Monday, 2 January 2017


I'd recommend all my writer friends go see Passengers.

It's a masterclass in how to take a really good concept and botch it at every single opportunity, and thinking of all the ways it could have been written better is a great creative exercise.

Two passengers wake up early from cryo-sleep on a spaceship heading to a colony planet - there’s so much potential there. And they’re played by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence! I’m so sold.

But then… well, the creepy twist that everyone's talking about is the most rubbish bit. The film’s desire for a cheery Hollywood romantic ending means that the message is essentially ‘forgive your abusers’. Hey, women! Has your man utterly and completely ruined your life? It’s fine, he only did it because he was lonely. Go back to him.

But there are lots of other rubbish bits too. For instance, Laurence Fishburne shows up as Captain Exposition, the most pointless cinema character of the year, and tells Chris and Jen how to fix the ship should it break. Chris is a mechanic, could he not have worked this out himself? Larry then conveniently dies at the exact moment the ship breaks. The only way he progresses the story is by giving them his ID pass, but surely they could have got through the locked door in a less time-consuming manner.

Also, the science of it – OK, as a Doctor Who fan, I know that scientific accuracy isn’t exactly everything, but come on now. The ship’s travelling at half the speed of light and they wander out for a pleasant spacewalk? That can’t be right, can it? And the ship’s design is just distractingly weird. I don’t buy into it. [Scientists: feel free to correct me if there is an explanation for all this.]

Talking about alternate ways to tell this story, here are a few ideas I jotted down (by no means completely thought through, and I’m sure there are even better ways):

  • Open it from Jen’s perspective. The opening twenty minutes as they are do a good job of setting up the world and Chris's character, but they turn the thing which should be a twist into a set-up. Start with her waking up, the first ten minutes can be pretty much the same but with her, then he wanders in. We might suspect him of waking her up but don’t find out for sure until she does.
  • Give Jen some practical skills. I know, I’m insulting my own work here, but writers are useless in space, and it’s clear Chris does most of the work.
  • Two ways to deal with Larry F. One: cut him out entirely, they find a different way to open the doors. Two: he still wakes up, albeit before Jen has worked out Chris’s secret. He goes off to inspect the hibernation pods, and the next time we see him, he’s keeled over in the process. We knew he was dying so might not think too much of it, but it later turns out he confronted Chris about the tampering and it turned nasty between them. It's less of a contrivance, and it gives him some development as the desire to hide his secret turns darker.
  • Chris should be more of an antagonist in the final act. The added environmental threat of the ship falling apart is good, but it makes no dramatic sense for them to have hugged and made up before this happens. How much more tense would it be if they were at their lowest point with each other when the ship starts falling apart? She’s just found out he lied to her and/or that he caused Larry’s death, and now they have to work together.
  • Obviously, she should let the fucker freeze in space after he’s fixed the ship. Maybe she could even lie to him that she’s forgiven him in order to motivate him to fix it. As long as she gets her revenge.
  • Get rid of the deus ex machina of “oh look, we can put someone back to sleep after all”. It’s ludicrously over-convenient, even if it isn’t used. Maybe the positive point of the ending is that, through standing up to Chris, she’s learned to live an independent life and can be happy having the ship to herself.
Yeah, I think that’s better already. Throw in a funny robot and you have yourself a movie.


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