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Sony Pictures // PG-13 // May 12, 2009
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted May 13, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Passengers might have stood a chance in a pre-Shyamalan, pre-Lost arena, but viewers are both prepared and know better nowadays. Considering that director Rodrigo Garcia has to fight through viewer's thick-skinned desensitization to the oft-beleaguered mind screw, all the actor chemistry, focus on sentimentality, and suave cinematic polish in the world can't push passed its core weakness -- unoriginality. It rides along a predictable line of suspense that, no matter how intriguing the premise might be or how much Anne Hathaway's charisma might make it watchable, has been done in one form or another several times now.

Oscar-nominated actress Hathaway stars as Claire Summers, a double-Masters degree career student / public service worker who specializes in disaster-riddled patients. She's been assigned to care for the survivors of a plane crash, including bull-headed skeptic Shannon (Clea DuVall) and a carefree thrill-seeker named Eric (Patrick Wilson). Her relationship with Eric develops further into a strong kinship, all the while dodging her snoopy neighbor (Diane Weist) and prance-footing around her boss (Andre Braugher) to keep her sanity while dealing with her first real case in the psycho-analytical world. As Claire's sessions intensify and her relationship with Eric borders on crossing "unethical" lines, she begins to notice that outsiders are watching her sessions. It's then that she begins to suspect and investigate the crashed plane's airline service -- which might be the force behind her patients being followed and, ultimately, their uninformed disappearances.

Anne Hathaway has become something of an "it-girl" recently and rightfully so; her performance as Kym in Rachel Getting Married is excellent, though she's had several other electric, charismatic turns in prior to that -- thinking of Brokeback Mountain and Princess Diaries specifically. As Claire in Passengers, she makes the most of what she's given by infusing her character with her signature glow and subtle quirky facial mannerisms that have pumped personality into her prior performances. She also makes her supporting cast mold to her character, drawing in agreeable chemistries with Andre Braugher and Clea DuVall in a solid positive / negative balance surrounding her. Even her odd romantic angle with Eric, played by Patrick Wilson of immediate Hard Candy recognition, develops into something of a spark that places strong concentration on Claire's openness to absorb insightful tidbits from her multiple relationships with colleagues and patients.

All of this takes place due to strong, seasoned performers working against a current of stilted writing, one that cripples Passengers long before it tries to churn around its big twist. Most of it is rooted in stiff reactionary dialogue and character misalignments, actions that really step beyond character boundaries. Would an overly cautious career student really obey the romantic whims -- including phobia-breaking actions -- of a potentially psychotic risk-taker recovering from a trauma, or suggest that a patient take medication in the middle of a group session? Sure, we might receive half-answers to these questions later on that partially justify their existence in Claire's story, but they're questions that Passengers really shouldn't have addressed in the first place. At least they keep Passengers' poise somewhat upbeat amid the discussion of mental instability and deathly reflection, even if they're implausible to a fault.

Some unavoidable spoilers follow. Instead of trying to justify its humdrum plotting with an inventive twist that might mimic the likes of M. Night Shyamalan's work, Rodrigo Garcia and writer Ronnie Christensen simply dish out a second dosage of The Sixth Sense on a grander scale -- along with a sampling of Identity's non-existent plotting for good measure. In all honesty, with the way the film postures its plot and character conversation dynamics, it makes the metaphysical twists all too predictable from the get-go. Anyone with a penchant for the genre of mindbender suspense films will likely pinpoint its conclusion within a few minutes of the opening credits, mainly because we're conditioned to do so after picking up on one or two subtle clues. If you've theorized even an ounce on the Lost mythology or barreled through any number of like-minded puzzle films, then Passengers will seem like nothing but a tracing of something better. End of spoilers.

With a predictable, overcooked twist and stuffy filmic flow with its narrative, all Passengers carries on its back are strong Hollywood-style composition in scoring and visual aesthetics to accompany the performances far better than the film deserves. And it's a pretty movie, boasting an assortment of blues and greens draped over smartly-enough visual design from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy cinematographer Igor Jaude-Lillo. Plus, the musical accompaniment from Ed Shearmur is well-polished. It's got everything it needs to be a moody supernatural suspense -- except for imagination. Because of that, Passengers is nothing more than a wistful, melodramatic Xerox copy mystery, watchable for Hathaway's gravity but forgettable for all the familiar baggage that comes along with it.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

As mentioned before, Passengers is an attractive film rich with fluctuating gradient between blues and sea green throughout. Sony's 1080p AVC encode of the 2.35:1 image preserves the color saturation well, as well as keeping the slightly hazy, faintly cold visual design looking attractive. The image is rather noisy, however, and a shade on the soft side in a few sequences. However, color saturation and accuracy makes up for some of the questionable elements, like exquisite flesh tones and deep, if a wee bit grainy, black levels. It's a nice-looking and satisfactory image, but nothing worth screaming from the rooftops about.

Neither is the Dolby TrueHD track, available in English and French flavors, a relatively slick track that stretches to the rear channels for ambient effects sporadically but has a few slight pitch problems with speech. Dialogue gets a little weighted and tinny in a few scenes, though others can be crystal clear and knock someone over with clarity. Despite this trouble, none of the dialogue ever goes to inaudible levels. Musical accompaniment, however, shines fairly bright in this track, boosting the atmosphere quite a bit in favor of the film. As for sound effects, like a dog barking or the billowing of smoke and fire from an airplane engine, they sound crisp and natural without ever stretching passed the point of serviceability. For reference, the subtitles options -- English, English SDH, French, and Spanish -- all appear outside of the 2.35:1 image.

Special Features:

Commentary with Rodrigo Garcia and Patrick Wilson:
Garcia and actor Wilson keep the track fairly to the point and relaxed, reflecting on their experiences on set with Wilson working more as part moderator / part commentator. The two delve into many big and small topics, like using figs on-set when they weren't in season in Vancouver at the time, the "evolution" of the script, and the experience of watching the group therapy sessions as a sort of "fish bowl".

Analysis of the Plane Crash (16:28, HD MPEG-2):
This featurette covers each element of outlining the visual effects and natural feel of the airplane crash, from the look inside the cabin to piecing together the feel for the post-crash set. Computer graphics, lighting, and outdoor composition via source photography come together to build the outline, all while storyboards and replications of camera space and set design maximize the realism. Director Garcia and writer Christensen input plenty with interview time, along with the production and visual effects crew involved with the flick.

Manifest and Making of Passengers (23:15, HD MPEG-2):
To pair with the plane crash featurette, the rest of Passengers' filmic elements receive concentration here. Splicing together interview time featuring director Garcia and his production staff with pieces of footage from the film and behind the scenes footage, this featurette covers mostly crew reflections on the film. It covers each character in the film with lead-in discussion with Garcia and the producers, followed by shorter, more concise interview time with the actors. Then, it dives into the malleability of the setting later on, using the clouds and architectural outline of Vancouver to the film's advantage.

Finally, three nice Deleted Scenes (SD Letterbox) are available that showcase the solid performances in the film. Passengers has also been built in with the BD-Live feature and connects properly, though no additional features could be found on the server.

Final Thoughts:

Anne Hathaway, Patrick Wilson, and the rest of Rodrigo Garcia's supportive cast of character actors outline the only real reason to watch Passengers, a somber yet heartening film hinged on an awkwardly-placed and overdone mystery premise. Give the Blu-ray a Rental to see the Oscar-nominated actress in action within a "Twilight Zone" style narrative, but don't expect anything you haven't seen before.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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