Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Passengers 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress, Silver Linings Playbook, 2012) and Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) are among the 5,000 passengers who decided to board the Avalon spaceship for a 120-year journey that offers them the opportunity to wake up in a new century, on a new planet. However, the trip takes a deadly turn when their hibernation pods mysteriously wake them 90 years before they reach their destination. Passengers also stars Michael Sheen (Twilight franchise) and Academy Award nominees Lawrence Fishburne (Best Actor, What's Love Got to Do with It, 1993) and Andy Garcia (Best Supporting Actor, The Godfather: Part III, 1990). The film, directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Production Design. It is now available to own on all formats, and includes digital copy as well.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are two of 5,000 passengers aboard the starship Avalon. They have been placed in stasis for the long journey to the colony Homestead II. Jim is a mechanic and Aurora is a writer. They have little in common except for the fact that they have given up their lives on Earth for a new world. The voyage takes over 100 years, so when they reach the new colony, their family and friends on Earth will be long gone.  

The technology to allow the passengers to sleep for most of the trip is not new. Even the 258 crew members sleep while the ship is on autopilot. Everything on the ship is automated, including the forward shield protecting the ship from debris. The passengers sleep in hibernation pods, which have no record of failure. After traveling through an asteroid field, Jim’s pod fails and he is woken almost 90 years ahead of schedule. Jim finds himself alone on the Avalon. 

He has access to entertainment facilities, and basic meals but after a year of solitude, he feels hopeless. He was able to send a message to Earth but won’t likely live long enough to receive a response. Jim's only companion is the android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) who he can talk to, but he’s not human. Conversations with Arthur are not enough to keep Chris from being consumed by his loneliness. When Aurora wakes, Jim’s life doesn’t seem so lonely but now two people are fated to die on the Avalon before it reaches its destination.

The Martian taught us that space can be lonely. Oblivion taught us that you don’t have to be earth bound to have a really cool swimming pool. Passengers has both loneliness, and a pool (and other fun activities). With a breakfast bar to feed them, a movie theater and bar, restaurants with no crowds, Jim and Aurora have a pretty good life. I had a hard time feeling all that bad for their predicament. It sounds like a really nice extended vacation, if you ask me. I heard some negative reviews of the film that questioned the plausibility of the circumstances. That sounds pretty silly to me. Accept the circumstances – that hibernation pods and 120 year journeys to a new world are commonplace.

I’m not a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence, particularly because she doesn’t ever feel like a grown up to me. There is something childish about her that makes her roles feel like she’s playing dress up, acting like an adult. In this film, she did a decent job and was believable as a writer from New York City. Christ Pratt’s boyish charm and easy going nature comes through in his role. There are very few actors in this film but Pratt and Lawrence are able to carry the film. Michael Sheen plays a lifelike but convincing android and Laurence Fishburne has a commanding demeanor indicative of an officer on the ship’s crew.

Getting ready to write my review, I watched the film many times in a very short span of time. I enjoyed it every time. I am not one of those people that needs distance between viewings. The 3D version is the way to go to fully experience the space walks. The film looks and sounds excellent on both Blu-ray and 4K UHD. The film begins with a momentum that doesn’t quite hold up throughout but I still found it to be an enjoyable experience.
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
Passengers looks great in every format with expected trade-offs. You have to watch the film in 3D to appreciate the expanse of space. You’ll also appreciate the asteroid field and other final details that just don’t pop in 2D. Colors are richer and UHD offers a fuller color palette. The image is so clear in UHD, it feels almost unreal. I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear it was a computer generated set, but the extras reveal many practical sets. The 2160p presentation reveals skin textures and the depth of pores like you won’t see anywhere else. Lighting is more natural and UHD offers color saturation that surpasses the Blu-ray.
Audio (5 out of 5 stars)
Passengers 4K UHD offers a Dolby Atmos soundtrack just a hare superior to the DTS-HD Master Audio found on the Blu-ray. The music is subtle, supporting the action at times, emptiness at others. Audio is well balanced in all format. There are a few times when you can feel there is more than what the Blu-ray offers. The UHD bass levels offer more weight. The UHD is again the superior format with a less pronounced difference than you’ll find with the video quality.
Extras (3 out of 5 stars)
Passengers' UHD disc contains Moments (Jim, Aurora, Arthur and The Avalon) as well as Cast & Crew still photos. The 3D disc offers no additional content. The following extras are found on the Blu-ray disc:
  • Previews – Inferno, The Magnificent Seven, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Passengers Awakenings VR Experience and Resident Evil Vendetta.
  • Deleted Scenes (9:49 total runtime) - No New Drinks, Memory Maker, Tacos and Cocktails, Kiss in the Photo Booth, Aurora Finds Jim's Photos, Drunk Dial, Gus Reveals His Past, and Gus Looks for a Solution. One deleted scenes offer a meaner side of Aurora that you might not enjoy if you’ve grown to love the character.
  • Casting the Passengers (10:40) - The actors discuss what drew them to the film while crew talks about the chemistry between the two. This is a look at what each actor brings to the role.
  • Space on Screen: The Visual Effects of Passengers (7:27) -This featurette explores how the talented visual effects artists created the visual world. Filmmakers introduce techniques to achieve Jim’s weightless flight from bed and Aurora’s scary moments in the pool as well as the specially designed lightbox that made it appear Jim was tumbling through space.
  • On the Set with Chris Pratt (4:19) – Behind the scenes footage of the film’s star. Others discuss the energy and humor he brings to the set while Pratt shows his fun, likable nature.
  • Creating the Avalon (9:35) – As Chris Pratt describes it, The Avalon is part bad-ass spaceship, part luxury liner. The production designer talks about how they created the Titanic in space with physical sets used to create a lonely feeling.
  • Outtakes from the Set (4:24) – The gag/blooper reel.
  • Book Passage (4:41) – Advertisements for space travel including Choose Your Star, Dare to Dream, Elite Suites, and A Flight to Remember.

Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
Passengers isn’t quite the thriller I expected but it did turn out to be a unique love story in space. It will probably satisfy the chick flick audience more than the traditional sci-fi fan. There are few actors present, and Pratt and Lawrence manage the task of carrying the film. The UHD Combo pack offers a near perfect video presentation and audio that doesn’t fall far behind. I wouldn’t want to watch the film in 3D every time, but it’s worth having when you want to be truly immersed in space. I enjoyed Passengers after many repeated viewings and recommend it while cautioning the viewer to think more about the human condition than the circumstances that brought the stranded passengers together.

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