Technofiction review of

Passengers (2016)

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright January 2017


Passengers is a nice departure from conventional space travel science fiction stories. The acting and pacing are both good so the movie is fun to watch.

That said, there are some big inconsistencies between the movie story and real world space travel, and some internal inconsistencies as well. These are what I will be talking about in this review.


This story is taking place on a giant space craft that is making a hundred year-long journey to colonize a planet circling a distant star. All of the passengers and crew are in hibernation until they reach their destination. One of the passengers get woken up only twenty years into the journey, and the story is about how he copes with this catastrophe. He wanders the ship and does lots of handyman style things to cope.

The big inconsistency with real world space travel is that a ship on such a long journey is going to shut down all the life support during the journey -- only the hibernation chambers where people are sleeping will be maintained in human-compatible conditions. The rest will be a freezing cold vacuum. Showing our protagonist wandering a ship with full life support going on all through it is showing a huge waste of resources.

That's the really big inconsistency. There are some smaller ones as well. The artificial intelligence running the ship seems really dumb, it seems 1950's SF-style. It is not even smart enough to figure out there's a big problem brewing if one of the passengers has been awakened, and not smart enough to solve it without human help.

So what we have here is a Robinson Crusoe-in-space story. Our protagonist is marooned on a space ship. In both tales the protagonists get to use their cleverness to cope with their catastrophe and their coping is the center of the story. One of the neat differences between this movie setting and the original book story is that our Robinson in this story gets to pick his Friday. Umm... and he makes a nice, nice choice! But his choice has consequences, and that's what the middle of the story is about. His Friday is quite unhappy that he picked her.

The last third of the story is conventional spaceship-in-peril action story -- not real interesting to me.

One other choice in the movie ending that reflects our 2010's story-telling trends is that this couple produces a vegan paradise to live in, and no children.


This is an interesting movie to watch, but not a good forecast of how real world space travel is going to happen. It is interesting when viewed as a reboot of the Robinson Crusoe story.



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