. The four title cards at the start set the scene:

1969. Man lands on the moon. World Population = 3.6 billion.
2009. Kepler telescope is launched to search for Earth-like planets. World population = 6.76 billion.
2153. Paleo-17 Space Probe lands on planet Tanis. World population = 24.34 billion. Food and water shortages are commonplace.
2174. The battle for Earth’s limited resources reaches its boiling point. Spacecraft Elysium is launched.
The Elysium was shot into space headed for Tanis from Earth. Elysium, of course, references Greek mythology, where it was the final resting place for the preferred heroes of the gods, a place or state of perfect happiness. Tanis was intended to be a similar place for those on board, as they sought to populate this new earth-like planet.

The film starts, though, when two crew members wake up from years of hyper sleep to find the ship stranded somewhere in space with the power failing. Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) and Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid, Soul Surfer) seem to be the only two humans left. But their memory is hazy, an effect of the hyper-sleep, and they are disoriented. With the gloomy darkness and the creepy emptiness, they realize the door out of their chamber is locked. The only way out is up, through the narrow vents. Payton sends Bower with a radio and a flashlight. As Bower progresses through the claustrophobic shafts, the parallels to Alien (and its sequels) becomes clear. What Bower finds is shocking to both of them. They are not alone. But the remaining humans have devolved to survival of the fittest, in the worst of ways.

Pandorum offers some suspense along with gory violence. The acting is solid, not stellar. Foster and Quaid raise this to a notch above a straight-to-DVD film, and German Antje Traue, as the female warrior-scientist, offers a hint of Eve to Bower’s Adam. But the ending is surprising, with a twist that is not easily seen.

Toward the end, one character begins acting in a god-like fashion, ready to set himself as king. When confronted, he declares, “Who are you to judge me!” He feels he is above the judgment of another. This brings up the question of when we should judge another person. Jesus told his listeners in his early sermon on the mount, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” (Matt. 7:1). And this is true. But in the context, Jesus was pointing out that we must first judge ourselves before we elevate ourselves as judges over others: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:2-3) However, he was not saying we should not apply the basic rules of morality when considering others. Judges were, and still are, appointed to make judicial rulings about law (and morality). In the absence of judges, as in Pandorum, we can and should judge a person who has clearly crossed the moral boundary. Indeed, when someone becomes self-deceived, his own perceptions become faulty and untrustworthy. In such a situation it becomes necessary to judge and subdue.

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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