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James is a Movie Critic and Celebrity Interviewer with over 30 years of experience as an Award-Winning Filmmaker.

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

Sci-fi is a wonderful genre. It can take us to a galaxy far, far away, or it can remind us that in space, no one can hear you scream. We can experience stories that are fast and furious, complete with , and , or we can take it slow and ominous, with eusocial hiding around corners and in ventilation shafts. Sometimes though, sci-fi can be grounded very much in reality, films like , , , and now . While some of these movies are set in the not-too-distant future, the technology they employ are still very much based on what we utilize today. With no lasers, aliens or futuristic time travel machines, we can relate more to the characters in the stories without these technological advances. And that is exactly where “Passengers” succeeds.

Set in the near future, the Starship Avalon is on a voyage to a distant planet called “Homestead II,” a world very similar to earth that offers those who want to go, and who can afford it, the opportunity of a new life. The Avalon is carrying over 5,000 colonists who plan on moving there permanently but because the journey takes 120 years to get there, they are placed into hibernation, along with the crew, for the duration of the trip. Along the way, a malfunction occurs which results in one hibernation pod accidentally opening early. 90 years early. The pod belongs to a mechanical engineer named Jim Preston () who quickly realizes that he is the only person awake on the ship. When he discovers that it will take over 50 years in order for him to try and communicate with earth, he comes to the devastating realization that he will spend the rest of his life on the Avalon and will die while still en route to Homestead II.

Jim befriends Arthur (), a robot bartender whom he converses with daily and who manages to keep him from going crazy. After a year of living on the ship solo, while walking amongst the other hibernation pods, he notices the beautiful Aurora Lane (), another passenger who is still sleeping. He accesses the company records and discovers that she is a writer but as time goes on, and he becomes more enamored with her, he slowly struggles with the notion of waking her up just so he won’t be lonely and eventually, against his better judgment, he does so. He tells her that they were both awakened, a result of a machine malfunction and just like Jim when he first awoke, she tries to think of every conceivable course of action so that they can go back into hibernation but just like Jim’s slow realization of their predicament, Aurora accepts her fate and inevitably, they fall for each other.

For a period of time, things are great, they watch movies, swim, make love, dine out in a fancy Italian restaurant, all of which is operated by robots but one night, Arthur lets it slip that Jim woke her up and understandably, she freaks out, refusing to talk to him but when Gus (), a staff member unexpectedly appears, informing them that the ship is on the verge of exploding because of multiple failures and a major component overloading, they must all band together to try and fix the problem before it is too late.

Great emphasis is placed on the fact that Jim wakes Aurora up early, simply because he is lonely. In essence, he is subjecting her to a life that she did not plan on and, like him, will more than likely die on the ship. While this is a crucial element in the movie, and one that for some, could leave a sour aftertaste, the filmmakers commendably address it by educating us to the fact that in order for the ship to be saved, along with everyone else on board, it will take two people to achieve that objective so in a way, his actions are justified. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are both very likable and charismatic so thankfully, the relationship between them is believable. But the real stars of “Passengers,” are the state-of-the-art special effects. The Avalon is designed similarly to Discovery One in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” including a spinning band of deck. In one spectacular scene, the ship loses gravity while Lawrence is swimming, and she becomes encased in a bubble of floating water, unable to escape. In another scene, both Pratt and Lawrence, wearing space suits, are able to leap off the ship’s main deck into outer space, while being tethered to the ship, allowing them to take in the majestic beauty of the heavens surrounding them.

The trailer for “Passengers” actually does it a great disservice as it gives the impression that the film is filled with action and suspense and while it does encompass both elements, it does so sparingly. The movie is a dramatic love story, first and foremost so if you go into this expecting or , you will be sorely disappointed. Instead, just sit back and enjoy the magnificent viewing experience you are about to undertake and appreciate one of the finest sci-fi epics to come along in years.

In theaters Wednesday, December 21st

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