Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Did a Movie Exec Ruin Passengers?

I really wanted to see the movie Passengers, about two hibernating passengers on a spaceship headed to another planet, who wake up 90 years too early and face life and mortality aboard an otherwise person-less vessel--a vessel that may be breaking down. I'm a sci-fi buff, and the script has generated buzz for years before finally making it to the big screen this December, with likable leads Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. The writer, Jon Spaihts, was regarded as such a rising star that he was immediately hired to work on the reboot of the Alien franchise and other high profile projects.

Then the reviews came out:
"The major creative players either didn’t realize that they were essentially making a feature-length ad for Stockholm syndrome, or... they didn’t really care. And with Tyldum so glibly dismissive of (or oblivious to) what on paper might have seemed like interesting moral questions, the script doesn’t matter that much anyway. What matters here is the film’s effect. And the effect of Passengers is to turn frothy sci-fi romance into an astonishingly retrograde statement on autonomy and consent, and to turn one of the most likable actors in Hollywood into a total fucking creep."
Wait what? Not knowing anything about the finer plot details, this of course fascinated me. I wanted to know more.

How was it that this highly prized sci-fi project could ignore the fact that-- SPOILER ALERT -- when Pratt's character, Jim, sabotages the pod of Lawrence's character, Aurora (so he won't have to live out his days on the ship alone)  he's essentially committing a mixture of murder and rape? After all, according to the plot points I read... he essentially lies about why she woke up, and gets her into bed. What's worse--at the end, Jim and Aurora get over their "rape-cute" and fall in love.

Intrigued at how the script attempted to justify this (and how studio execs could let it slide) I sought out the script online, And I found not the movie that made it into theaters, but John Spaihts actual original script, which you can read here, at least until someone takes it down.

The general plot is the same--but the film's final third, which follows Jim's self-centered act, differs in significant ways. Ways that I believe made Spaihts script superior (but still flawed) to the movie version.

Don't read on if you want to read the script for yourself first. SPOILERS ahead.

The biggest difference is pretty big. And you can see why a studio exec might have wanted to cut it. But in a way, it's the only ethical route out of the sin Jim's committed. And taking it out alters the movie in a fundamental way.

The difference is this: In the end, all the passengers aboard the ship--with the exception of Jim and Aurora-- are killed.

In the movie version, Jim fixes the reactor in a heroic act, saving everyone aboard, which redeems him in the eyes of Aurora, who decides that living aboard the ship for the rest of her life with the man who raped her is what she wants, because... love I guess?

In the original script, however, Jim and Aurora fix the reactor together... and then the system reboots. When it reboots, something terrible happens:

Or, at least the computer thinks the pods are empty.

It's a moment that suddenly casts everything before it in a new light. The villain of the movie, alluded to at varying times earlier in the film, is the large, soulless corporation that built this "asteroid-proof" spaceship and seemingly cut corners to maximize profits. Jim's earlier griping about the world no longer needing engineers like him... well, this shows the implications. No one thought through the dangers, and thousands of people in an instant are jettisoned into space, despite Jim and Aurora's frantic efforts to save them (there's a harrowing scene of the ship's captain, waking up a moment before he's shot out to his death).

Jim's rape-y act kind of starts to pale in comparison to the negligence and greed that just murdered thousands of people. 

Lest you think the movie leaves us on this horrifying note, there are still a few minutes to go. And that running time establishes Jim and Aurora as something quite different than they were before. Now they truly are alone. But they don't want their lives to end. They don't want their time remaining to be in vain. 

Now at least, you can see a valid reason why Aurora might dismiss what happened earlier. The two form a new kind of partnership. If before was simply lust and romance, now it's parenthood. It's guardianship.

The script establishes earlier that on-board the ship, there is a storage facility with the genetic material of every passenger. For the rest of their lives, Aurora and Jim use this genetic material to bring to life the children (or clones, I guess) of everyone who was lost in the tragedy. Aurora uses her writing chops to pen a book about the massacre and building a livable world on the ship. With this context, Aurora's decision to forgive Jim, and their ensuing romance, becomes, in a "tangled" way, at least justifiable. The characters have motivations that transcend shallow romance. The world they create aboard isn't for them-- it's for those who died, and the generation raised in their honor. At worst, it's their way to survive.

Now, you can think this ending is just as bad--some studio exec certainly did. But it's certainly less of a Stockholm-syndrome story/Bro-fantasy and more in the vein of other sci-fi epics which address the coldness and cruelties of corporations and delve into morally complex issues.

I wonder what Jon Spaihts thinks about the changes. In the meantime, I guess I'll wait for the film to come out on Netflix.

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