Pandorum Review

The Film

A 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.
In Alvart's film, our planet is facing extinction through pollution and over population, and missions are sent off to find other planets for us to continue the species on. We discover Bower waking from hibernation, hamstrung by amnesia and trying to re-discover what mission he is meant to be on. He is soon joined by Payton and he elects to explore the ship they find themselves on in order to discover just what is going on. He discovers a few survivors like himself and a race of hunters for whom he and his fellows are their prey. Just what has happened and what, if anything, can be done to survive?

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.
Working in English and with an international crew, Alvart shows he can keep the dramatic integrity of his project whilst taking advantage of the larger production. The mise-en-scene does nod to genre staples such as the bright white sets of Kubrick or the retro look of Scott, yet this film remains a fresh undertaking that uses CGI well and manages a good cast and interesting story. There are weaknesses in the final moments of the exposition which will perplex a fair share of you, but what has come before that is guaranteed entertainment through expert execution of action, editing and cinematography.

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 specs

Pandorum 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.
There is only the option of a 5.1 mix which is offered at a good bit rate and does boast rather good dimensionality in terms of all the sound elements, with voices mixed exactly where they are positioned visually. The resonance of the bass is very important in such a rumbling film as this and this track doesn't disappoint in this respect. English hard of hearing subs are also available for the main film, if not the commentary.

Special Features

Pandorum 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.


A 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.

7 out of 10
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out of 10

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