Script Doctor: Passengers
Welcome to a new blog series that reimagines promising films that fizzled. In this inaugural post, I’m offering some new plot twists and turns for Passengers. If you’re planning to see the film, be forewarned there are spoilers ahead.
Passengers was a much-ballyhooed film released in 2016 during the all-important, pre-awards Christmas season. It features two talented and attractive actors, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, who boast enviable film credits and accolades. Good start for any film, right? Well, it gets better.
We first meet Jim (Chris Pratt’s character) as he’s awakening from a deep sleep aboard a space ship hurtling toward another planet. His hope of starting a new life is foiled when his pod malfunctions and he’s faced with most people’s worst nightmare—solitude. Not just a few minutes of time-out, no, I’m talking a lifetime of me, myself, and I. Chris Pratt ably carries the story to the next plot twist—his decision to disable the sleeping pod of another passenger. Not surprisingly, he chooses the beautiful Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence’s character) to keep him company.
In the next few scenes, we see Aurora struggle with the same desolate fate that has plagued Jim for over a year. And, of course, we see them grow closer as they discover each other’s finer points. From this point, the story’s promise erodes, but here’s how I would bring it back to life:
- Not too long after realizing they have the hots for each other, they have sex. They’re like two bears who woke up from hibernation in heat. It would have been so much more interesting to let the sexual tension build. There’s something beautiful and sexy and useful about delayed gratification. In my version, there would have been more wanting and less having.
- In the actual film, Aurora learns that Jim disabled her sleeping pod when their “relationship” is new and fragile. Naturally, she’s pissed. As a result, his perfidy becomes the story’s main conflict rather than the fact that they’re about to be incinerated by a malfunctioning ship (I could be wrong about the nature of the subplot because it was so convoluted and hastily introduced that I missed the details. Good movies don’t lose their audience over something as critical as the imminent death of the main characters!). In my version, I would have reversed the emphasis of the conflicts. Even in fiction, pending death trumps hurt feelings in the order of importance.
- In the film, Jim is unable to break into the ship’s control room despite his evident prowess with power tools. In my version, he would have found a way in shortly after awaking Aurora. He would have discovered the problem with the ship, and in explaining the problem to Aurora, the rest of us would have gotten a much-needed introduction to the problem. Then, realizing he doesn’t have the access codes to do whatever needs to be done, Jim would have proposed waking up one of the crew members. Together, Jim and Aurora would have struggled with this idea and in the end, she would have given him the green light. As she watches him dismantle a sleeping pod, she starts to question her own spontaneous awakening—but does she really want to know whether he disabled her pod? Does she even have time to worry about it since they’re about to go up in smoke? While she’s stewing, the tension is building—good!
- Here’s where we get to another fatal flaw in the movie—the terrible misuse of Laurence Fishburne’s prodigious talents. I think he knows a thing or two about sci-fi films, so the reed-thin role he’s given is a travesty. In the film, he plays a crew member who spontaneously awakes. But, after getting Jim and Aurora into the control room, diagnosing the ship’s problem, and explaining the fix, he dies! I mean, he literally keels over. His function as a plot device is too obvious. In my version, he would have died while trying to repair the ship. Not only would it have been more interesting, it would have demonstrated the magnitude of the central conflict.
- In the film, Jim risks his life to repair the ship and in so doing regains Aurora’s love. This is all fine and good, but it was too rushed. She went from hating him to loving him in ten minutes. We women can be moody and fickle, but good grief! It felt fake. In my version, she would have asked him whether he woke her up just as he was about to risk his life to save hers. In this context, it’s much easier to believe she quickly forgives him. Also, she couldn’t be too angry or she would be a hypocrite (remember her hand in waking up the crew member?) and no self-respecting heroine is that.
- The movie tries to save itself with a final plot twist—Jim discovers the medical pod can be turned into a sleeping pod, but which one of them will use it? I like this. It’s a chance for Jim to redeem himself. From here though, the movie sours again. Instead of seeing what happens to them, the last scene is of crew members waking up years later and discovering a forest in the ship’s lobby. What?? After sitting through two hours of this, I deserve more than a forest and a voice-over conclusion! In my version, the last scene would have been a chance encounter between Jim and Aurora on the new planet, preferably with Aurora’s new love interest in the background. The conclusion? They found a way to survive their traumatic experience (why couldn’t they both squeeze into the medical/sleeping pod?), but their relationship didn’t stand the test of time. Nothing wrong with a little bittersweet realism at the end of a long, fantastical tale.
How many stars would you give my version?
Photo credit: Satellite in Space by Unsplash (canva.com)