With a Rotten Tomatoes score of only 31 percent, I didn’t go into Passengers with high expectations. I mean, I wanted to enjoy the movie, but even though the film looked like it featured an interesting premise, starred two of Hollywood’s current hottest stars, and cost upwards of $100-million to make, it seemed to be cursed by the general, “Meh” from many who viewed it.
Well, after three viewings I have to say that not only does the Ultra HD Blu-ray look and sound terrific, I really enjoyed the movie. Does it have its flaws? Sure. Could the story have been fleshed out and developed a little further, the characters explored a bit deeper? Sure. But is it a well-acted, smartly crafted, visually arresting and entertaining way to pass two hours? Absolutely.
Passengers borrows elements and themes from Castaway, Titanic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Gravity but still manages to feel fresh and interesting. The film begins with the Avalon spaceship already 30 years into its scheduled 120-year journey to Homestead II, a newly established planet/colony. The Avalon carries 5,258 passengers and crew looking to inhabit and establish this new world, and everyone aboard the ship is in hibernation during the journey.
Minutes into the film, the ship hits a massive asteroid that penetrates the ship’s shields, resulting in a computer error that wakes Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) from hibernation some 90 years too soon. The film’s first act follows Preston as he explores the ship, looking for ways to re-enter hibernation, and trying to keep from going crazy while in near utter isolation. Instead of being a strictly one-man-show a la Castaway, Preston has an occasional companion in the form of Arthur (Michael Sheen), an android bartender. After a year of loneliness—and months of agonizing over the decision—Preston decides to wake Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) from her hibernation, for companionship.
This is a very dialog driven, relationship movie, and the soundtrack is terrifically recorded, letting you clearly understand every word regardless of what is happening on screen. I also appreciated that there was no alien or other extra-terrestrial force causing the conflict—just one massive, random bit of bad luck that tipped over a domino that ultimately cascades into the film’s big crisis moment.
For home theater buffs, this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at having been shot with Arri Alexa 65 cameras at 6.5K and then sourced from a 4K Digital Intermediate. Every frame is filled with fine detail with no noise or grain. While much of the film is in the cool silver/grey/white of the Avalon’s interior, there are also several scenes that give the HDR transfer a chance to shine.
On the audio front, the disc’s Dolby Atmos soundtrack is packed with tons of ambient sounds that place you right in the scene, with lots of directional cues to help you follow the action. As there is frequently only a single character on screen, much of the film’s audio is subtle, such as the steady, low thrum of the Avalon’s engines, or background music playing at the bar. However the sound designers smartly used all of the speakers for music and computerized shipboard announcements, giving them a really terrific PA quality, and the audio comes on big and dynamic during the climax.
For fans of 3D, the film is offered in a bundle pack that includes the 4K, 3D, Blu-ray, and digital version of the film. While I didn’t watch the film in 3D (yet), the many long, brightly lit interior shots and use of holograms and computer screens seem like they would make for a really terrific 3D experience.
Not surprisingly, Passengers offers some great demo-worthy scenes, and here are my favorites…
“Anybody here?!?”- Chapter 2, 8:13 – 11:23
This is like a three-minute episode of The Twilight Zone that sets up the entire film as Preston realizes things are not right and frantically searches the ship looking for any other people. The elevator ride fills the room sonically, and the observatory room is not only visually stunning but the disembodied voice of the computer coming from the ceiling speakers shows off why the overhead speakers make Atmos audio so engaging.
“Live a little.” – Chapter 3, 17:43 – 20:28
Even in quiet, dialog-driven moments, this film is just gorgeous to look at. Notice the texture in Arthur’s jacket, the detail in the bar, and in the towel Arthur uses to perpetually clean glasses. The scene gets going when Preston starts exploring the various entertainment options the ship offers, including video game dancing, basketball, home theater, and restaurants. The areas are all visually different, with bright colors that pop off the screen when appropriate. Further, Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” rocking out of all speakers is perfect to catalog Preston’s descent into loneliness-induced madness.
“Best show in town.” – Chapter 8, 52:44 – 55:43
Following the end of their first “date,” Jim takes Aurora on a space walk outside the Avalon. The detail inside and outside the large, spinning spaceship is amazing. This really gives HDR a chance to shine with the bright whites of the suit shining brilliantly while still retaining the deep blacks of space.
“You took my life!” – Chapter 10, 1:05:38 – 1:08
Jim’s voice booms over the ship’s PA system—and all throughout your room—as he talks to Aurora. Especially notice how the location of his voice shifts in position as she moves around the ship in relationship to the speaker system. When it cuts to Jim in his suite, the ship’s malfunctions travel throughout the room and overhead. Also take note of the brilliant, vibrant quality of the red on the ship’s display at the end of the scene.
GRAVITY LOSS – Chapter 12, 1:18 – 1:20:08
This scene begins with Aurora diving into a pool of bluest-blue water when another error causes the ship to lose gravity. Mechanical sounds clunk and wind down overhead, and then the room is filled with the sound of the rising water splashing and lapping up onto the ceiling. Water cascades down all around the room as Aurora fights to escape the giant water bubble to get a breath. Visually this scene reminded me a bit of the ultra-cool elevator dream sequence from Inception. Though short, this scene has terrific audio throughout that will leave you checking to make sure you didn’t get wet.
“A hole in the ship.” - Chapter 13, 1:25:17 - 1:31:43 (or run all the way to 1:36:10)
The ship’s computer systems are in full freefall, and the duo is racing around trying to locate and repair the flaw to save the ship along with the lives of all aboard. Alarms are blaring, machinery is malfunctioning, gravity comes and goes, as mayhem ensues. Notice the difference in the quality of their voices as they enter the mechanical room, with a slight echoey quality that matches the spacy interior. When they open the airlock door, oxygen rips through the room, rushing past you from every direction as it escapes out the hole in the ship. The reactor fire swirls around, and as the ship reaches critical heat and pressure levels, bolts start releasing from the pressure and fire into the room, along with the sounds of grass cracking and shattering. When Aurora vents the reactor, the fire floods past Jim, ripping through the room and past your head. This is a lengthy scene, but it is filled with action, drama, tension and is a sonic smorgasbord throughout. For a shorter demo, stop at 1:31:43 when Jim steps into the airlock.