Thursday, April 20, 2017

Would Passengers Be Better With a Creepier Chris Pratt?


Warning this piece contains major spoilers to the movie Passengers.

I was a much bigger fan of 2016's Passengers than most. Director Morten Tyldum demonstrates a great sense of visuals in crafting a fantastic and stunning spaceship with a bunch of fun rooms and technologies; it also pays homage to many classic set pieces, scenes and shots of classic movies. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence have a hot chemistry and you buy they'd go from strangers to lovers (though they have the advantage of each other being the only option for the rest of their lives). It also has the benefit of being one of the few sweeping romances and original sci-fi movies that have got wide released with a big budget in recent years. But it is hard to shake that there are some major plot structure flaws, plus some major ethical issues over trying to make Pratt sympathetic and as well, it does follow a very predictable path including a contrived big action finale.

Youtuber Nerd Writer's latest weekly video explores if Passengers would be a much better movie if the story was told from the perspective of Lawrence's character and begins with her waking up (you can check the video out at the bottom of this article). This would mean that the audience would be rocked along with Lawrence when it is revealed that Pratt woke her up instead of what she believed was a pod malfunction . As the video details, it allows for there to be some added tension and mystery as we try to solve what has happened to several sections of the ship and as well, try to figure out why Pratt's character is behaving in an odd fashion at times. Maybe screenwriter Jon Spaihts feared the mystery would be too easy to solve and this is why he went with the route of Pratt as the lead, but it also means the ending is largely predictable along with the troubelsome issue that the movie needs to keep Pratt sympathetic and relatable as the protagonist. With Lawrence as the one the audience sees the events through, it is less clear if Pratt is ever one we should trust and it makes it less certain if they end up together. This would allow for large swaths of the film where Pratt could play an antagonist role after his selfish misdeed is revealed.

If the tension relies more on Lawrence being trapped and isolated on a ship with a guy she can't trust then there is less need to rely on some other contrivances to keep the narrative churning into the final act. The malfunctioning ship is by far the weakest element of the story as it plunges the narrative into the pit of derivative storytelling. The more interesting stuff is focusing on the forced relationship that now is hampered by one man's selfish act and big lie.  Of course, this could also fall into cliché stalker thriller territory, but I'm not saying change the Pratt character but rather how the audience perceives him for a large portion of the story. This new perspective could also still work even with the doomed ship storyline.

It is interesting how a story can be made much better with a small tweak or change of perspective. There were several issues with Transcendence but it would have been far stronger and had more tension if it didn't open with a desolated world. Michael Bay needed to realize he didn't have the chops to pull off a Fargo-like crime caper and leave out the 'humour' that bogged down Pain & Gain. Last year's Blair Witch would have been way stronger if they avoided it being found footage, and I stand by the same with Chronicle (though I like that movie). Black Mass needed to wipe out the interrogation scenes that put focus on henchmen who didn't really drive the narrative, Actually, Black Mass would have been a much stronger picture if it did something daring like show it from the perspective of Whitey Bulger's (Johnny Depp) wife, Lindsey Cyr (Dakota Johnson). It would have made it feel less like a low-grade Goodfellas or countless other gangster flicks. Of course, that would also not be a small tweak but make it a completely different movie.

What movies do you think would have been much stronger with a few tweaks or even a major alteration?

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