What the fuck is it that Hollywood wants? For the last several years it seems like at every beat of the year there’s some dark and gritty take on X. We got to see the gray, grim-dark, take on a Batman and Superman who are only outmatched in their hatred of each other in their hatred for themselves. We see scripts pushed darker by studio interference so often that no one ever talks about the alternative.
Rogue One is an example of a movie that was actually changed after a director got the go ahead to make it darker and that is actually an okay thing on some level, but we see the opposite with Passengers.
Passengers was a blacklist script darling that was supposedly one of the best movies that wasn’t being produced. It stayed in development Hell and was eventually supposed to star Emily Blunt and Keanu Reeves. The original script that the movie was going to have had a different ending that drew on the themes differently. While the troubling issues that the movie brought up were still present, they were explored in a more nuanced way and, to quote one friend, wasn’t “Hollywooded the fuck up”.
Spoilers past here for both the Passengers movie and the script that was never produced.
Here’s a quick rundown of the plot. A ship is carrying people to a far off world to colonize it. Everyone is placed in stasis pods and one pod malfunctions. Chris Pratt plays the man who wakes up. He goes for a year and three weeks alone before waking up a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) that he has spent time admiring and being in love with, but he lies and says she woke up by chance. He courts her, they fall in love, and the robotic bar tender in the ship let’s it slip that Pratt woke her up. It’s discovered later that the entire ship is malfunctioning due to the complication that woke Pratt up originally and he and Lawrence work together to fix the issue.
In the original ending they succeed in fixing the issue and manage to reboot the whole ship’s system saving the ship and themselves. But the reboot causes the ship to launch all of the other passengers into space. Five thousand people die. Lawrence questions whether she can come to grips with Pratt’s choice in waking her. On one hand he’s doomed her to never reach the new planet they’re traveling to, but on the other they’re alive because her pod wasn’t fired into space. When the ship reaches the new planet their descendants disembark.
The theatrical ending of the movie, the only one that was actually produced, ends with everything going down much the same, they have to reboot the ship and also open a door to vent plasma into space so that the core doesn’t rupture, but Chris Pratt has to go outside of the ship and actually manually open the door and is almost lost in space in the process. His suit ruptured and the tether broken, Pratt floats to what would be his death, but Jennifer Lawrence dons a suit and rushes out to save him, the two make up after he is revived and the problem of what he has done is essentially ignored. He does give her the option to sleep in the Sick Bay pod that they discover, but she declines and stays awake with him.
The real issue here is the issue that the movie seems to try and make a love story out of the idea that a man forced a woman to be alone with him in the hopes that she would fall in love. One of the deleted scenes on the blu-ray actually has her questioning him (after the big reveal) asking if he ever thought that if they’d just met back on Earth would he think she were capable of even noticing him. It might sound harsh, but it comes from a drunk woman who has been robbed of her life where any number of things could have turned out differently.
The movie gets a lot wrong along the way too. There’s a bit of dubious science that keeps this from looking like something like Interstellar or The Martian. There’s the whole Laurence Fishburn character that doesn’t actually have enough screen time or back story to make an impact and kind of just serves as a device to explain the problem of the third act.
With the almost everybody dies ending you’re getting at least one thing that kind of makes us realize just how fucked up the fact that he did this to her was, but she also rationalizes it with the idea that she could have very well died along with everyone else on the ship so she has whatever time is left as they travel. It’s still shitty what he did and he still robbed her of real choice, but he inadvertently saved her life and it would make her cooling to him make more sense.
In the theatrical script it seems like his risking his life to vent the plasma is more of an apology and that he is kind of assuming the blame for dragging her into this, but at the same time there’s some hope for him that he’s saving his own skin in the process. She makes the choice to go out and save him and to forgive him, but the choice of him saving her is more deliberate here. It’s not out of some predatory sense that he has to be with her that he saves her at the end. It kind of loses the theme of the movie for what was supposed to be a happier ending, but it also kind of tries to gloss over the big reveal just a few minutes earlier.
This could have been a much darker, better movie, but Hollywood didn’t want that. We can have plots about forced romances that get glossed over, but don’t let the ending be sad!
And real quick a note on casting. I love Chris Pratt. I think he’s super talented and charismatic, but the studio had a chance to cast someone potentially less attractive or at least less expected in the lead male role. I think that had we seen a black actor (less expected) that audience reactions and willingness to forgive the character would be less likely. Let’s consider for a moment that Donald Glover had been the Pratt character (just because I fucking love Donald Glover) and that he had done things the same way.
How do you think that would have changed the movie? How would that have changed people’s desire to see the Glover and Lawrence characters together?
How about if we picked someone less conventionally attractive. John C. Reilly steps into the Pratt role and he’s the same blue collar guy courting an attractive, younger, richer woman by dooming her to die in space? Is that a love story?
For a guy who likes brevity, I’m running long. But this was a conundrum of a movie that had a lot of strange angles that it was coming from. It touches on being an enjoyable watch until you think of the deeper issues with the science in the movie (if you were stuck in a large free floating ball of water in zero G you’d be able to swim out because water is still, well, fucking water) and the morality of what’s happened.
What’s happening is the movie is just disappointing. It could have been a much more interesting picture with some changes and I don’t want original scripts to stop being shot because of the shortcomings of this one. I want more science-fiction to come out of Hollywood. But I want them to be truly thought provoking and, if they’re going to go after the hard questions not to fuck it all up.