Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Changing States of PANDORUM


By Samuel Zimmerman
Last year’s PANDORUM was an underseen exploration into sci-fi horror, offering psychological terror, excellent production design, mutated creatures and some intriguing ideas about the future of humanity. Now, with the film currently available on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment, screenwriter Travis Milloy spoke to Fango about the film’s genesis and creation, and we got ahold of some exclusive creature photos to go with his comments. Beware if you haven’t seen the film, as spoilers will follow.

In our previous article on PANDORUM in Fango #286, Milloy discussed how the final feature was essentially a marriage between two very similar ideas that he and director Christian Alvart shared. Expanding upon this, he tells Fango, “We think a lot alike, so it was a great experience working together. We never really disagreed on anything; it was always, ‘What about this?’ ‘Yeah, that's a great idea!’ Christian is a very focused on exactly what kind of story he wants to tell, which makes it much easier. Being wishy-washy and unsure of where to go is a nightmare in working on a script together. I just followed his lead and tried to make the best possible version of his vision.

“The moment he came on board, I considered PANDORUM his movie, so I never gave much resistance to what he wanted to do. Plus, I thought his ideas and sensibilities about the material were brilliant, which made it easy. The biggest thing Christian brought to the script was a whole new level of hope for the future. My original draft was much darker, and more of a haunted-house scenario. In that story, the spacecraft was called the Pandorum and was a prisoner ship, taking thousands of the world’s worst criminals to a remote facility on another planet, removing them from an overpopulated Earth. The ‘hunters’ loose on board were evolved from generations of the world’s worst criminals and even the characters [eventually played by] Antje Traue, Cung Le and Eddie Rouse were all prisoners who had recently woken up.”



In the eventual movie, Nadia (Traue), Manh (Le) and Leland (Rouse) are crewmembers on the ship, which is transporting non-criminal Earthlings to the distant world in a mission to save the human race. The film opens with astronauts Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster) waking up on board the craft with no memory of what they’re doing there, and encountering the others as they attempt to solve that mystery—all while dodging attacks by the rapacious “hunters.”

As Milloy initially conceived it, “Basically, Bower couldn't trust anyone because he was the only non-convict character loose in the ship,” the writer reveals. “It had more of an ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK feel. Christian brought in the idea to make it a settlers’ ship, a hope for the future, for humanity to continue life on another planet. That was huge. It changed the whole purpose and meaning behind everything. Because the ship was no longer a prisoner transport, the name Pandorum didn’t fit, so I used the name to describe the cabin-fever illness [suffered by the characters] instead. I do remember no one liking that title and wanting to find a different one, and I was surprised it stuck.”



Milloy and Alvart’s imaginations were so kindred, they even thought of the same finale before mentioning the concept to each other. “Originally, it was only Bower and Nadia who reach the surface [of the sea on that other world, where the ship is revealed to have been submerged], and the producers were looking for a more uplifting ending. I figured it would be a crazy idea, but I brought up the notion of having all the pods ejected in the end, so that lots of people would make it. I figured it would be shot down, too expensive to reshoot or considered silly, but Christian had already had the exact same idea—and we had never discussed it. It was a great alteration.”

Anyone who has seen PANDORUM has likely wondered about the impending new civilization that Bower, Nadia and the other survivors face on their new home. While Milloy hasn’t specifically addressed any ideas, he notes, “There’s definitely a whole new world of stories that could come out of that movie, both prequels and sequels. Because the ship is so vast, there are so many passengers, 900 years and a whole new planet to explore, there are thousands of stories to tell—if we were given the chance.”



PANDORUM is Milloy’s third produced script (he directed the first, the urban actioner THUGS, and the second, JUST LIKE MONA, was helmed by actor Joe Pantoliano), and his enthusiasm for how PANDORUM was realized on screen hasn’t waned. “It was a very surreal experience watching it the first time,” he says. “It’s a dream come true to have something I wrote brought to the screen on that level, and I still have a hard time believing it all really happened. It’s a pretty complex story, so if it had fallen into the wrong directing hands, it could have been a disaster. But the moment Ben Foster woke up in the pod and flipped out, I knew it was going to exceed everything I had pictured. I’m so proud of the movie, and Christian, the cast and crew did amazing jobs. The movie has a strange effect on me: I love it more and more every time I see it. I can’t stop watching it, but of course, I’m a little biased.

“One thing I’d like to add is that PANDORUM was the first script ever wrote where I literally didn’t know what was going to happen next. It’s a risky way to write, because you can get two-thirds of the way into it and be stuck. Normally I have an outline and at least know how it begins and ends, but with PANDORUM I had no idea where it would go. I wanted to write the movie as if I was watching it, not knowing where it was leading. I started with one man waking from hypersleep in a dark ship, alone and confused. I used the memory-loss element so that I could put myself in Bower’s place and not know anything about space travel, where he’s going or why. I wanted to start in a very small space and then explore the world, not knowing what was around each corner. As I wrote, the story grew larger and larger and more unexpected for me.



“When Bower reaches the bridge and looks out the windows at the end, I literally had no idea what was outside,” Milloy continues. “The mystery of where the ship would be located had built up all along the journey and I had no clue what I’d see when I looked through the glass. I remember stopping, taking the dog for a walk in the middle of the night and looking up at the stars and then down at a rain puddle, a complete contrast. That’s when the underwater concept hit me. It was the last thing I would expect, that they’d already crashed and had been underwater the whole time. I ran home, dragging the dog behind me, and wrote the ending. It was a weird night. I figured anyone who would read it would think I was crazy. I never thought it would be made on a studio level. I always figured it was too dark and twisted for anyone to have interest. I almost didn’t mention it to my manager, but I’m glad I showed it to him.”

With PANDORUM now available for home consumption, Milloy has moved on to future projects. “I’ve definitely been busy since the movie was released,” he says. “I’m writing a bank-heist thriller for Constantin [which co-produced PANDORUM with Impact Pictures] and I have several new scripts that will be hitting the selling block this year.” Whether these will be out-and-out genre pieces, Milloy doesn’t say, but it seems he’s leaning away from the science-fiction world. “I’ve never really considered myself a genre-specific writer; in fact, I hadn’t written a sci-fi script until I did PANDORUM. The world of space travel just seemed to fit the story I was trying to tell. I’m fascinated with tales of people who have their morality challenged, whether it’s in space, in the jungle or at the office, so I write stories in all areas.”

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