Thursday, April 8, 2021

'Voyagers' travels a familiar route

    Once again, humanity faces extinction.
   In the year 2063, Earth's resources have been irretrievably depleted. As a result, a project to colonize a far-off planet begins. 
   The difficulty: It will take 86 years for the crew to reach humanity's potential new home. That means the colonists probably will be the grandchildren of the original crew, which is composed of 33 test-tube babies who, when the movie reaches the depths of space, all have become teenagers.
   Only one adult (Colin Farrell) makes the trip, a volunteer who feels compelled to protect the crew until it reaches its destination.
   Surviving on a spaceship for 86 years requires that the crew drink a substance called The Blue, which dulls their aggressive impulses and also inhibits their ability to experience pleasure. The designers of the voyage worried about what might happen should 30 hormonally charged teenagers be left to their own devices.
     It takes director Neil Burger, who also wrote the screenplay, a while to reach the story's pivotal moment. Two of the crew members (Tye Sheridan and Fionn Whitehead) learn about The Blue's effects.
     They stop drinking it and Whitehead's Zac begins seeing the ship's medical officer (Lily-Rose Depp) in a new light.
     It's hardly surprising that trouble looms. Nor is it much of a shock that none of the movie's characters achieves stand-out prominence. 
     Anyway, the story relies on a trick as old as Lord of the Flies,  putting a group of young people into an isolated situation, stripping them of ordinary stimuli, and trying to discern something about their essential nature. 
    Farrell doesn't display much personality as the adult in the room. It hardly matters because the movie ultimately belongs to the young actors who are pushed into a scenario that poses questions about how lies can be used to promote fear by those seeking power. Sound familiar?
    The possible arrival of an alien further amps up the stakes, which never seem especially high, and, truth be told, there’s only so much visual imagination that can be applied to the interior of a spaceship. 
    It doesn’t help, either, that all the crew members dress alike.
    After his initial bout with rebelliousness, Sheridan's Christopher matures, allying with Depp's Sela. Whitehead supplies the villainy as a young man in whom adolescent rebellion, hormonal turbulence, and envy fuel aggression.
   Can these young people control themselves for the sake of accomplishing something good; in this case, the continuation of the species?
    Intermittent moments of tension can be found, but the movie's desire to see what happens when characters are freed from restraints never feels dangerous, edgy, or fresh enough to find new life.
     So, yes, Voyagers is like Lord of the Flies -- only without the buzz.

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