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Ben Foster stars in Overture Films' Pandorum.

Jay Maidment/© 2009 Constantin Film Produktion GmbH

3 out of 4 stars



  • Directed by Christian Alvart
  • Written by Travis Milloy and Christian Alvart
  • Starring Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Antje Traue, Cam Gigandet and Cung Le
  • Classification: 14A

It's 2174 and all that was left of life on Earth is travelling on a malfunctioning space probe headed for Tanus, a distant planet with oxygen, clear water, abundant plant life and - because there are no planet-wrecking people there yet - hope for the future.

Still, we're hardly home free. To suggest the space probe is malfunctioning is like saying General Motors has money troubles. For starters, no one is running the ship. In fact, the new sci-fi movie Pandorum begins with Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) and Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) emerging from hyper sleep in a dark, groaning spaceship.

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Awakening like drunks after a ruinous bender, they piece together the grim specifics of their mission. They also begin to experience paranoia, a creeping horror that threatens their ability to function rationally. Their condition has a clinical name: pandorum.

Soon, Payton and Bower realize that their spaceship, the Elysia, may already be compromised by an epidemic. While Payton remains in the control room, chatting away excitedly on the radio, Bower discovers that the bowels of the Elysia are rotten with vermin, and that in their drifting, rudderless state, many - perhaps all - of the ship's settlers have mutated into tribes of blind, panicking cannibals.

Bower's mission is to elude the clutches of pandorum (not to mention the cannibals) and find a way to get the Elysia back on course to Tanus. Otherwise, life for those on board is kaput.

Unlike most movies that throw a doomsday scenario at us, Pandorum has an interesting take on "life as we now know it" thanks to German filmmaker Christian Alvart. The Elysia is obviously a microcosm of long-gone Earth, and something very much like pandorum has contaminated the planet's air for centuries.

Alvart's cynicism about the current state of mankind helps make futuristic Pandorum interesting, but what makes it fun is his evident enthusiasm and talent for exploring the conventions of sci-fi films. The Elysia might be without a commander, but right from Pandorum 's opening sequence - a gliding tracking shot alongside a listless, corroding spaceship - we feel like we're in the hands of a filmmaker who knows what he's doing.

Alvart has an eye for spectacle and has used his $40-million budget wisely, constructing spellbinding exteriors that pay homage to the past work of special-effects director Douglas Trumbull ( Close Encounters , Blade Runner ). But it's the film's interiors, shots of Bower and reluctant recruits Nadia (Antje Traue) and Manh (Cung Le) battling it out with the hungry mutants, that remain with us.

By shooting hand-to-hand combat close-up in darkened, oil- and blood-soaked corridors, Alvart involves us completely in Bower's creepy crawl through the Elysia's rotten core. You'll want two drinks and a longish shower after the movie is over.

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Although Quaid has first billing, Foster ( 3:10 to Yuma ), an actor with a sinister bent, is the star here. And he makes a fitting representative for mankind, exhibiting an intriguing mixture of tenderness and rage.

Handsomely mounted, emotionally involving sci-fi movies don't often show up in the darkened galaxies of our theatre chains. So Alvart's English-language debut is definitely a film you want to catch on the big screen. Just don't sit too close, lest you end up with a dose of pandorum.

That would ruin the rest of your weekend.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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