Anne Hathaway made three films in 2008 if you don't count a cameo in "Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control": a fun comedy ("Get Smart"), a stellar drama ("Rachel Getting Married"), and what was supposed to be a mystery thriller, "Passengers." But I have to say right up front that for a supposed thriller it's painfully dull, and because it's so derivative, for a mystery it's painfully obvious.
I'm surprised that Hathaway agreed to do this film, because "Passengers" doesn't have an original bone in its body. And if I tell you the films that it smacks of, you'll have the ending spoiled . . . though there are plenty of scenes that are spoiled by bad writing and hokey staging throughout this 93-minute fiasco.
Hathaway plays Claire Summers, a newly minted Ph.D. who's been assigned to counsel a handful of survivors who were found at the site of a plane wreck. But nothing about her or the boss who assigns her this project seems professional. She allows patients to call her by her first name, she becomes very quickly involved with one male former passenger named Eric (Patrick Wilson) without any noticeable sparks flying--just, hey, let's kiss-- and she meets her boss in public places as if she were an espionage agent. "Stop, stop, you're not a detective" he says when she starts to find problems with some of the passengers' stories. But he didn't have to tell the audience that. Nothing this woman does approaches detective work, and even when she suspects the airline of a cover-up it's not even half as interesting as "Silkwood," "Erin Brockovich," or any number of one-woman conspiracy shows.
"Do you always offer medication in front of other patients?" one of the passengers asks, and it only underscores some of the other logic problems in the script. A guy from the airlines follows her around and she doesn't know who it is? A normal person would phone the police, but not this woman. Then, when there's a big blow-up at an airport with two people shouting and causing a scene, I'm thinking, if that were me or John or Henning or any of the DVD Townies, they would already have handcuffed us and started reading us our rights. But airport security apparently isn't a problem. Illogical moments like these are just an annoyance, really. The big bomb that this film drops (or rather the egg that it lays) is a script that's just plain dull. Not enough happens to make it an interesting mystery, and not enough action occurs to make it feel like a thriller. It's just one of those pretenders that seems to hover somewhere in a cinematic netherworld, not really sure where it's supposed to go.
Characters played by people like Dianne Wiest, Andre Braugher, and David Morse come and go, but there's nothing memorable about any of the scenes, and that means it all adds up to nothing memorable. Oh, sure, the survivors disappear one by one, but by this time all but the people who were standing in a long line for popcorn wouldn't have figured it out, it's that obvious.
So what's Hathaway doing wandering around in this shell of a film, and couldn't director Rodrigo Garcia sense that this thing was dull as dirt? It's not as if the screenwriter was such a high-roller that Garcia couldn't have insisted on rewrites. Prior to this, Ronnie Christensen only wrote a handful of made-for-TV scripts: "Monster!" (1999), "Chameleon 3: Dark Angel" (2000), "Wall of Secrets" (2003), and "10.5" (a.k.a. "Earthquake," 2004. There's just not enough tension, not enough mystery, not enough thrills, and zero character development or behavioral logic. I would have given this a 5 out of 10 just for the performances, but dull is dull.
In the end, it's the audience who needs a grief counselor more than the characters.
ZZzzzzzzzzz. Oh, sorry. I dozed off. But even Hi-Def can't save this one. There's nice detail to be had in this AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a BD-50, but the film (being one of those mystery-thrillers) is intended to be intentionally dark and moody in tone and in its visual design, and so the whole thing looks and feels like a haze. Colors aren't fully saturated, and black levels seem lighter than usual, which means there's a grayer look to this film. I couldn't detect any DNR or edge enhancement, but there were several moments of playback problems, and it's tough to tell whether it was the disc or my player (a Samsung, with the most recent firmware upgrade. "Passengers" is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
The soundtrack is only slightly stronger. The English or French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 delivers a clear and precise audio with nice balance, but sometimes the rear effects speakers presented sounds that morphed to other speakers in ways that didn't make sense to me. Dialogue was clear and nicely balanced with the background music and effects, but there was nothing really dynamic about the soundtrack. The bass doesn't have much movement, for example, and you'd think it would for a film from this genre.
Though there's a respectable amount of bonus features, I always find it tedious to listen to people talking seriously about a film that I found disappointing in so many ways. Director Garcia is assisted by actor Wilson in a long-distance phone commentary in which each takes turns asking the other questions. They both do a decent job, and if the film had been better I would have to admit that it's an engaging discussion, despite one being on the East Coast and the other the West. "In the Night Sky: The Making and Manifest of 'Passengers'" is presented in HD, and at a little over 20 minutes it's supposed to be the main feature. As such, it covers all the usual bases of both pre-production and production. One annoyance is that too much time is spent with actors talking about their characters, as if the film wasn't obvious enough. The only other feature is a short one (16 minutes) on "Analysis of the Plane Crash" which isn't as interesting as it sounds, especially since the crash site itself wasn't terribly dramatic. Rounding out the bonus features are seven minutes of deleted scenes and a handful of theatrical trailers for other Sony titles.
Then of course there's BD-Live, though no features have been posted yet.
A TV series and another film handled this concept with more grace and complexity, and that leaves me wondering, still: What was Anne Hathaway thinking?