I usually don't read reviews of movies before I watch them. I find that reviews tend to bias my watching of a film, and I'd rather make up my own mind. It's after I watch the film that I like to casually browse some reviews and just see what others think.
Avatar was interesting because it is so popular and so huge that there seems to be a big chunk of people out there that hate the film just because it is popular. (See my previous blog about the story originality complaints as well...) I had seen the previews, and since I try to keep abreast of upcoming movie news, I had known about Avatar for a while. But I didn't read any of the press before going to see the movie, because I only wanted my own prejudices to effect my viewing. Therefore, unsurprisingly, I loved Avatar. I figured that I would like it just because I like pretty much everything James Cameron has ever done. Reading the reviews after seeing it, I was shocked at the number of people that cannot seem to get past the "lack of originality" or who just seem to hate it because it is popular.
Pandorum was different because I have only seen previews of the movie. Sci-fi? Check. Looks interesting? Check. OK, I want to see this. I have never heard of the director. I like Dennis Quaid, but - let's face it - he's been in some pretty shitty movies in the past. I vaguely remembered seeing Ben Foster in something, but I couldn't recall what it was or if he was any good, so that added no baggage. I watched Pandorum with only the hope that it would be a decent sci-fi movie. I loved it. Reading the reviews after watching Pandorum, I had to laugh. Still a high percentage of people who think it is unoriginal - GASP! OH EMM GEE! The plot has been done before? No way! Surely not in our thousands of years of history! - but there were a lot of people who didn't like other things. Things - for the most part - that were reasons I loved the movie.
Thing number one: The movie doesn't explain everything!
You have no idea how much I like this. This is probably the one thing that absolutely sold me on this movie. I love when a film assumes that the audience is smart enough to make the connections on their own and doesn't need to be hand-held through long exposition scenes just to know what is going on. Pandorum gives you exactly as much information as you need to put together what is going on in the main plot, and leaves hints and clues all over for you to pick up on about why this is all happening and how. Why does the agricultural crew member not speak English? Where do the monsters come from, how does the Corporal figure out who was who at the end, and where did the crew go? The film never directly answers these questions, but they give you enough bits of information to figure out an explanation on your own.
Thing two: Originality.
I know, I discuss this ad-nauseum. Here's the thing with unoriginality: EVERYTHING is unoriginal if you want to look at it that way. Yes, everything is derivative. Somebody already used all the elements separately in something else. Great, have a field day hating anything and everything because it has all been done before.
To me, the B (and sometimes even A) movies that pretty much copy every element from another movie and think that you won't notice if they add a twist or two are unoriginal. Hey, let's make Aliens, but we'll make our beasts look different. And, instead of a reactor going critical, it'll be the planet is going to explode because the core is unstable! And they won't be space marines, they'll be, uh... space paratroopers! Yeah!
I liked the story behind Pandorum. I liked that although they may have borrowed elements from many different places - and everybody does this, so no complaints there - they put them together in a way that made sense and pushed the story along.
Thing three: The acting.
I'm going to keep this short. I thought the acting was good. Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster were totally believable as crew members who woke up to a nightmare and had to figure out a way to fix it. The rest of the cast was spot on as well.
Thing 4: The special and visual effects.
A lot of people complained about these, but I thought they were well done and not overused. Actually, if I had to use one word to describe them, it would be reserved. Enough to convey what needed to be conveyed, but not overblown and ridiculous. Nothing exploded for the sake of a cool explosion, nothing threw lens flare all over the screen in every other scene. In fact, I think the filmmakers should give Michael Bay some lessons.
So aside from being well done sci-fi (something that is rare enough to be a treat when it comes along), Pandorum was also just a good movie. I'm not sure how well it did in the theater, but hopefully - like Pitch Black - this will find a big audience now that it is out on DVD and BD. I know I would love to see more stories in this setting.