PHOTO: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Director Morten Tyldum at CinemaCon 2016 promoting 'Passengers.' (photo via Flickr/Jennifer Lawrence Films)
As a cinephile and cruise lover, I get a kick out of movies that reference cruise ships in some way, especially when the allusions are made well. As it turns out, the recent sci-fi flick “Passengers” is chock-full of great ones, and despite its mixed critical reviews, the film is actually quite entertaining and certainly worth a watch.
No significant story spoilers are contained below.
Not since “WALL-E” has a movie so cleverly included cruise ship elements in its production design. Pixar has always done extensive research, and its take on a post-apocalyptic narrative was no exception. Research photos were taken down to the details of cruise ship emergency exit signs as seen in the Blu-Ray’s special features (yes, I’m that big of a film and ship nerd).
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It would appear that the creative team behind “Passengers” similarly prepared or has cruised a lot themselves. Admittedly, I have not yet watched any behind-the-scenes featurettes about this one.
Without giving too much away, the film centers around hibernating passengers aboard the Avalon (it even sounds like a cruise ship name) in order to colonize the planet Homestead II. The voyage is intended to take 120 years and only the latter part of it is meant to be enjoyed awake before landing, except two – Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence – are awoken early (as is already revealed in the trailers).
As they try to figure things out and the plot thickens, as it always does, the beautiful ship becomes known to them and to us as an ever intrigued audience. Science fiction design is a fascinating arena as production designers attempt to come up with visions that are both fresh but not likely to become quickly dated over time. “2001: A Space Odyssey” will forever be a great example, and “Passengers” I believe will be too. It helps that it’s grounded in reality. Or should I say floating on reality?
Among the best cruise ship design elements are cabins, of course, which are utilitarian for those paying less and palatial for those affording more, much like an actual vacation at sea. Jennifer Lawrence’s suite – the Vienna Suite to be precise – is a stunner. It’s waterfall flowing stairs, for instance, are incredible, and while sans a handrail they’d never be permitted on an actual cruise ship, I’d love them for a shoreside home.
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Appropriately alongside the tiered accommodations are also classes of food and drink access. Amusingly included are even specialty restaurants themed to different cuisines such as French, Asian and Mexican.
Also once realistic of cruise ship life is a reference towards a massive connection delay in sending a message back to earth, costing a comparable fortune. In truth, onboard internet is thankfully much improved these days.
Another classic cruise ship feature is the multi-deck atrium and concourse complete with attire shops and signage indicating concierge lounges. Even entertainment and activity venues are showcased on the ship like a cinema, dance-off hologram and a sports court with LED-wall surrounds, all trending cruise concepts, even if holograms aren't yet fully realized. What are also in reality as on the Avalon are an awesome infinity pool, observation lounge and promenade deck of sorts.
Saving the best for last is the greatest example of the film’s production design: the art deco bar tended by a robot played by Michael Sheen. The watering hole is something straight off of a vintage ocean liner crossed with a planetarium, not unlike the one on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. It has to be one of the best sets, or at least my personal favorite, seen on the silver screen in some time.
It’s no wonder the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Production Design. See it for yourself to understand why, and you might just be inspired to take a cruise in the process.