Movies

Review: Voyagers

In space, no one can hear you snooze.

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Writer-director Neil Burger has salted his new sci-fi movie, Voyagers, with provocative social issues, but they're hardly new. "Who are we?" "Where are we going?" "Who cares?"

Colin Farrell plays Jim, a science guy involved in a project creating government-engineered embryos. The resulting babies are raised in isolation—they never see outsiders or sunlight or hateful Chick-fil-As blighting the landscape. These kids have been created to scout out a new home for the people of Earth, whose own planet—as they were warned!—is being roasted by global warming. Scientists already have their telescopes trained on a substitute orb for Earth's sweltering masses, but it's 86 years away. So the original crew will never arrive there, only their no-doubt-cranky grandchildren.

By the time we arrive on the spaceship Humanitas, we see that the kids, now young adults (but still chaperoned by Farrell), are spending their days in a state of robotic indifference, exhibiting no signs of emotion. This is because they're secretly being dosed with a drug that renders them dull and docile, as if they were citizens of Cold War Bucharest. More alarming, the drug also eliminates sexual desire. "So they can control us," says one young crew member, a born troublemaker named Zac (Fionn Whitehead of Dunkirk). "They don't want us to reproduce naturally," says his nice guy buddy Christopher (Tye Sheridan of Ready Player One). Now pissed off, these two stop knocking back the little blue drug cocktails that accompany their meals, and immediately develop an interest in a cute shipmate named Sela (Lily-Rose Depp).

Soon Zac and Christopher are squabbling over Sela and striking philosophical poses for us. Christopher is the voice of reason and probity. Zac is the voice of "Fuck that!" Told that he must try to be a good person, Zac says, "Why? We're just gonna die in the end, so why can't we do what we want? Who cares about 'the rules'?" Soon, the rest of the crewmembers are taking sides and lining up behind either Zac or Christopher. Punches are thrown, weapons are sought.

"Why have they all gone crazy?" Sela asks.

"Maybe they haven't," says Christopher thoughtfully. "Maybe this is what they're really like. Maybe this is our true nature." Yeah, maybe.

Burger is pretty out-front about his story's resemblance to Lord of the Flies. And he borrows from familiar sci-fi sources. There's a loud-gasping spacewalk of the sort we've seen before in movies like Sunshine, Gravity, and of course 2001: A Space Odyssey. There's a frantic tussle at the ship's airlock. And there's an alien, too—well, there's quite a bit of talk about an alien (it's said to be stowed away onboard the ship, like some sort of intergalactic Mexican), but it turns out to be a big red space herring.

Sheridan and Whitehead are solid and snarling embodiments of the counterpoised talking points they represent. Depp is…cute. (She's not been given much of a character to work with.) The rest of the rocket crew are suitably gutless sheep. ("Maybe we should just give up," says one of Christopher's increasingly imperiled followers.)

In a movie built around antiseptic tones of blue and gray and white, and long empty corridors in which knots of people occasionally run around, there's not a lot to get excited about. There are a few mildly amusing moments (when carnal consciousness arises in one scene, we're given a quick montage of spurting water and sprouting greenery), but we're probably past the point where anyone ever quivered in anticipation of mild amusement in a sci-fi movie.

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  1. So, if you’re gonna “secretly” drug them, you give them pills to take at meals? Come on, that’s just stupid. You put the drugs in the food and you dose the water supply.

    The whole plot just sounds dumb.

    1. I dunno, sounds like it could have been good. I mean, if there is no hope of survival at the end, and the planners of the spaceship are just using them as meat drones, and the crew slowly realizes this, and comes around to even realize the enormity of the attempt at colonizing a new, habitable planet (from scratch) … that could be a good movie.

      I’ll take Mr. Loder’s evaluation of the given movie as crap, though. 95% of everything is crap.

      1. It’s 90%, at least according to Theodore Sturgeon
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law

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    2. Yeah, lets give them all a super obvious dose of a drug then not monitor if they take it because reasons.

      It’s all just a big excuse to get Lord of the Flies in space, and weirdly so very, very much of ‘teen sci-fi’ is at it’s heart Lord of the Flies, just about every time. It’s easy to write nonsense interpersonal drama just for the sake of the drama.

      Yet it’s hardly ever Animal Farm, weird right?

      Basically, science fiction sucks by and large these days. It’s all environmentalist slash fiction or Days of Our Lives style drama. Often it’s both.

      At least, somehow, shows like The Expanse still manage to be made but they are few and far between.

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    4. “…they’re secretly being dosed with a drug that makes them dull and docile…”
      Like govt. brainwashed from kindergarden to obey authority? Like children forced into indoctrination centers where they recite (chant) daily in unison words they don’t understand immediately (The Pledge of Allegiance), but will be forced to live by under threat of death?
      Sadly, there is no “red pill” that will undue the mind numbing, confidence stunting, spirit breaking of their incarceration. It will take a seminar like “Candles in the Dark”, a Platonic dialogue.

  2. These kids have been created to scout out a new home for the people of Earth, whose own planet—as they were warned!—is being roasted by global warming

    Something tells me that near light-speed interstellar travel is slightly more difficult than scrubbing atmospheric greenhouse gases.

    1. exactly if you can do one you can do the other.

    2. No plot in a major movie or television show are allowed to acknowledge little things like that.

      It’s why, generally speaking, pretty much all ‘apocalypse’ style films or shows use this as the thing that ends up killing the planet instead of the previous generations idea that it would be nuclear war.

      It’s lazy as fuck writing that makes the writers feel good. Smaller productions like Snow Piercer still manage to come up with more interesting apocalypse scenarios even if they’re equally ludicrous.

      Personally I think it’s a lot more likely that humanities misguided attempts to ‘fix’ the world via geoengineering would cause an apocalypse, instead of just going to work in your car every day.

      Even Interstellar was appropriately ‘vague’ about what exactly caused the world to die. We don’t want, or need, to know the specific cause and stating a particular cause is almost always political nonsense of the moment.

      Then we have films like 2012 where the Sun kills the planet but somehow they still hem and haw over how it’s humanities fault somehow.

      1. My idea is a meteorite that doesn’t quite kill off humanity.

        1. Wasn’t that the plot of Deep Impact? We had the asteroid scenario in the late 90s

  3. If it’s possible to indefinitely freeze eggs and sperm or the stuff you need to make clones maybe you send that stuff instead of actual people with robots designed with the ability to make the clones or grow the fertilized eggs
    and raise and care for children.

    1. And then you have robots raise them.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Mother

  4. We can locate, terraform and colonize a distant planet, but we can’t “fix” earth?

    1. How these writers get jobs is beyond me.

  5. “…they’re secretly being dosed with a drug that makes them dull and docile…”
    Like govt. brainwashed from kindergarden to obey authority? Like children forced into indoctrination centers where they recite (chant) daily in unison words they don’t understand immediately (The Pledge of Allegiance), but will be forced to live by under threat of death?
    Sadly, there is no “red pill” that will undue the mind numbing, confidence stunting, spirit breaking of their incarceration. It will take a seminar like “Candles in the Dark”, a Platonic dialogue.

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