The FilmA couple of years ago, Christian Alvart's extraordinary Antibodies announced a very talented director by showing that serial killer movies could still be freshened by intelligence and masterful management of tension. Fearlessly quoting Dostoevsky, deploying in-jokes about the genre and fusing religious ideas with populist entertainment, the young Alvart got the attention of industry people much as Guillermo del Toro did several years before with his Cronos. A film-maker with the ability to re-invigorate genre movies, Alvarts next projects would be a high concept science fiction movie, on review here, and the forthcoming horror thriller Case 39.
Pandorum confirms the director's promise by showing that he can manage a higher budget and still add depth to a commercial vehicle through his undoubted interest in biblical and philosophical questions. Like Antibodies, it is cinematically literate and borrows knowingly from the likes of Tarkovsky, Kubrick and perhaps even apocalypse movies like Mad Max. Like Antibodies it includes both sequences of intense tension and spiritual contemplation. Unlike Antibodies, it doesn't quite realise its ideas as you would hope.
Alvart delivers a film that is part chase movie, part claustrophobic thriller and part personal/religious allegory. The Noah's ark parallels are explored thoroughly and themes touch on biblical stories such as the tower of Babel, as well as the human fear of redundancy through evolution. There are a number of striking sequences which offer nailbiting action and there is a lot in the way of visual flair that helps to both keep the narrative fresh as well as to signal the philosophical development of the film. This is a truly mature piece of direction that balances the need to entertain with the desire to communicate with intelligence.
It's not perfect but Pandorum is far better than similar fare like Eden Log, and it adds to my suspicion that Alvart will eventually make films as good as his talent.
Technical specsPandorum is a very dark film that takes place almost entirely inside a dimly lit spaceship, so the contrast is crucial in having a good presentation of it. I am happy to say that this transfer handles the black levels very well and manages shade subtly. Edge enhancement is virtually invisible, the light level of grain here gives the transfer a cinematic appearance, and the flashes of expressionistic colour yield appropriate saturation. Overall this is a very good transfer that you should be confident of if you don't have the possibility of getting the blu-ray instead.
Special FeaturesPandorum is presented on a dual layer region 2 coded disc with plain and still classic looking menus. The extra features included here include a featurette on the making of the film called "Behind the Elysium", deleted and extended scenes, a stills gallery and a commentary with Alvart and the producer Jeremy Bolt contributing. The featurette is short but does manage to illustrate the level of care and organisation that Alvart brings to the film with extensive storyboards and much direction given to actors about both the emotional depth of their dialogue and their position within the shot. Dennis Quaid talks approvingly of this wunderkind and there is plenty of information about the choreography and design of the hunters.
There is over 26 minutes of extra footage included on the disc but with lower quality stereo sound than the film itself. These excised and lengthened sequences are competently mounted but the tone of some of it is a little too light. The scenes do offer more in the way of explanation for the film's twist which personally I feel may have helped the film's finale if they had remained within the finished movie. There are four image galleries included here which contain nearly 200 images overall - they are navigable in a basic way but presented with little style.
The commentary is accessible through the main menu and whilst watching the film, but the producer's name is misspelled on the menu. Bolt explains how Alvart was approached with the script and took on the project because he was already writing something very similar and how he reworked the script. There is little camaraderie between the two, and the director is much more interesting about what he was trying to do with each sequence and how Antje Traue was cast despite her lack of starriness. The film's conclusion is greatly improved with Alvart's comments but throughout Bolt is largely redundant.
SummaryA pretty impressive piece of direction from a coming talent. The twist doesn't work too well but the execution of the film is so damn good that this is forgivable. This standard def presentation is pretty good even if the menus are rather functional.
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