Voyagers: A Voyage That Never Really Takes Off
Screening provided by Universal Pictures
Words By Arnel Duracak
“perhaps the campiness of a story about youth conflict in space is actually the story that some people need right now”
The sci-fi genre presents some of the biggest opportunities and problems for filmmakers. With the potential for exponential world building as seen with the Star Wars series, or even a more tight-knitted romance like Passengers (2016), there is no shortage of things you can do in a never ending setting like space. Neil Burger’s sci-fi thriller Voyagers (2021) lends itself to the vastness of space travel that something like Star Wars taps into, and it also lends itself to an unlikely romance in the depths of space that Passengers has, but it never stretches beyond the confines of a floating space shuttle to explore something like that or some of the ideas it establishes.
A few of those ideas include those drawn from a film like the aforementioned Passengers, in which a crew of humans are sent on a journey in hibernation pods to colonise a distant planet akin to Earth. In Voyagers, the idea is to breed a bunch of children in a lab on Earth before sending them on a mission to a distant planet in order to eventually have their children and grandchildren colonise that planet. The premise, while tried and tested in a plethora of sci-fi films (Titan A.E. and Interstellar, to name a few), is actually one that seems intriguing in the hands of Divergent (2014) director Neil Burger. This is especially true given Burgers tendency to explore characters who find themselves — willingly or not — in difficult circumstances that are foreign to them. However, the premise quickly becomes obsolete after Burger decides to go the route of “what if the kids on this expedition become aware that they are being controlled through a hindering liquid and then they revolt, and the expedition begins to fall apart”. It is this approach that consumes the film and it eventually leaves the initial premise in a state of limbo — only piquing our interest through continuous insertions in the second half of the film.
Even with this second storyline which has now become the vehicle through which we understand where Burger is taking us, there isn’t really any meat on the bone to provide a fulfilling insight into who these people are. The only real insight that we get is, once the effects of this blue controlling liquid ware off, half of the crew are actually worse versions of themselves than when they’re under the influence — which is somewhat ironic. The pulse of the film rests with Lily Rose Depp’s character, Sela, as she brings to the role a layer of depth that the rest of the cast just don’t. That’s not to say that the cast isn’t a talented one (which they are), they just don’t have much to work with in terms of the script. Often the dialogue is either laughable (particularly from Fionn Whitehead’s character), or just quite campy for a blockbuster sci-fi film of this calibre. Perhaps that is because Burger has found himself both writing and directing this time around as opposed to just directing like with Limitless (2011) and Divergent.
Colin Farrell in Voyagers
At one point, there is a hint that an alien-like-entity is rummaging through various parts of the ship, though this aspect of the story isn’t really what it seems and quickly loses traction. I, for one, would have found an alien like scenario more compelling as a direction for the film, especially given the sinister tone that the film adopts. For starters, inner conflict among the crew seems like something that could work, but as mentioned, given the minimal experience of the cast (save for Colin Farrell) and the campiness of the script, a blockbuster sci-fi like this could have found strength through the presence of an entity. Apart from Alien: Covenant (2017), no recent alien sci-fi film has really pushed the genre to new heights, however, seeing an alien like scenario play out among a young crew learning the ropes, could have made for a tumultuous viewing.
Had Burger opted to stick to the actual voyage aspect that the film sets up, whilst exploring the turmoil’s of traversing 89 years through the vacuum of space, Voyagers could have ended up providing an interesting look at space travel through the eyes of a young cast. Even taking an alien type approach could have made for an exhilarating survival film. However, as it stands, the script and the actual storyline of the film are just too lacking given the potential of the cast and affordances of the genre. On the flip side, perhaps the campiness of a story about youth conflict in space is actually the story that some people need right now.
Voyagers opens nationally from today, the 8th of April 2021
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