The trick to making a good thriller is to keep the core premise simple and the storyline tight. Pandorum opens with two men waking up on a spaceship where the doors won't open and nothing seems to work properly. Hypersleep causes temporary amnesia, it's said. They can't remember how they got there. What's clear is that it's essential they get the ship back under control, so Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) stays by the controls to offer guidance whilst Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) goes crawling through the cable ducts to try and access the things they need. Unfortunately for both men, they soon discover that they're not alone.

Pandorum isn't a good thriller, overall - in time it lets itself become needlessly complicated and its storyline is padded with too much stock action/horror/chase material, like the ship with its endless unnecessary corridors - but as rip-offs of System Shock 2 go, it's still a lot of fun to watch. The early scenes in particular, when we don't really know what's out there, have plenty of scary moments, and Foster is sympathetic in an everyman role that never makes him seem too capable to be in real danger. Antje Traue, as the biologist he meets along the way, makes a charismatic heroine and an impressive fighter. And though there are moments when this veers dangerously close to Event Horizon territory, its villain, such as he is, is considerably more interesting than Burnt Toast Guy, his actions considerably more disturbing.

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Indeed, there are the bones of a really strong film here. The trouble is that there are too many other moments when one is reminded of trash like The Mutant Chronicles. And the zombies... Why does it always have to be zombies? Not that they're exactly that, but close enough, complete with messy eating habits, habitual shrieking, implausible head accessories and even less plausible pseudoscientific justification. The film bypasses several better excuses for their presence and they seem to serve little real purpose other than to keep the heroes moving. Much more interesting are the small inexplicable things that keep happening up in the lieutenant's quiet control room, and the rumours of a virus that interferes with the workings of the human mind. Are our heroes starting to show symptoms, or is something else at work?

Strong psychological material is too often set aside to make way for monster fights and, toward the end, a fight between human characters that gets dragged out for far too long. Nevertheless, this is undeniably entertaining for most of its length, and Quaid, now that he's older and gets real roles, is always worth watching. If the trailer makes you feel that Pandorum is the sort of movie for you, you're unlikely to be disappointed.

Reviewed on: 29 Sep 2009
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Two astronauts wake up on a broken-down spaceship with no idea how they got there. What's worse is that they discover they're not alone...
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Anton Bitel ****

Director: Christian Alvart

Writer: Travis Milloy, Christian Alvart

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Trauer, Cung Le, Eddie Rouse, Norman Reedus, André Hennicke

Year: 2009

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Germany

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If you like this, try:

Alien
Event Horizon
Sunshine